Over the Rainbow

Remember these colors?

The recent dialectic has gone something like this. A crucial aspect of the Transcending Zombies argument is the identification of phenomenal character with a kind of conceptual content. I interpret Raffman’s (1995) argument as attacking such conceptualism on the grounds that there are perceptual discriminations that can be made but not across a memory delay. I have countered that such an argument makes the unwarranted assumption that a color is perceived the same way when presented in distinct contexts. It is open to the conceptualist, then, to maintain that the differences in the concepts applicable in the distinct contexts determine experiential differences. One way of describing this kind of conceptualism is as saying that experience is only as determinate as we have determinate concepts to bring to bear in experience.

Raffman (1995) presents an argument designed to block the sort of move I am here trying to make. She argues that it won’t do to say that our experience is only as determinate as we have determinate concepts for (we do have determinate concepts of the unique hues green, blue, red, and yellow), and merely determinable otherwise (we have only determinable concepts for non-unique hues like dark-reddish-orange). Raffman points out that there’s no introspectible difference between the ways in which unique and non-unique hues appear with respect to their ‘determinateness’ despite the radically different ways we have to conceptualize them. (Raffman 1995 pp. 301-302).

Raffman’s argument concerning determinateness seems to overlook a powerful resource available to the conceptualist. Raffman overlooks the possibility that the failure of seeming differences with respect to determinateness may simply be due to a failure to apply a concept of determinateness. Just as the conceptualist will model differences in apparent darkness in terms of the application of a relational concept of one color being darker than another, so may the conceptualist model differences in apparent determinateness in terms of the application of a relational concept of one hue or one experience of hue as being more determinate than another. Thus, the failures of appearance with respect to determinateness that Raffman refers to may be regarded by the conceptualist as due to normal perceivers simply failing to apply any such concept of determinateness to their experiences.

Previous Posts:
1. Introducing Transcending Zombies
2. Anti-Skeptical Maneuvers
3. I Know I’m Not a Zombie
4. Some Remarks on Phenomenal Knowledge
5. The Egocentricity of Phenomenal Knowledge
6. The Knowing and the Known
7. My Physical Properties Fix My Conceptualized Contents
8. My Physical Properties Fix My Egocentric Contents
9. TZ & AEI
10. Raffman’s Rainbow Unraveled

2 Responses to “Over the Rainbow”

  1. Josh Weisberg says:

    Hey Pete–

    Been digging all this. Not much to add, but here’s some thoughts on this entry:

    1. I’m not sure what the concept *determinateness* is–what does it track, pick out, whatever? If you apply it to a “determinable” does that determinable then seem determinate? Is this a quality of experience–i.e., something manifest in phenomenology? Is there some change in experience that’s supposed to occur when I apply this concept? (I guess this is a question for Raffman, maybe?)

    2. If all color experiences are picked out by their location in a relational quality space, then I’m not sure there is any need to bring in this distinction. All color experiences are picked out relationally, on this view. The determinate/determinable difference can then be made at the level of language–we’ve got color words that pin down some boundaries in our color perception system, but use relational words for more precision. But at the level of experience, the difference does not hold. Still, all our knowledge of color experience can be conceptual, but it’s relational concepts all the way down. (Maybe you already accept this?)

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Hi Josh,
    Maybe the following will help clear things up.

    As I see the relevant dialectic, non-conceptualist Raffman is claiming that there is no determinable/determinate difference in color phenomenology and that, if conceptualism were true, there would be such a difference. The reason she thinks that conceptualism is committed to such an entailment is that there is a distinction between the kinds of color concepts we have: we do have some concepts for determinate colors (e.g. unique red) and some other concepts are merely concepts of determinable color properties (e.g. reddish, darker than x). My response questions the soundness of Raffman’s argument here by denying that that conceptualism has such an entailment. As I interpret conceptualism, things only seem different wrt determinateness if subjects are differentially applying a concept of determinateness to their experiences. By analogy, rocks can only seem to George to be different wrt to their igneous-ness if George is able to differentially apply a concept of being igneous to rocks. But if George lacks such a concept, or has one but fails to apply it, then there won’t be any apparent differences to him regarding whether some rocks are igneous.

    Here’s a related point. It is often countered against conceptualism that our color experiences appear more fine-grained than can be captured by our concepts, since our concepts are, across the board, coarse-grained. It’s open to the conceptualist to point out that among our coarse-grained concepts is the concept of being fine-grained. Thus, it is open to the conceptualist to explain color experiences seeming fine-grained in terms of the application of the coarse-grained concept of fine-ness of grain to them.

    Anyway, I’m happy to endorse an “it’s relational concepts all the way down” sort of view. I was pretty much lead to this by bouncing stuff off of you and Rosenthal, so if you detect a similarity here, it’s no accident.