Phenomenal Character and Color - Reply to Maund

by Michael Tye e-mail

Department of Philosophy
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas 78750

1)   Barry Maund covers a lot of ground in his essay, and he says much of interest. Let me begin with some of his remarks about transparency. According to Maund, in my discussion of transparency, there is an equivocation in my use of the expression “awareness of”. I would say rather that in the following sentence, partly quoted by Maund from Consciousness, Color, & Content, I misplaced the qualifier ‘via introspection’:

Via introspection, you are directly aware of a range of qualities which you experience as being qualities of surfaces at varying distances away and orientations and thereby you are aware of the phenomenal character of your experience.

I should have placed ‘via introspection’ after the words ‘and thereby’. The first part of the remark pertains to awareness in seeing the surfaces before the eyes, as was made explicit in my comments in the prior two pages. The first ‘aware of’ in the passage expresses nonconceptual awareness. The second ‘aware of’ expresses awareness-that. The abstract noun ‘the phenomenal character of your experience’ stands in for a factive clause: you are aware that your experience has so-and-so phenomenal character. This is true for abstract nouns generally when they follow verbs for awareness of any sort. Consider, for example, ‘the sentence the man spoke’ in the case that I am said to hear the sentence the man spoke. It does not suffice for the remark about me to be true merely that I hear the sentence. I must hear that the sentence the man spoke was such-and-such.

The general point here is that if you try to introspect a visual experience, say, you will certainly become aware that you are directly aware of various surfaces and qualities, which you experience as being qualities of the surfaces, but you will not find yourself being aware, as you introspect, of an inner token experience or of any qualities of an inner experience. By being aware of the qualities and surfaces outside (or apparently outside), you are aware that you have an experience with a certain phenomenal character. That is all.

2)   Maund moves next to what he calls “a more serious objection.” He asks rhetorically whether all there is to a state’s being an experience is that it carry nonconceptual content and that it be “the last stage in a process that results (other things being equal) in a conceptual state.” A couple of sentences later, he asks again rhetorically whether this is “all it means to say that the state constitutes “awareness of the (relevant) qualities”.

On my theory, what it is for a state to be an experience is that it be a PANIC state. That is indeed all there is to a state’s being an experience. However, nowhere do I claim that the meaning of the term ‘experience’ can be cashed out in terms of PANIC. Nowhere do I claim that the concept EXPERIENCE is the same as the concept PANIC. Indeed, I explicitly say the contrary, and I give my reasons (see CCC, pp. 53-4). Phenomenal concepts, I maintain, are conceptually irreducible; and the concept EXPERIENCE is one such concept of a very general sort. So, Maund’s second question is not to the point.

3)   Maund wonders how, on my account, “there is a difference between what results when I introspect my perceptual experience of a brown shoe on the floor as opposed to what results when I introspect my belief that there is a brown shoe.” He continues:

In either case, all I can discriminate are the qualities contained in the content of the relevant mental state, and on Tye’s theory, the content is the same.

I do not know why Maund says this. The thesis of transparency is a thesis held with respect to experiences. It is not a thesis held with respect to beliefs. When I introspect a perceptual experience, I am directly aware of various qualities represented by the experience, for in undergoing the experience I am directly conscious of the qualities. And what introspection tells me is simply that I am undergoing the relevant perceptual experience. Introspection is not awareness of the experience. Nor is it awareness of qualities of the experience.

When I introspect a belief, or better its conscious manifestation in an occurrent thought, I am not directly aware of the qualities represented by the belief. I am simply aware that I have the relevant belief. Moreover, the content of the belief is certainly not the same as the content of the experience in the first case. The latter is nonconceptual and very rich; the former conceptual and nothing like as rich. Nor is the content of the higher-level awareness in the two cases the same. The awareness in the first case exercises phenomenal concepts. The awareness in the second does not. Further, the second awareness uses the concept of belief; the first does not.

4)   Maund approves of the objection raised by Block and Searle that my view cannot distinguish between the phenomenology of seeing one’s damaged leg and feeling pain there. I think otherwise. One’s visual experience, as one views the leg, nonconceptually represents such features as color, shape, orientation of surface, presence of an edge. It does not nonconceptually represent tissue damage. One’s pain does nonconceptually represent tissue damage, but it does not represent the other features.

