Horgan and Tienson on phenomenology and intentionality


Terence Horgan, George Graham and John Tienson argue that some intentional content is constitutively determined by phenomenology alone. We argue that this would require a certain kind of covariation of phenomenal states and intentional states that is not established by Horgan, Tienson and Graham’s arguments. We make the case that there is inadequate reason to think phenomenology determines perceptual belief, and that there is reason to doubt that phenomenology determines any species of non-perceptual intentionality. We also raise worries about the capacity of phenomenology to map onto intentionality in a way that would be appropriate for any determiner of content/fixer of truth conditions.

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  1. 1.

    We take Horgan and Tienson (2002) to be a canonical statement of the position; it is further amplified and defended in Horgan et al. (2005, 2006), Graham and Horgan (2000, 2008), and Graham et al. (2007, 2009).

  2. 2.

    Similar recent attempts to argue for a tight connection between phenomenality and intentionality are Charles Siewert (1998) and Brian Loar (2002, 2003). John Searle (1992) and Galen Strawson (1994) are also prominent advocates of the view that phenomenology is a pre-requisite for ‘genuine’ intentionality; see also McGinn (1988) and Addis (1989).

  3. 3.

    All page references are to Horgan and Tienson (2002) unless otherwise noted.

  4. 4.

    This is a view similar to what David Chalmers (2004) calls a strong version of “weak representationalism.”

  5. 5.

    Kenneth Williford (2005) calls this the Thesis of Strong Inseparability: the view that “intentionality and phenomenality are but two sides of the same coin”.

  6. 6.

    Thus, David Chalmers (2004) focuses on the equivalence of phenomenal and representational properties in his discussion of the representational character of experience. He argues that a certain kind of equivalence fails, as do we, and that this blocks the prospects for some variants of what he calls ‘representationalism’ (he uses the term in a wider sense than is usual). However, the equivalence he is interested in—that between phenomenal properties and what he calls “pure representational properties”—is different from our concern here, and his arguments are not the same as ours. Indeed, Chalmers ultimately argues that phenomenal properties are identical with a kind of representational property, and so his views are in tension with those we defend below.

  7. 7.

    For example, Chalmers (2004), Kriegel (2009), Loar (2003), Pitt (2004), and Siewert (2003).

  8. 8.

    Leading representationalists, of somewhat varying stripes, include Peter Carruthers, Fred Dretske, William Lycan, and Michael Tye. We take the core commitment of representationalism, in this sense, to be the claim that phenomenal consciousness is grounded in, and metaphysically reducible to, intentionality. It is worth noting however, that "representationalism" is frequently used, following Chalmers (2004), to include all equivalence theses, even those that ground the intentional in the phenomenal, like Horgan and Tienson.

  9. 9.

    Robert A. Wilson makes a point rather like this in his (2003, pp. 416–417), though his other criticisms of HT’s paper differ from those we make here.

  10. 10.

    Ironically, if HT agreed with Quine that R1, R2 and S3 were indeterminate thoughts, then it would be unproblematic if they shared a phenomenology—that phenomenology could determine the shared indeterminate content. However, since tail subsets have a different phenomenology than tails, they should determine a different content.


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This paper benefited from discussions with David Bourget and Ben Blumson regarding early drafts. Audience members at the Australian National University also provided valuable feedback on an earlier version of the paper.

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Correspondence to Bradley Richards.

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Bailey, A., Richards, B. Horgan and Tienson on phenomenology and intentionality. Philos Stud 167, 313–326 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-013-0089-7

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  • Phenomenology
  • Intentionality
  • Phenomenal character
  • Consciousness
  • Perception