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Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal KnowledgeNew Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism$

Torin Alter and Sven Walter

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195171655

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195171655.001.0001

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 The Knowledge Argument, Diaphanousness, Representationalism

 The Knowledge Argument, Diaphanousness, Representationalism

(p.52) three The Knowledge Argument, Diaphanousness, Representationalism
Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge

Frank Jackson (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter develops a representationalist view about perceptual experience and defends its application to the knowledge argument. This view is based partly on the idea that perceptual experience is diaphanous — in other words, that accessing the nature of the experience itself is nothing other than accessing the properties of its object. It is argued that although the diaphanousness thesis alone does not entail representationalism, the thesis supports an inference from a weaker to a stronger version of representationalism. On the weak version, perceptual experience is essentially representational. On the strong version, how an experience represents things as being exhausts its experiential nature. Strong representationalism undermines the claim that Mary learns new truths when she leaves the room.

Keywords:   perceptual experience, knowledge argument, Mary, intuition, diaphanousness

One good way of making a case against the knowledge argument is by noting that it conflicts with physicalism and rehearsing the very strong case for physicalism.1 But this leaves unaddressed the undeniable force of the intuitions that drive the knowledge argument. I now think that the best strategy—the one that best enables us to see where the supporters of the knowledge argument, including my former self, went wrong—starts by isolating the key intuition that drives the knowledge argument and then showing how it conflicts with an attractive approach to phenomenal experience that can be independently motivated.

The Key Intuition behind the Knowledge Argument

I think the key intuition that drives the knowledge argument is that on leaving the black‐and‐white room, Mary acquires information about a new way that states are alike, one to another. When she leaves the room, she has certain highly distinctive experiences, and in consequence she acquires, it seems, an enlarged conception of the similarity patterns that obtain in our world. While in the black‐and‐white room, Mary knew that people are in various kinds of brain states that resemble each other in mass, chemical nature, temperature, functional roles, and so on. But, it seems, once she experiences red as red, once she knows what it is like to have that experience, she knows that there is something in common between states of subjects that outruns her previous knowledge; she learns a new way that certain items in our world—more particularly, certain experiences—resemble each other.

Many reply to the knowledge argument that what happens to Mary when she leaves the room is that she acquires new concepts, which is no reason to admit new (p.53) properties; the knowledge argument fallaciously slides from the acquisition of new concepts to knowing about new properties.2 I think the reason defenders of the knowledge argument find this reply unpersuasive is that the sense in which Mary would seem to acquire a new concept is that she learns of a new way of grouping experiences together. Someone who acquires the concept of, say, charge and learns that it applies to certain items learns of a new way that the items resemble each other, and that is to learn of a new property, the relevant unifier, that is instantiated in our world. In the same way, Mary's new concept seems to correspond to a new way for experiences to be alike, one that nowhere appears in the physicalists' picture; and if this is right, there are properties that fail to appear in that picture, namely, those corresponding to her newly enlarged understanding of the respects of similarity that obtain between certain states of sentient creatures. My sense is that the example of water and H2O has misled here. Water and H2O are different concepts, and yet water is H2O. This looks like good news for advocates of the view that “the knowledge argument confuses concepts and properties.” But Lavoisier did enlarge our understanding of what our world is like. The rise of modern chemistry told us new things about what kinds of properties are instantiated. This sets philosophers an interesting question. How should we give an account of the extra knowledge about the ways things are that came along with the discovery that water is H2O while acknowledging the undoubted fact that water is H2O? But surely it would be wrong‐headed to conclude that the rise of modern chemistry did not tell us new things about what our world is like.

If I am right about the source of the intuitive force of the knowledge argument, the key contention that critics of the argument need to attack is the intuitively appealing one that Mary learns a new way in which certain items, in particular certain experiences, are alike. I think the best way to attack this contention—the “new similarity” contention, as I will sometimes call it—is via representationalism about sensory experience. More particularly, representationalism comes in different varieties, and it is the strong variety that undermines the key contention. In what follows, I first offer an argument for strong representationalism that takes off from the way diaphanousness shows a weaker version of representationalism to be untenable. This is the core of the chapter. I then spell out how strong representationalism undermines the knowledge argument—I think there has been a tendency to take this to be more obvious than it is—via the way it undermines the new similarity contention. I conclude by saying how I resist Torin Alter's argument in “Does Representationalism Undermine the Knowledge Argument?” (this volume, chap. 4) to the conclusion that representationalism does not undermine the knowledge argument. (I argue that he is right about one version of representationalism not undermining the knowledge argument but not about the strong version.)

