According to phenomenal particularism, external particulars are sometimes part of the phenomenal character of experience. Mehta (J Philos 111:311–331, 2014) criticizes this view, and French and Gomes (Philos Stud 173(2):451–460, 2016) have attempted to show that phenomenal particularists have the resources to respond to Mehta’s criticisms. We argue that French and Gomes have failed to appreciate the force of Mehta’s original arguments. When properly interpreted, Mehta’s arguments provide a strong case in favor of phenomenal generalism, the view that external particulars are never part of phenomenal character.
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Phenomenal particularism is compatible with this claim. For one thing, the phenomenal particularist can insist that some phenomenal differences are indiscriminable.
French and Gomes appeal to Campbell (2011), who does indeed adequately respond to the first worry. Mehta’s point is that he, like any phenomenal particularist, remains vulnerable to the second worry.
Thoughts like this are widespread. Consider Hume, for instance, who would include perceptual experiences under the term impressions, and who would also include at least some imaginative experiences under the term ideas: “The first circumstance, that strikes my eye, is the great resemblance betwixt our impressions and ideas in every other particular, except their degree of force and vivacity” (2000, p. 8).
Of course, some theorists, like Schwitzgebel (2011, p. 114), are skeptical that anything like a complete theory is forthcoming. At the same time it is doubtful that phenomenal particularists are in a position to embrace Schwitzgebel’s brand of skepticism. After all, particularists rely on just the sorts of evidence (e.g. evidence drawn from introspection) that Schwitzgebel is calling into question.
French and Gomes also remark that “Mehta seems to think that it follows from the fact that there are experiences the phenomenal character of which doesn’t include particulars as parts, that the phenomenal character of those experiences must include non-particulars as parts. It doesn’t” (p. 453). We find this remark puzzling, especially once it is noted that parts may be improper. For either a given phenomenal character—which is an improper part of itself—is particular or it isn’t. In the former case, that phenomenal character includes a particular as an improper part, while in the latter case it includes a non-particular as an improper part. Regardless, French and Gomes rest little weight on this point.
Campbell, J. (2011). Relational vs. Kantian responses to Berkeley’s puzzle. In J. Roessler, H. Lerman, & N. Eilan (Eds.), Perception, causation, and objectivity (pp. 35–50). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
French, C., & Gomes, A. (2016). On the particularity of experience. Philosophical Studies, 173(2), 451–460.
Hume, D. (2000). A treatise of human nature. Eds. D. & M. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mehta, N. (2014). The limited role of particulars in phenomenal experience. Journal of Philosophy, 111, 311–331.
Schwitzgebel, E. (2011). Perplexities of consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Williamson, T. (2001). Knowledge and its limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
We would like to report that Todd Ganson and Neil Mehta have contributed equally to the authorship of this paper. Mehta’s work on this paper was supported by the Singapore Ministry of Education and Yale-NUS College through grant number IG15-SR002.
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Mehta, N., Ganson, T. On the generality of experience: a reply to French and Gomes. Philos Stud 173, 3223–3229 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-016-0659-6
- Phenomenal particularism
- Phenomenal generalism
- Phenomenal character
- Naive realism
- Particularity of experience