Panpsychist Phenomenalism

                                                Panpsychist Phenomenalism

 

 

Phenomenalism analyzes material-object statements in terms of the actual and potential experiences of perceivers: for a table to exist is for table-type experiences (“sense data”) to exist—say, for it to look as if there is a table. This has the consequence that there can be no material objects unless there are perceivers. But there is another type of phenomenalism that has never to my knowledge been mooted: the thesis that for material objects to exist is for them to have certain experiences, actual or potential. Given the truth of panpsychism, we have the resources to account for existence in experiential terms: it is the table itself that has table-type experiences. The table feels itself to be a table—in some sense modality or other. If the table is round and brown, then it has experiences of itself asround and brown. Thus the table doesn’t depend on our experiences in order to exist; it depends on its own experiences—which can exist independently of ours. Material objects, on this theory, are self-perceiving beings, and in this self-perception lies their existence. Once we allow that material objects have an inner psychic dimension, we can put this dimension to work in formulating a phenomenalist theory. Someone attracted to phenomenalism but unhappy with the traditional version might welcome this new version: everything turns out to be mental, but human experience is not the root of all being. Given panpsychism, it is natural to infer that the experiences inherent in all objects are experiences of the objects they inhabit—what other kind of intentionality would they have? Not of stars and bars, to be sure. Panpsychism can thus claim (a) to solve the mind-body problem, (b) to answer the question of the ultimate nature of matter, and (c) to provide the foundation for a phenomenalist view of the objective world. Nice work! As a bonus, we provide an answer to the question of what kind of mental properties material objects possess—they are best understood as perceptions of those objects themselves. A round object, say, will be analyzed in terms of sense data of roundness—sense data had by the object itself. The general shape of the theory is idealist, since concrete reality is constituted by mental properties, but these properties are not instantiated by us. The world is a world of Other Minds.

            Panpsychism might, however, not be true (I don’t think it is true myself): does that rule out panpsychist phenomenalism? Perhaps surprisingly, it is not clear that it does: for we can avail ourselves of counterfactual conditionals in the traditional manner. Phenomenalism does not require actually existing experiences but only potential experiences—the kind you would have if you perceived the object in question. The existence of a table requires only the possibility of experiences—the kind you would have if you gazed at a table (“permanent possibilities of sensation”). So why not say that the existence of a table consists in the counterfactual circumstance that if the table had experiences they would be table-type experiences? We don’t have to assert that objects actually have a psychic dimension; we merely assert that if they did it would be thus-and-so. Thus we analyze material-object statements by means of conditional statements that refer to possible experiences in the antecedent: if the table had experiences, they would be table-type experiences (not Labrador-type experiences). Logically, this is just like saying that the existence of a table consists in the fact that if I had perceptual experiences now they would be table-type experiences—but I might not actually be having any (my eyes are shut). A blind man could analyze table statements in terms of statements about visual experiences he could have if he were sighted—they needn’t actually exist. Similarly, the resourceful panpsychist phenomenalist could claim that for a round brown table to exist is for the following conditional to hold: if the table had an inner psychic dimension, it would have experiences as of a round brown table. That is, this ingenious theorist analyzes material-object statements in terms of counterfactuals about possible experiences in material objects–he doesn’t have to claim that objects in fact have such experiences. He analyzes ascriptions of properties to objects in terms of hypothetical psychic properties. He can thus claim to give an account of the so-called material world that invokes nothing beyond (possible) mental facts. We can imagine this determined phenomenalist haughtily challenging us to refute his theory. He is like a traditional phenomenalist who allows the possibility of material objects in a world in which no one has any perceptual experiences: he appeals to the fact that such experiences are possible in principle, and his theory is that objects reduce to the possibility of experiences—those you would have if you had senses. Just so, the new kind of phenomenalist could claim that material-object statements can be analyzed in terms of statements about the experiences that objects would have if (contrary to fact) they had any experiences.

            If phenomenalism ever comes back into fashion, its adherents might welcome the addition of this new type of phenomenalism, especially if they have been persuaded that panpsychism is attractive on other grounds. If we have to accept panpsychism anyway, we may as well go the whole hog: mind-body problem, intrinsic nature of matter, and analysis of material-object statements.

 

Col

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