Notes on the Given

– In another fascinating paper, Tim Crane looks at just what is given in experience. He divides the contents of experience into two distinct things: (1) what is ‘given’ – the phenomenoloigcal aspect – and (2) the ‘semantic’ or propositional aspect. Interestingly, Crane takes (2) to be a way of modeling (1), which is itself non-propositional and non-conceptual.

– (1) is non-conceptual and non-propositional because it is representational – we experience X in a certain, concrete way. This is the phenomenological aspect – while anyone else can look at X and see it, the specific representation of X to me now is had only by me.

– (2) models (1) in the following way: propositional content is that which can be abstracted from the phenomenological experience and shared with others  – this is the ‘abstract content’, while the phenomenological experience is the ‘real content’. Propositions model the ‘belief state’ or mental state in much the same way numbers model physical systems.

– (1), then, for Crane, has a priority over (2) since (1) is what’s being modeled.

– Crane develops his phenomenology against an intentionalist account of phenomenology, where, roughly, all experience is representational by virtue of all experience being propositional –  hence, the content of experience can be true or false and thus is something about which we can make a judgement. Different propositions can be associated with the same ‘concrete event’ – this is what Chalmers terms ‘content pluralism’. The trouble with this, Crane argues, is that it leads to multiple contents being conveyed to the subject through experience – which is fine it’s seen as a claim about the information delivered by experience:

‘ If it is a claim about the information which the experience delivers, or what kind of information can be derived from the fact that I am having this 14 experience, then it is not difficult to make sense of the claim (whether or not the claim is true). But if it is a description of the phenomenology of the experience, of what it is like to have an experience, then it is less clear what it means. When having a visual experience of the planet Venus in the evening, it does not seem as if many distinct (and possibly incompatible) contents are being conveyed to me. What is given or conveyed to me is a certain scene, a certain region of concrete reality, which seems like a reasonably unified thing. It does not seem like receiving multiple messages saying different things (even if these messages are relayed by different ‘content relations’).’

– What Crane argues is that what is conveyed by experience isn’t something that we can judge in such a way:

‘Nonetheless, it is not easy to make literal sense of the idea that what we take in in experience is what we can judge. When I judge, because of what I can see, that the pig is under the oak, this is something which in a certain way, abstracts from the real presence of the pig there. The content of the judgement can outlive the experience, it can be the content of others’ judgement, things can follow from it (for example, that something is underneath the oak). What can outlive the experience, of course, is the concrete state of affairs: the pig actually being under the oak. Could this be what is given to the subject? Maybe; but not according to the standard intentionalist account. This is because, for the standard intentionalist, what is given is something that can be true or false. But the pig being under the oak is not something that can be true or false. It is just something that is there. Nor is it something from which things follow. Things follow from truths or propositions; the pig being in the garden is not a truth or a proposition, but something in the world. And things in the world are not true or false.’


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