(p.54) Representationalism: First Pass

We use predicates such as “square,” “red,” “in front of me,” and “stationary” to describe things in our world. We also use them to describe perceptual experience. We describe a table as square, in front of us, and brown. We describe our perceptual experience as being as of something brown, square, stationary, and in front of us. When psychologists in experiments ask us to describe how things seem, abstracting away from how we believe them to be, we use the same adjectives we use when saying how we believe things to be. It is obviously no accident that we give these words double duty. The question, What makes it right to use the word “square,” say, both to capture the nature of an object and to capture the nature of an experience? cries out for an answer. Representationalism explains this nonaccident by a certain kind of univocality thesis. To illustrate with the word “square”: it applies to something if and only if it has the property of being square; it applies to a visual experience if and only if the experience represents something as having the same property of being square. No special sense of “square” enters the story—to be designated “square*,” as it might be when philosophical perspicuity is important—in order to account for why “square” applies to visual experience.

I am a convert to representationalism about perceptual experience (we won't be concerned with experience more generally, and “experience” unqualified in what follows should be read as the perceptual variety).3 And, as is the way with converts, I am eager to recruit. My efforts at recruitment in this chapter are, though, to some extent conditional and limited. They are limited to how the famous diaphanousness or transparency of experience can best be deployed to make an argument for representationalism, and they are conditional in that I largely assume diaphanousness.

Many have found diaphanousness very plausible (which is why I do not feel too bad about largely assuming it). Many have thought of it as the basis for a powerful argument for representationalism. I think, however, that the path from diaphanousness to representationalism has not been spelled out in the right way. Indeed, the usual view seems to be that diaphanousness, if accepted, is an argument in itself for representationalism. I start by explaining why I think that diaphanousness is in itself no argument for representationalism. As I argue in later sections, diaphanousness is, rather, an important intermediate premise (used twice over, as it happens) in the line of argument that takes us from what I will call weak representationalism to strong representationalism or representationalism proper—the kind of representationalism that, as I will later argue, shows us where the knowledge argument goes wrong by undermining the new similarity contention.

(p.55) Why Diaphanousness in Itself Fails as an Argument for Representationalism

That experience is diaphanous (or transparent) is a thesis about the phenomenology of perceptual experience.4 It is the thesis that the properties that make an experience the kind of experience it is are the properties of the object of experience. It is sometimes expressed by borrowing from Hume's famous remark about the self. Hume found himself unable to experience the self as such, always finding the experiences of the self getting in the way, so to speak.5 Likewise, it is plausible that we do not experience experience as such. The properties of the object putatively experienced always get in the way of attempts to access the phenomenology of experience itself. The claim is not, of course, that we cannot be aware that we are having such‐and‐such an experience or that there is no difference between the mental state of having such‐and‐such an experience and that of reflecting on that fact, and the like. The claim is that accessing the nature of the experience itself is nothing other than accessing the properties of its object.

Diaphanousness is very plausible, but our focus is on its implications for representationalism, and the trouble with using it as a launching pad for representationalism is that diaphanousness is not a claim about the nature of the object of experience per se. It is rather a way of affirming the famous act‐object analysis that led so many to sense data. According to the act‐object analysis, to have an experience is to stand in the relation of awareness to an object whose properties determine the kind of experience undergone. The contrast is with the adverbial analysis of sensory experience according to which to have an experience is to sense in a certain mode, where the mode determines the kind of experience undergone.6 But this means that diaphanousness says nothing in itself that favors representationalism. One gets a consideration pointing toward representationalism only inasmuch as one has a reason to hold that the object of experience is an intentional object. If the object is an object in space‐time, representationalism is false. In order for representationalism to be true, the object must be an intentional one—in particular, a way things are being represented to be. As we will see, there are good reasons to hold that the object is an intentional one, but this is no part of diaphanousness. It is an additional matter calling for separate argument.

