I turn now to the third key way in which K* falls short of P1.
Recall that P1 and K* are as follows:
P1: If I know that I am not a zombie, then phenomenal character is (a certain kind of) conceptualized egocentric content.
K*: Smith knows that Smith has qualia –> (Smith believes that Smith has qualia & Smith has qualia))
When I first introduced this key way, I described it in terms of requiring an identity of the relevant representations and their being true. Now that I’ve made the relevant remarks about the conceptual and egocentric requirements on phenomenal knowledge, I am in a position to formulate the third way in which K* falls short of P1, namely that it leaves out the identification of phenomenal character with certain kinds of conceptualized egocentric contents.
If we modified K* to accommodate only the points made so far concerning the first two of the three ways in which K* falls short of P1, we would have only spelled out as a requirement on phenomenal knowledge that there is an isomorphism between the relevant representations and what it is that they represent. However, the remarks so far do not suffice to show that phenomenal character must be identical to certain conceptualized egocentric contents. Consider an analogous point made about George and the facts he’s able to know about rocks. There must be an isomorphism between facts George is able to know about rocks and conceptual contents that George is able to have. But this alone doesn’t suffice to establish that rocks are made of concepts or conceptualized contents. Concepts and their contents are mental. Rocks are extra-mental.
I want to argue that, unlike rock facts, which are not reducible to any set of conceptual contents, phenomenal character is so reducible. There are four general lines of thought in favor of viewing phenomenal character and rocks as disanalogous with respect to the question of reduction to conceptual content. The first is that we have reason to believe that at least some phenomenal character is constituted by conceptual contents, while we have no such analogous reasons for believing in the conceptual constitution of rocks. The second is that attributing concept-independence to rocks is needed to explain and organize our conceptualizations about rocks in a way that attributing concept-independence to phenomenal character is not. The third is that the very concept of a rock is a concept of a thing that has a reality that outstrips its appearance, whereas the concept of phenomenal character is an appearance concept. The fourth is that with respect to rocks, we have mere knowledge but not certainty. The certainty that we have with respect to qualia could not be achieved if the representations were distinct from what they represent.
Regarding the first point, there are relatively clear cases in which the acquisition and then subsequent application of a concept to experiences contributes to what it’s like to have that experience. One relatively familiar case concerns the way wine may taste quite differently to a novice and to an expert in virtue of the differential between the concepts each can bring to bear on their respective tasting experiences. Such cases lend at least prima facie support to the claim that at least some phenomenal character is conceptually constituted. An analogous case cannot be made for rocks: there’s no prima facie reason for believing that rocks are conceptually constituted.
Of course, one might pursue a plausible case that the pet rocks of the short-lived 1970’s fad were partially conceptually constituted on the grounds that no rock may be anyone’s pet without the rock being conceived of as a pet. So rocks qua pets may admit of partial conceptual constitution. But I hope to be granted the scientific-realistic presumption that rocks, qua geological kind, are in no way conceptually constituted.
Regarding the second point, the reason we believe that rocks exist independently of our rock judgments is that it helps to explain certain patterns in our judgments. The problem of how we know the external world is genuinely external is a huge problem and I certainly do not pretend to have a solution to it. However, I’m aware of no good reason for being a realist about rocks that doesn’t appeal to the explanatory or other theoretical utility of positing them as existing independent of our conceptualizations (see Mandik and Weisberg 2008 esp pp. 225-227). In contrast, there is no explanatory burden that phenomenal character bears that cannot be borne by a reduction of phenomenal character to a certain kind of conceptual content. This sort of point will be developed further in future posts.
Regarding the third point, consider the following. If phenomenal character outstrips conceptual content, then phenomenal consciousness would be noumenal for the person who has them. But if anything should be phenomenal as opposed to noumenal, it should be phenomenal consciousness. Phenomenal properties are appearance properties. Perhaps, one might object, there are two senses of appearance, an epistemic sense and a phenomenal sense. I address this suggestion later in a future post wherein I discuss the question in terms of whether the way e.g. colors appear to us in experience outstrips our ability to conceptualize them.
Regarding the fourth point, there is a degree of certainty that attaches to our knowledge of our own phenomenal states that does not attach to our knowledge of rocks. If, however, our representations of phenomenal character were non-identical to what they are representations of, then it would be possible to have the representations without their being true. But as long as that is a possibility, then I cannot be certain that I have accurate phenomenal representations.