Sense and Content: Experience, Thought, and Their Relations

Sense and Content: Experience, Thought, and Their Relations

Sense and Content: Experience, Thought, and Their Relations

Sense and Content: Experience, Thought, and Their Relations

Synopsis

Peacocke argues that the propositional content of mental states can only be understood in relation to perceptual experience and shows that not all experience is representational.

Excerpt

This book is about the nature of the content of psychological states. Examples of psychological states with content are: believing today is a national holiday, judging that the pencil is beneath the book, intending to phone London, having a visual experience as of a desk in front of oneself. A distinctive feature of such states is that their most direct descriptions embed expressions such as 'desk', 'London', 'to phone', which refer to, or are true of, objects in the world.

The very familiarity of such states can cause one to overlook the general philosophical challenge they throw down. What is the connection between these states and the ground floor vocabulary for describing the world which their descriptions embed? Is there any systematic connection between the distinctions drawn in the world by such ground floor vocabulary and the nature of these states?

There is a broad division between psychological attitudes -- judgement, belief, intention, desire, hope, and so forth -- and their contents, mentioned in 'that'-clauses. This book concentrates on the latter, and says nothing directly about the nature of the former states. But as a matter of principle, this distinction must be artificial. No one would suppose that a good account could be given of what it is for a thought-content to be disjunctive without specifying the conditions under which a thinker is willing to judge that content by reference to the conditions under which he is willing to judge the constituent contents from which that content is composed. Equally, there are many concepts which occur as constituents of thought-contents and whose nature cannot be explained without adverting to conscious experience. It is for these reasons that the first chapter of this book is about some conceptual issues raised by conscious experience. In the second chapter, a distinction defended in Chapter 1 is applied, and later in the book we will often draw upon the considerations of that first chapter.

The outer boundaries of the scheme by which we attempt to explain rational actions by appeal to psychological states with content is, in effect, the topic of Chapter 3. It seems that any being to whom we are prepared to attribute psychological states with . . .

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