One way to see the point is to reflect on the fact that G. E. Moore (1903), perhaps the best known advocate of diaphanousness, used the argument as an argument for (p.56) sense data, and sense data are not intentional objects. But the point is almost as obvious if you consider Gilbert Harman's presentation. He says:

When Eloise sees a tree before her, the colors she experiences are all experienced as features of the tree and its surroundings. None of them are experienced as intrinsic features of her experience. Nor does she experience any features of anything as intrinsic features of her experiences. And that is true of you too. … Look at a tree and try to turn your attention to intrinsic features of your visual experience. I predict that you will find that the only features there to turn your attention to will be features of the tree. (1990: 667)

What, exactly, is the object that is claimed to have the “features” in this passage? If it is the tree, we do not have a generally acceptable account of what makes an experience the kind of experience it is. We know that the very same experience can be had in the absence of any physical object including trees.7 That is to say, the claim that “the only features there to turn your attention to will be features of the tree” is not in general correct. What is plausible in general is that whenever we try to “catch” the properties of our experience qua kind of experience that it is, all we seem to find are properties of an object whose nature determines the nature of the experience. But the nature of this object is a separate matter. Moreover, if one went by phenomenology—which is the basis for the claim that experience is diaphanous—the most plausible view straight off is that the object is an object in space‐time and not an intentional object. We have learned to reject sense data, but there is a reason why they captivated so many for so long.

Or consider Michael Tye's recent discussion of diaphanousness—or transparency, as he calls it. Tye's view is that diaphanousness is “a very powerful motivation for the representationalist view … but that the appeal to transparency has not been well understood” (2000: 45). He gives a detailed account in ten steps of how, in his view, we should spell out the path that takes us from diaphanousness to representationalism. Step 6 is the one of interest to us. After giving an account of what diaphanousness is and why it is plausible (a convincing account, as it seems to me), he says:

Step 6

What, then, is visual phenomenal character? One possible hypothesis is that it is a quality of the surface experienced. That hypothesis is intelligible only if it is assumed that the surface is an immaterial one of the sort the sense‐datum theorists posited. The best hypothesis, I suggest, is that visual phenomenal character is representational content of a certain sort—content into which certain external qualities enter. This explains why visual phenomenal character is not a quality of an experience to which we have direct access. (48)

Instead of giving us answers as to how diaphanousness leads us to representationalism, it seems to me that this passage highlights the kinds of concerns we've (p.57) raised. First, although it is widely and correctly assumed that the sense‐datum theory is a mistake, to use its falsity as an unargued premise in an account of how diaphanousness leads to representationalism means that a key part of the account of why we should be representationalists does not rest on diaphanousness; it rests on the case against sense‐data treated as a separate issue. Second, a lot of work is being done by the words “I suggest” in the quoted passage. It isn't clear here, or elsewhere in the ten‐step argument as far as I can see, why diaphanousness per se warrants the suggestion “that visual phenomenal character is representational content of a certain sort”; but, in that case, diaphanousness is not doing the crucial work in the argument. Finally, the claim that “visual phenomenal character is not a quality of an experience to which we have direct access” seems false on reasonable understandings of the admittedly tricky notion of direct access, and, moreover, the claim is not something that follows from diaphanousness. Diaphanousness says that the properties of experience are the properties of the object of experience, not that we lack direct access to the properties.

I conclude that the famous diaphanousness or transparency of experience is not per se the basis of an argument for representationalism, even by the low standards converts are wont to set. It is not where we should start in developing the case for representationalism. We must look elsewhere for our starting point and, as I signaled earlier, bring diaphanousness into the argument along the way. The right place to start, in my view, is with the distinction between weaker and stronger versions of representationalism.

Weak, Minimal, and Strong Representationalism

Minimal representationalism holds that experience is essentially representational. Strong representationalism holds in addition that experience is exhaustively representational.

