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Representationalism, perceptual distortion and the limits of phenomenal concepts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

David Bourget*
University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada


This paper replies to objections from perceptual distortion (blur, perspective, double vision, etc.) against the representationalist thesis that the phenomenal characters of experiences supervene on their intentional contents. It has been argued that some pairs of distorted and undistorted experiences share contents without sharing phenomenal characters, which is incompatible with the supervenience thesis. In reply, I suggest that such cases are not counterexamples to the representationalist thesis because the contents of distorted experiences are always impoverished in some way compared to those of normal experiences. This can be shown by considering limit cases of perceptual distortion, for example, maximally blurry experiences, which manifestly lack details present in clear experiences. I argue that since there is no reasonable way to draw the line between distorted experiences that have degraded content and distorted experiences that do not, we should allow that an increase in distortion is always accompanied by a degradation in content. I also discuss the prospects for a positive account of the contents specific to distorted experiences. I argue that the prospects for such an account are dim, but that this is due to limitations of our phenomenal concepts, not to the falsity of the representationalist thesis.

Research Article
Copyright © Canadian Journal of Philosophy 2015

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