I concede that, going by the phenomenal look of the leg, one will judge it to be damaged, and thus that it will look to be damaged. This is a conceptual use of the term ‘look’, however. In general, if X looks to be F to person P, P must possess the concept F. The phenomenal sense of ‘looks’ is nonconceptual. It is captured by ‘looks F’, where ‘F’ is a term for a quality of which one is directly aware as one undergoes the relevant experience.

Maund objects that the damaged leg does look damaged in the phenomenal sense of ‘look’. He comments: seems to me that the phenomenal sense applies to a range of features or cluster of features besides the ones Tye cites: there are rusty looks, wooden looks, jarrah looks, metallic looks, and damaged-tissue looks.

I disagree. If one views something rusty in standard conditions, one is directly aware of a range of color and texture qualities, on the basis of which one judges that it is rusty. The object looks to one to be rusty; moreover it looks like other rusty things, and indeed, in one ordinary way of speaking, it looks rusty, but it doesn’t look rusty in the nonconceptual, phenomenal sense. For rustiness isn’t a quality of which one is directly aware when one introspects one’s experience any more than is the quality of being feline, when something looks feline to one. Intuitively, felines and twin felines (molecule by molecule duplicates of cats belonging to a different species on a variant of Putnam’s planet, twin earth) are phenomenally indistinguishable. In the phenomenal sense, they look alike. But cats look feline to us, whereas twin cats look twin-feline to the inhabitants of the other planet.

What is true here for cats is true mutatis mutandis for rusty things, wooden things, etc. And it is true for damaged tissue as well.  Imagine in this case that on the twin planet, there is no tissue but an artificial look alike. Note, incidentally, that this is not to deny that “there is a characteristic experience-type that things which are rusty, wooden, jarrah, metallic and damaged tissue cause in optimal conditions” (Maund). There is such a type; but at the nonconceptual phenomenal level, that type is individuated by the cluster of qualities of which the subject is directly aware via introspection (qualities that are also represented by the experience).  And those qualities are at the level of shape, color, texture etc. They do not include rustiness, woodenness, and so on.

5)   Maund says that he finds the transparency view very implausible for pain. He claims that the natural account of pain is that “we are aware of the bodily disturbance through being aware of the intrinsic quality of the pain.” A little later he remarks:

.... the pain one feels in one’s leg is a subjective feeling that one ‘projects’ onto the leg. It is not a real projection.  One has a body image which represents the body. The pain is projected on to, is located on, that part of the body image which represents the leg. Likewise with colors. There is a subjective quality which one ‘projects’ onto an external object, say to the moon, to represent it as yellow.

I confess that do not understand any of this. If I see the moon, I am not aware of a subjective visual field that represents the moon. I am aware of the moon and perhaps some stars located in distant regions of space before my eyes. Likewise, if I have a pain in my leg, I am not aware of an image that represents my leg. I’m aware of my leg and its condition. To suppose that it is the representation itself -- the subjective visual field or the body image -- of which I am really (directly) aware in these cases is like supposing that if I desire eternal life, what I really (directly) desire is the idea of eternal life. That, however, is not what I desire. The idea of eternal life I already have.  What I desire is the real thing. And it does not help, of course, to say that it must be the representation of which I am aware, since the case might be one of hallucination — no moon or no leg — for patently, if there is no eternal life, it still isn’t the idea of such a life that I really desire. If the pain is a phantom one or the visual experience totally delusive, I simply undergo an experience which represents something that isn’t there.

It seems to me, then, that the right thing to say is that when I attend to a pain in my finger, I am directly aware of a certain quality or qualities as instantiated in my finger. Moreover, and relatedly, the only particulars of which I am then aware are my finger and things going on in it (for example, its bleeding). My awareness is of my finger and how it feels. The qualities I experience as bad or unpleasant are ones the finger or part of the finger or a temporary condition within the finger apparently have. My experience of pain is thus transparent to me (or so I continue to hold). When I try to focus upon it, I ‘see’ right through it, as it were, to the entities it represents.

6)   Maund insists that visual phenomenal character is a quality of objects — not a real property but an experienced property, one that visual experience projects on to objects. He says that it is a property of the Perth sunset and a field poppies, for example.