According to minimal representationalism, it is impossible to have a perceptual experience without thereby being in a state that represents that things are thus and so in the world, where “in the world” does not necessarily mean outside of the subject. Some experiences represent how one's stomach is, for example; but although this concerns how things inside one are, it concerns how the world is in the sense of concerning how things are with something distinct from the experience itself. Strong representationalism goes further in maintaining that how an experience represents things as being exhausts its experiential nature. It is not as if an experience's nature is partly constituted by how it represents things to be and partly by something else. How it represents things to be does the complete job. If experience consisted of a representational bit and a nonrepresentational extra, we could, strong representationalists argue, vary the “extra” while leaving the representational content unchanged. This would mean that we could vary an experience's nature without varying how it represents things to be. And this, according to strong representationalism, is what cannot happen. Change an experience qua kind of experience it is, and you ipso facto change how it represents things (p.58) to be.8 There is no extra element that might be tweaked in a way that leaves unaltered how things are being represented to be.

Minimal representationalism is consistent with and implied by strong representationalism. If how things are being represented is the sole determinant of experiential nature, experiences must by their very nature represent. It is useful to have a name for the kind of representationalism that affirms that experience is essentially representational while denying the exhaustion claim. I will call this view “weak representationalism.” Thus, minimal representationalism comes in two forms: the strong version, which affirms exhaustion, and the weak, which denies exhaustion.

Two clarifications concerning strong representationalism. First, it is not the view that the content of an intentional state determines its nature qua mental state without remainder. That doctrine is false. A belief and a desire may have the very same content: I may both believe and desire that it will rain soon. Strong representationalism, as we will understand it, is the doctrine that the content of an experience plus the fact that the experience represents the content as obtaining in the way distinctive of perceptual representation are what determines the experience's nature without remainder.9 However, the difference between seeing red and seeing green is exhausted by content.

Second, it is important that it is the content, not part of the content, that appears in this formulation. A visual experience and a tactile one may equally represent that something is round, but they are very different experiences. Their difference lies, according to strong representationalism, in the fact that they have different contents; what they represent about how things are differs while agreeing in regard to the matter of shape. For example, the visual experience will represent how things are in regard to color while being silent about warmth and texture; the converse will be true of the tactile experience.

I take it that strong representationalism is the doctrine with bite: enough philosophers take it for granted that experience is essentially representational, that a perceptual experience by its very nature points to things being a certain way, for minimal representationalism to count as orthodoxy. Of course, how to analyze the relevant notion of representation is controversial. What I am saying is orthodoxy is the core idea that a perceptual experience by its very nature invites its subject to believe that things are a certain way.10 We may decline the invitation. We may indeed have no inclination to accept it.11 All the same, if asked, Is there a way (p.59) things are that one is being directed to as something the experience makes belief‐worthy, absent defeaters?, it is very plausible that, necessarily for every experience, the answer is that there is such a way. After all, as we remarked at the beginning, the words we use to describe experience qua experience are the very words we use to describe the world and the things in it, and we take an experience we describe using those words to be in itself, albeit defeasibly, a reason for believing that how things are is that there are things in the world having the properties we use those words for.

I know there are dissenters to the kind of minimal representationalism I've called (tendentiously) orthodoxy, but I cannot think of an argument to persuade them to change their minds. Such an argument would need to have premises more plausible than that perceptual experiences are, by their very nature, representational, and that is a big ask in my book.

I now turn to the argument that takes us from minimal to strong representationalism or representationalism proper. I appreciate that the minority who dissent from minimal representationalism may take some comfort in the argument to come, seeing it as showing, as they see matters, that minimal representationalism is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

How Diaphanousness Takes Us from Minimal to Strong Representationalism

How might an experience essentially represent that things are thus and so? Any answer must advert to the nature of the experience. Something about the properties the experience has, in the sense of the kind of experience it is, makes it the case that it represents that things are thus and so. Let E be the relevant property of some experience in virtue of which it represents that the way things are has property P. We will review various possibilities for how E relates to P.

