First-Order Representationalism

Holes and Hooks

Originally uploaded by Pete Mandik.

First-Order Representational theories of consciousness — FORs — are most directly concerned to explain qualia AKA phenomenal properties (and explain phenomena such as state consciousness only indirectly). Tye (1995, 2000) and Dretske (1995) embrace the wide-spread view that phenomenal properties are those properties in virtue of which there is something it is like to have conscious states. Central to FORs is their further embrace of the transparency thesis.

(TRANSPARENCY): When one has a conscious experience all one is conscious of is what the experience is an experience of.

Tye and Dretske interpret “conscious of” as indicative of representation: being conscious of something involves mentally representing something. Thus, according to FOR, the properties determinative of what it is like to be in an experiential state are the properties represented by the state. When experiences are veridical, the properties determinative of what it’s like just are the properties of the objects as they are correctly perceptually represented (Tye 2000 pp 46-47, 51; Dretske 1995, pp 73, 83-84). So, for example, as Dretske puts it:

[Q]ualia are supposed to be the way things seem or appear in the sense modality in question. So, for example, if a tomato looks red and round to S, then redness and roundness are the qualia of S’s visual experience of the tomato. If this is so, then … if things ever are the way they seem, it follows that qualia, the properties that define what it is like to have that experience, are exactly the properties the object being perceived has when the perception is veridical. pp. 83-84

Thus are qualia a certain kind of “represented properties,” (Dretske 1995, p. 73) that is, qualia are defined as “phenomenal properties—those properties that…an object is sensually represented…as having” (Dretske 1995, p. 73) and as properties not of the experience itself.

Regarding this latter point, that phenomenal properties are not properties of experiences, Tye writes:

Visual phenomenal qualities or visual qualia are supposedly qualities of which the subjects of visual experiences are directly aware via introspection. Tradition has it that these qualities are qualities of the experiences. Tradition is wrong. There are no such qualities of experiences. (2005, p. 49. Emphasis in original.)

What FORs are a theories of, then, is the second-order property of being phenomenal. What distinguishes phenomenal properties from non-phenomenal properties is that only phenomenal properties are represented in a certain way. A ripe tomato has lots of properties, but when one of them gets represented in a certain way, it goes from being a mere property to being a phenomenal property. When I correctly represent in experience the redness of a red tomato, the property determining what it is like to have this experience is a property of the tomato—the redness—and it (the redness) takes on the second-order property of being phenomenal by being represented in a certain way. More precisely, for FORs, being phenomenal just is the property of being represented in a certain way.

Dretske, F. 1995. Naturalizing the Mind, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Tye, M. 1995. Ten Problems of Consciousness: A Representational Theory of the Phenomenal Mind, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Tye, M. 2000. Consciousness, Color, and Content, Cambridge MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

3 Responses to “First-Order Representationalism”

  1. Tad says:

    Hey Pete. Thanks for the clear synopsis and pertinent quotations. A worry: I don’t think your diagnosis of FOR follows from the quotations. Nowhere do Tye or Dretske appear to claim that what distinguishes phenomenal from non-phenomenal properties is that they are represented in a certain way. They don’t seem to be trying to define ‘phenomenal’ here. They’re just saying that, given certain commonsense ways of speaking, what phenomenal properties are, are just the external properties represented in veridical experiences. But this could be an ‘extensional “are”‘ rather than an ‘intensional “are”‘, so to speak. It’s not their being represented that *makes* them phenomenal, on the alternative interpretation I’m floating here. They’re phenomenal even if they’re not represented. E.g., tomatoes don’t lose redness when no one is looking at them.

    Now you might respond by saying, well, what’s the difference between external properties that qualify as phenomenal, and external properties that do not? I’m not sure how they would respond. But I don’t think that is what they’re interested in in those quotations. I think they’re just concerned in giving reasons why they think the assumption that phenomenal properties are intrinsic to experiences is mistaken. This need not committ them to any view of what makes some property phenomenal, though maybe they in fact are committed to such a view in other writings.

    Having said that, I’m beginning to suspect that with a little spade work you’d be able to unearth some necessary commitment to defining phenomenal property in terms of being represented. But it would have to be some kind of disposition to being represented, since I think externalists believe tomatoes retain phenomenal redness even when not represented. And second - and this gets into issues raised during your session at the SSPP - you might be able to express the assumption without commitment to the reality of the property of being represented. E.g., a property is phenomenal for humans just in case it is true that the property can be represented by humans in a certain way. This needn’t involve an ontological committment to a representation relation or a property of being represented, on a suitably deflationary understanding of the truth-makers of claims about x representing y. And surely you don’t want to deny that such claims can be true? In fact, I believe it may be (implied by) one of the premises in the unicorn argument.

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Verrrry interesting stuff, Tad. Could you expand a bit on those last three sentences? I’m not sure I follow.

  3. [...] In “Me So ‘Corny“, I examined and rejected the proposal that maybe a kind of direct reference can save HOR (Higher-Order Representational) theories of consciousness such as HOT (Higher-Order Thought) from the Unicorn. I want to do a similar thing here for FORs (First-Order Representational theories). The proposal of uniting FOR with DR raises special issues. One issue is that FORs concern representations of properties, not particulars. The second issue is that FORs concern representation in experience, not thought. [...]