, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 39-49
Date: 10 Sep 2010

Materialism and the Subjectivity of Experience

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The phenomenal properties of conscious mental states happen to be exclusively accessible from the first-person perspective. Consequently, some philosophers consider their existence to be incompatible with materialist metaphysics. In this paper I criticise one particular argument that is based on the idea that for something to be real it must (at least in principle) be accessible from an intersubjective perspective. I argue that the exclusively subjective access to phenomenal contents can be explained by the very particular nature of the epistemological relation holding between a subject and his own mental states. Accordingly, this subjectivity does not compel us to deny the possibility that phenomenal contents are ontologically objective properties. First, I present the general form of the argument that I will discuss. Second, I show that this argument makes use of a criterion of reality that is not applicable to the case of subjective experience. Third, I discuss a plausible objection and give an argument for rejecting observation models of self-knowledge of phenomenal contents. These models fall prey to the homunculus illusion.