By diaphanousness, E is a property of the object of the experience. Is this object an object in space‐time, presumably some kind of constituent of the experience, or is it an intentional object, presumably the very way that things might be, which is represented as being P? Suppose the first. Then we have two sorts of problem. One sort is raised by the fact that in many cases E will have to be a property distinct from P. Sometimes our experience represents that something is square, and it is not plausible that the experience is, or has a part that is, square (except maybe by chance). The point is even more obvious for experiences that represent that something is a certain distance away. No part of the experience is some distance away from the subject.12 Nor is it necessarily the case that the experience has a property that entails being square or some distance away. The properties E and P will typically be strongly distinct. But then how can it be that these distinct properties are necessarily connected, as must be the case if the experience's being (p.60) E essentially represents that the way things are is P? How can the instantiation of E essentially point to the instantiation of P?

The second problem is independent of whether or not E and P are distinct properties. Suppose indeed that they are the very same property: E = P. How is it that an object in space–time's being P essentially represents that P is a property of how things are? We can understand how an object's being P might essentially represent that it itself is P, but the suggestion now under discussion is that an object's being P essentially represents that something else is P. As we noted earlier, minimal representationalism holds that experience essentially represents that the world is thus‐and‐so, where the reference to the world signifies that the representational content is directed to something other than the experience itself, and one thing's being thus‐and‐so does not in and of itself represent that something else is thus‐and‐so.

It can be tempting to think in terms of projection when we address the issue of how experience speaks to the nature of the world. The idea would be that when we have an experience which is E, for suitable E, we project some property connected to E, the one we are calling P, which may or may not be E itself, onto the world. The experience represents that the world is P by virtue of the combination of being E and the act of projection. This, however, would not help with the problems just raised. First, is the act of projection part of what makes the experience the experience it is? If it is, we have a violation of diaphanousness. According to diaphanousness, it is the properties of the object of experience that settle the nature of experience, and projection is not a property of the object but instead is something done to certain properties of it. If, alternatively, the act of projection is not part of what makes the experience the experience it is, we have a violation of minimal representationalism. According to minimal representationalism, the experience's representing as it does is an essential part of its being the experience it is. It is not an extra consequent upon an act of projection conceived as distinct from what makes the experience the experience it is. Second, how can projecting properties from one thing to another be a matter of necessity, even if we have such qualifiers as that the projection be prima facie or pro tanto or …? But in that case, a projection account is incompatible with the minimal representationalist's thesis that experiences, of necessity, point toward the world being thus and so.

The difficulties we have just surveyed arise from the assumption that E, the property that makes the experience the kind of experience it is, is a property of an object in space‐time. In effect, we have used minimal representationalism plus diaphanousness in a reductio of any view that denies that the objects whose properties determine an experience's nature are intentional objects. Contraposing, we have shown that minimal representationalism plus diaphanousness implies that the properties of the experience are properties of an intentional object; they are properties of how things are being represented to be. The final step is to derive strong representationalism by a second appeal to diaphanousness.

Diaphanousness says that the properties of the object of experience determine without remainder the nature of the experience. It follows that if the object of experience is an intentional object, the experience's properties are one and all the (p.61) properties of how things are being represented to be. Here I mean the experience's properties qua kind of experience it is. As a good physicalist, I of course hold that the experience has all sorts of physical and functional properties that are not properties of an intentional object. Now talk of intentional objects should really have quotation marks around the word “object”: the properties of an intentional “object” are nothing other than the properties of how things are being represented to be; they are, that is, properties of how things must be if things are to be as they are being represented to be.

We have, thus, reached strong representationalism, representationalism proper, the kind of representationalism that has the extra bite that weak representationalism lacks, by using diaphanousness twice over in an argument that presupposes minimal representationalism. The first use took us from minimal representationalism to the result that the objects that bear the properties are intentional objects. The second use delivered the exhaustion thesis distinctive of strong representationalism. We have reached the conclusion that the nature of a perceptual experience is exhausted by how it represents things to be from minimal representationalism plus diaphanousness.

