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The Phenomenal Presence of Perceptual Reasons

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Contribution to book (peer-reviewed)
Author Dorsch Fabian,
Project The Normative Mind
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Contribution to book (peer-reviewed)

Book Phenomenal Presence
Editor , Dorsch Fabian; , Macpherson Fiona
Publisher Oxford University Press, Oxford
Title of proceedings Phenomenal Presence


One influential focus in the recent debates on the non-sensory phenomenal aspects of our mental episodes has been on the intellectual elements of phenomenal character. More specifically, it has been on what it is subjectively like to think a proposition (in opposition to experiencing objects and their features), as well as on the extent to which how our thoughts and judgements are phenomenally given to us depends on how they present the world as being. Other non-sensory aspects of character, by contrast, have been largely neglected, despite two important truths about them. The first is that they pertain not only to judgements and similar thoughts, but also to perceptions and other sensory episodes — thus not raising general worries about whether the episodes concerned possess a phenomenal character in the first place. Second, they are, in several respects, more significicant and fundamental than the sensory and the intellectual aspects usually discussed. For this third kind of aspect reflects the general nature of the type of episode concerned, rather than the specific presentational differences among its instances. In particular, it renders the rational dimension of the mental episodes first-personally salient. My aim in this essay is to describe these non-sensory and non-intellectual phenomenal aspects of perceptions and other episodes and to highlight their link to the rational role of those episodes. Pursuing this aim will involve, among other things, attempting to characterise the three kinds of phenomenal aspects at issue. More specifically, it is part of my proposal that the difference between the sensory and the intellectual aspects can be spelled out in terms of the non-neutrality and the reason-insensitivity of the presentational elements concerned. The phenomenal aspects of the third type — which I will call rational aspects — may then be distinguished from the other two as those aspects which determine the type of non-neutrality involved in the respective episodes, rather than what these episodes are non-neutral about or which specific kind of non-neutrality they involve. This fits well with the already noted suggestion that the rational phenomenal aspects reflect the general type and role of the episodes in question — notably, that they provide us with and/or are based on epistemic reasons. In short, while the rational aspects of character reflect the rational role of the episodes, the sensory and the intellectual aspects are instead connected to the specific realisation of this rational role — such as to the specification of which particular beliefs the episodes provide us with epistemic reasons for. The resulting view of the rational dimension of phenomenal character is an instance of Experiential Rationalism, which is the view that our mental episodes are phenomenally given to us as having a certain rational nature (assuming that they possess any). This means that their reason-giving power and their responsiveness to reasons form part of their phenomenal character. If this would not be the case, the reasons concerned would not count as our reasons. They become reasons for us only in so far as their presence and rational impact is phenomenally accessible to us from our first-personal perspective. The considerations in this paper are therefore centred around the idea of consciousness being shot through and through with rationality. After a detailed phenomenological description of the various aspects of the phenomenal character of perceptions and related episodes (sections I and II), I will conclude the first part of this article by making my case for Experiential Rationalism (section III). In the second half of the paper, I will identify non-neutrality as a central element in the experience of rational role (section IV) and use it to divide the phenomenal aspects introduced at the beginning into three categories (section V), before finally arguing that this grouping corresponds to the division of the phenomenal aspects into the sensory, the intellectual and the rational (section VI).