Eric Schwitzgebel, as usual, illuminatingly plumbs the depths of introspective error at his Mind Splinters blog. Of particular recent interest are reports of some exchanges he’s been having with Dan Dennet over how to reconcile the possibility of introspective error with the sorts of authorial authority granted to the introspector by Dennettian heterophenomenology and first-person operationalism. (Schwitzgebel’s most recent post is here, which is a follow-up to this earlier post here.)
I think Schwitzgebel is on to something when he suggests we try to draw the distinction between what errors can and cannot be made in terms of a distinction between phenomenal judgments and what’s “behind those judgments”. I think, however, he missteps in his description of such a distinction in terms of two senses of “seems”. Dennett is no friend of the phenomenal/epistemic distinction between senses of “seems” that many philosophers follow Chisholm and Jackson in drawing. Also worth keeping in mind is Dennett’s negative reaction to so-called “real seemings” expressed in Consciousness Explained and elsewhere.
So how best to flesh out Schwtzgebel’s insight regarding Dennett interpretation? I think one can do this with a single (epistemic) sense of “seems” and a distinction regarding the way’s things are with regard to our seemings.
To give a very clear illustration of this distinction, consider a substance dualist who judges a piece of wax to be melting in the heat of their fireplace. One way things are with respect to the dualist’s seemings is that it seems like he can tell by sight that the wax has changed shape. And about this they are correct: it does seem he can tell by sight that the wax’s shape has changed. But another way things are with respect to the dualist’s seemings is that they, the seemings, are identical to brain states. And about this the dualist is quite wrong (or, more humbly, clearly might be wrong).
To relate this to an example discussed by both Schwitzgebel and Dennett, consider the case of peripherally presented playing cards which, to the surprise of many subjects, cannot be identified by suit or even color (though their motion may be readily apparent). I urge that we avoid cleaving senses of “seems”. We should not describe the case as it epistemically seeming to subjects that the periphery is clear and phenomenally seeming blurry. Instead we should say the following:
It seems to the untutored observer that he or she has detailed information about the color and suit of peripherally presented cards. However, in reality the subject does not have detailed information about the color and suit of peripherally presented cards, even though it may really seem that way to the subject.