I said earlier that diaphanousness is the wrong place from which to launch the case for strong representationalism. But of course my twofold use of diaphanousness to get from minimal representationalism to strong representationalism conforms with the thought that diaphanousness is crucial to seeing why we should be strong representationalists. I am dissenting from the letter of what many (strong) representationalists say while agreeing with a good part of the spirit.

How Strong Representationalism Undermines the Knowledge Argument's “New Similarity” Contention

Seeing red is a kind of experience, a highly distinctive kind. Attacks on qualia freakery and on the use of the phrase “what it is like” should not blind us to this evident fact. The intuition that fuels the knowledge argument—the new similarity contention, as we are calling it—is that Mary, in having that distinctive kind of experience, learns about a new kind of similarity holding between experiences. But what does that similarity consist in? If strong representationalism is true, there are two possible answers, for there are only two commonalities that might be relevant that obtain between different tokens of seeing red, to stick with that example, given strong representationalism. One is in how things are being represented to be; the other is in the fact that things are being so represented. The first commonality is in how things have to be for the experience to represent correctly; the second commonality is in the fact that each experience represents alike in the regard in question. I will argue that neither commonality makes trouble for physicalism. I will consider them in turn.

The challenge from the knowledge argument is the intuition that the “red” of seeing red is a new sort of property that unites the seeings of red. But commonalities in how things are being represented to be are not instances of properties. What unites how things have to be for the representations to be correct is not what (p.62) unites the items that share the content. The “red” of seeing red cannot simultaneously be a property instance that Mary comes to know and what is shared by how things are being represented to be.

Here is a way to make the point via an argument that almost no one nowadays takes seriously. Suppose someone argued in the manner of the traditional argument from illusion against physicalism as follows.

  1. 1. When a straight stick immersed in water looks bent to degree d at some given time to me, its looking bent to degree d is to be understood in terms of its being bent to that degree.

  2. 2. Nothing physical is bent to degree d at that time, in front of me or in my head (we may suppose).

  3. 3. Therefore, there is at least one instance of something's being bent to a certain degree that physicalism fails to account for. Thus physicalism's inventory of which properties are instantiated is incomplete.

Representationalism says that this argument goes wrong because the sense in which the first premise is true is one in which looking bent to degree d is understood in terms of there needing to be something bent to that degree for the visual experience to represent correctly, and not in the sense in which looking bent to degree d requires that being bent to that degree is anywhere instantiated. Mutatis mutandis for representationalism and the knowledge argument on the reading in which the commonality is in how things are being represented to be.

What about the alternative way of reading the similarity: as the similarity of being a state with a certain representational content? The contents are the same, but the “red” of seeing red lies, on this alternative, not in the similarity in content per se, but in seeing red's having that same content on the various occasions when subjects are in it. On this alternative, the “red” of seeing red will be an instantiated property. Although a representational state that says that things are thus‐and‐so need not be accompanied by any instance of things' being thus‐and‐so, it is itself an instance of representing that things are thus‐and‐so. But if strong representationalism is correct, this similarity is not a similarity in experience qua kind of experience it is. That is the message of the exhaustion doctrine distinctive of strong representationalism.13 The nature of experience qua experience is exhausted by how things are being represented to be, not by the fact that they are being so represented. But the similarity intuition that drives the knowledge argument is a view about a similarity in the nature of experience qua experience. The new similarity contention is that Mary comes to have a new kind of experience that instantiates a new property.

In sum, if strong representationalism is correct, advocates of the knowledge argument face a dilemma. If the similarity between red experiences that they see (p.63) physicalists as failing to include in their picture of reality lies in the content, it implies nothing about which properties are instantiated in our world; if the similarity lies in the states with the content, it is inconsistent with the knowledge argument's claim that something about the kind of experience Mary has on leaving the room shows that physicalism is false.

