How things seem

In current research, I aim to show that clarifying what we claim when we say that things (experientially) seem some way to us can shed light on contemporary disputes in the philosophy of mind.

Uses of ‘seems’ in describing how things seem

The first task here (building on work by, for example, Roderick Chisholm and Frank Jackson) is to make a number of distinctions. First, between experiential and epistemic uses of ‘seem’. Second, between direct from indirect ways of indicating how things seem to us. And, third, between how things seem to us, and how they seem to be to us. There is also the question of how claims reported by sentences of the form ‘The tomato seems red to Fred’ are related to those reported by sentences of the form ‘It seems to Fred that the tomato is red.’

Seems and the contents of perceptual experiences

One paper in progress makes use of these distinctions in order to shed light on the debate concerning the contents of perception. It is generally agreed that some properties—colour, shape, motion—feature in our perceptual experiences. But there is disagreement about whether other properties—such as semantic, moral, and kind properties—also feature. Conservatives claim that only the former sort of properties feature in experience, liberals hold that at least some of the latter sort also feature. I argue that, by understanding the notion of a property feature in experience in terms of how the object with that property seems to us when we perceive it, we get an argument for conservativism.

How things seem and the transparency of perceptual experience

A second paper in progress argues that clarifying how we understand seems claims helps us to see that consciousness is not transparent. The transparency claim is (roughly) that, when we try to attend to features of our experiences, we find instead that we are attending to features of the objects of our experiences. When we try to focus on the ‘reddishness’ of the visual experience of a tomato, for example, we find ourselves focusing on the redness of the tomato. I argue that distinguishing redSEEM—which picks out a way of seeming—from redBE—which picks out a way of being—allows us to see that the argument for transparency fails.

How things seem and higher-order theories of phenomenal consciousness

A third paper in progress argues that one way of motivating higher-order theories of phenomenal consciousness—by claiming that phenomenally conscious mental states are those which seem some way to us—is unsuccessful. In brief, the argument is as follows. Either the claim that mental state, M, seems some way to me involves an experiential use of seems, or it does not. If it does, HO theorists are committed to holding—what they normally deny—that not only M, but also the HO state of M seeming some way to me, is conscious. This threatens to lead to a regress problem. If the claim does not involve an experiential use of seems, then the claim does not concern phenomenal consciousness, and so does not explain how M is phenomenally conscious.