I agree that the qualities I find so pleasing in a sunset or a field of flowers are ones I experience the sunset of flowers as having. But why insist that these are qualities the experiences project upon the objects? If a particular poppy is vivid red, why not say that it is the vivid redness of the poppy in which I delight? By experiencing a quality I like so much, I undergo an experience whose phenomenal character has an aspect, or component part, that is delightful to me. For the phenomenal character, on my view, is a certain representational content my experience has and that content is one into which the vivid redness of the poppy enters.

Maund objects that I don’t delight in my awareness that I am having an experience that represents the object a certain way. I concur. For one thing, as just noted, it is an aspect of the content of the experience that pleases me. The experience is the bearer of phenomenal character, not the higher-level awareness that the experience is present. For another, it isn’t any aspect of the content of the experience, qua aspect of the content, in which I take delight. Again, that phenomenal character is a certain sort of representational content isn’t something given to me directly in experience itself. As I note in the book, representationalism is best viewed as a hypothesis that is justified in terms of its explanatory power.

7)   The last part of Maund’s essay concerns my view of color. According to Maund, colors are manifest qualities, not qualities with a hidden nature. I agree with Maund that colors are manifest. After all, we see things by seeing their facing surfaces and we see the facing surfaces by seeing their colors. In this way, colors contrast with such qualities as being an electron or being a quark. But it does not follow from this that colors do not have a hidden nature. The thesis of revelation — that the nature of color is wholly given to us in sense experience — is much stronger than the thesis that colors are manifest qualities. Revelation, it seems to me, is a philosophical thesis that is no part of common sense. We should all agree (obviously) that colors are not given to us in color experience as having a hidden nature. But we need not also agree that colors are given to us as not having such a nature.

8)   Maund says that volumes, films, and surfaces, in being the same color, share the same property. An obvious addition to this list is light sources. Maund takes it for granted that the reflectance view of color is in serious difficulty here; but he is, I think, too hasty. Byrne and Hilbert , in a forthcoming essay, (“Color Realism and Color Science", Behavioral and Brain Sciences), propose that reflectance be characterized not in terms of the light reflected by a surface but by the light leaving it (by reflection, transmission, or emission). Saying that the light leaving a surface is the light the surface produces, they identify the reflectance of a surface with its disposition to produce a certain proportion of the incident light. This characterization of reflectance is equivalent to the one I give for opaque, non-luminous surfaces; but for surfaces that emit or transmit light, it gives very different results. As they show, the colors of volumes and light sources can now be accommodated in a relatively straightforward way.

9)   On my view of color, the colors we see are entirely objective properties, though they are anthropocentric. Maund takes me to hold that colors are reflectances with powers “defined in terms of the effect [they] have on the perceiver’s opponent-processing channels.” So, he claims, on my account, colors are not objective, perceiver-independent properties. And this allegedly shows that I have not answered Hardin’s point that the objectivist about color cannot preserve the unitary/binary distinction, contrary to my claims in the book.

Maund here has failed to come to grips with my theory. Colors, in my view, are just as perceiver-independent as shapes. The surface colors we see are spectral reflectances that dispose their possessors to produce (via reflection) certain percentages of long, medium, and short wavelength light in certain objectively specifiable viewing conditions. These objective properties of surfaces are ones to which our visual systems are ‘tuned’.  We find them special because of how our visual systems are constructed, but their being so does not make them subjective.  They are real, external, objective properties even though they are of no interest to creatures lacking our visual systems.

My proposal is about the nature of color. It is not, as Maund suggests, a proposal about the concept of color. I am certainly not offering definitions of color words or analyses of color concepts in terms of the effects certain properties have on the opponent processing systems of perceivers. Nor am I offering an account of the nature of colors that involves perceivers in that nature.

10)   Another of Maund’s objections is that the view that colors are reflectances doesn’t fit with the thesis that color experience is transparent. For, he claims, it just isn’t plausible that any of the qualities of which we are directly aware in seeing the facing surface of an object are reflectances. But why not? To be sure, we are not aware of any of these qualities as reflectances. Indeed, on my view, colors are not presented to us in sensory experience under any mode of presentation at all. Our awareness is direct. Maund offers no further argument against this view.

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