I should highlight the fact that my argument from representationalism to the failure of the knowledge argument rests on strong representationalism. My response to Torin Alter's argument in his chapter in this volume to the conclusion that representationalism is no threat to the knowledge argument is that he successfully shows that weak representationalism is no threat to the knowledge argument. There can be different ways of representing the very same state of affairs—witness French and English sentences both representing that there is a cat before me, and the fact that formulae in polar and Cartesian coordinates can both represent a circle. Alter is right that we should distinguish the manner in which something is represented from what is represented. However, the key question for whether representationalism undermines the knowledge argument is not whether there is a content‐manner distinction (there certainly is), but whether the new kind of experience Mary has when she first sees red is a reason for her to enlarge the range of properties she holds to be instantiated in our world. If, as strong representationalism holds, the nature of the new kind of experience is exhausted by its representing as it does, it cannot provide a reason for enlarging the properties she acknowledges by the argument above: properties of how things are being represented to be are not instantiated properties; talk of properties of intentional objects is a mere manner of speech. On the other hand, if, as weak representationalism holds, the exhaustion doctrine is false, and, say, the manner in which she represents is an additional factor in making her experience the kind of experience it is, then the manner in which she represents as she does might well be a candidate to be the new similarity, the new way of categorizing items, that advocates of the knowledge argument say she learns about on leaving the room and that is left out of the physicalist scheme. And Alter will be right that espousing representationalism about experience does not buy an answer to the knowledge argument. But what he will be right about is the failure of weak representationalism to blunt the knowledge argument.


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Armstrong, D. (1962). Bodily Sensations. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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(1.) I presume familiarity with the knowledge argument's basic structure, but see the introduction and chaps. 2, 4, and 8 of this volume for expositions.

(2.) As Ned Block (2003) says: “I accept the familiar refutation of this argument along the lines of: Mary learns a new concept of something she already knew. She acquires a phenomenal concept of a physical fact that she was already acquainted with via a physical concept” (183). Perhaps the best known version of this reply is Loar 1990/97.

(3.) I regret not believing more of what David Armstrong said many years ago, starting with Perception and the Physical World (1961) and Bodily Sensations (1962), although those books predate the use of the notion of representation as a way of expressing matters. It was reading William Lycan's Consciousness and Experience (1996) that finally converted me to representationalism, although not to quite the kind he avows.

(4.) I am much indebted in this section to discussions with Daniel Stoljar, and perhaps this is the place to thank the very many who have debated the knowledge argument with me over the years. Their fingerprints are all over this chapter.

(5.) David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, bk. I, pt. IV, sec. 6.

(6.) References to various expositions of the act‐object and adverbial theories are given in Frank Jackson, Perception (1977). In that work, I argue for the superiority of the act‐object account over adverbialism along the way to defending sense data. I stand by the critique of adverbialism but, as a convert to representationalism, am no longer a sense‐datum theorist (obviously) and now see my objections to adverbialism as steps toward representationalism.

(7.) I'm assuming (with the majority) the falsity of certain “there is no common element” views about experience defended in, e.g., Hinton 1973. For a recent critique of no‐common‐element views, see Foster 2000.

(8.) A number of putative counterexamples to this claim have been advanced, cases where the nature of the experience is argued to differ without any difference in how things are being represented to be. For references and arguments that these counterexamples fail, see Tye 2000, chap. 4.

(9.) Tye (2000: 45) describes and endorses a thesis he calls “strong or pure representationalism.” It is similar to the thesis I call “strong representationalism” but differs in that it affirms that “phenomenal character is one and the same as representational content that meets certain further conditions.” The job we give to kind of representation plus content of representation in strong representationalism he gives to a distinction between kinds of content. For my reservations about giving a distinction between kinds of content that kind of role, see Jackson 2004.

(10.) I borrow the “invitation to believe” way of saying it from Foster 2000.

(11.) As many have urged when objecting to Armstrong's analysis in Armstrong 1961. See, e.g., Jackson 1977.

(12.) Of course, some sense‐datum theorists, including my past self in Perception (Jackson 1977), embraced these implausibilities.

(13.) But didn't I say near the beginning that strong representationalism isn't the doctrine that content exhausts mental nature? We need to distinguish: (1) mental nature is exhausted by content, from (2) the similarities and differences among perceptual experiences are exhausted by content. The reason (1) is false is that the nature of experience is not exhausted by content. Strong representationalism affirms (2). Thanks to the editors for pressing me on this point.