Stanford Encyclopedia Of Ineffability Philosophy Essay


Discuss about the Stanford Encyclopedia of Ineffability Philosophy.



Many arguments have arisen in the question of which philosophical theory best explains the proceeds of the world as we see and know it. The question of adequate knowledge to explain the world is an unending one. Many philosophers have so far tried to explain the kind of notion that best describes the understanding of the world. Among these many theories are the concepts of qualia and the physicalism thesis. This essay therefore is set out to explain, among other things, the canonical concept of a quale as propagated by Clarence Irving Lewis to decipher the reason behind his motivation to introduce the concept, to outline the consequences of Raffman’s argument to the physicalism thesis and concept of qualia, and to deduce if this argument was successful.

The widely accepted canonical concept of a quale is Clarence Irving Lewis’s explanation of the subjectivity of our minds. Born in April 12, 1883 at Stoneham, Massachusetts, Clarence Irving (C.I.) Lewis was one of the most important American academic philosophers. He made most of his phenomenal advances in the 1930s and 1940s. His contributions brought a massive revolution in the fields of epistemology, logic and ethics, affected by his prowess in his various publications and in his influence reflected in his student’s work. He prides himself in works that manifested the sole aim of philosophy that is to decipher “the criteria or principles of the real, the right, the beautiful, and the logically vivid” (Lewis, 1929, Chp. 1) which are reciprocated in the various human experiences and activity. His undying determination made him a widely renowned philosopher greatly acclaimed for his inspiring and revolutionary, not to mention, legendary pieces of work demonstrated in his many books.

I. Lewis introduced one of the most common theories in philosophy that is the concept of qualia. This concept still causes hot debates in modern philosophy as an attempt to explain how we create and engage perceptional knowledge. He obtained his motivation for introducing the concept of a quale from the need to fully understand and appreciate the proceeds of logic. He had made advances in explaining the basis behind logic and perceptual knowledge and in the course of his discoveries; he wanted to distinguish among the three elements of perceptual knowledge. This was in an attempt to explain the thin line that separates reality from hallucinations: object’s objectivity from object subjectivity. His outline elements of perceptual knowledge included: “the given or immediate data sense, the act of interpreting the given as an experience of one sort of things as opposed to another, and the concept by which we so interpret the given by relating it to other possibilities of experience” (Lewis, 1929, 37-8). He hence devised the concept of quale as an explanation to the three elements of perceptual knowledge.

The canonical concept of quale propagated by C.I. Lewis explains that the way we view objects in reality is not necessarily the same as mental picture and ‘sense’ we associate the object with. This implies that although we all see objects in the world as similar in terms of the physical characteristics, we do not share the same view and perception on the nature of the object. This variation in the perception of a single object is brought about by the counterfactual statements that we harbor in our minds about the experiences we had with the object (Lewis 1929, 142). This is to mean that our actions and reaction while we were in contact with an object is what shapes our perception of the object and not the objectivity, or the physical characteristic of the object (Lewis 1948, 180, 208). This is an opposing concept to physicalism that tends to propagate that the nature of an object in the mental and physical state is the same (Kim, 2011).

Physicalism is basically an ontological view in philosophy that relates to the materialistic nature of items in the world (Bennett and McLaughlin, 2011). It makes no reference to the virtual word that is built on perceptions but hypothesizes that the world has only one dimension, the physical (Chalmers, 1996). The concept of quale disputes this one-angle view of the world by introducing the perception knowledge built on the description and recognition of objects using memory like experiences with the object that is or are the qualia(Thomas, ). This concept also almost coincides with the aspects of supervenience physicalism that places mental interpretations of the physical world and the actual physical world to be asymmetrically the same with the mental being effected and pre-determined by the physical (Armstrong, 1968).

Often in describing our experience with an object, the statements we make in different environments vary. This is because the experience was shaped by various environmental aspects such as the perception we had about the lighting of the place as we came into contact with the object. However, every experience with one object would be characterized by a qualitative character of an object that does not seem to change in many individual’s experiences. This widely repeated character in different experiences is universal and often presented as a factual statement even in the varying environments and experiences. These counterfactual statements are what make up and define a quale (Lewis, 1929, 121).

Lewis hypothesized that for starters, qualia are the most basic components of sense-data, the key element and determinant of the proceeds of perception (Tye, 2015). Hence, they are centered on the sense data theory that implores that qualia cannot bring one into contact with the physical object but only the experience of being in close proximity of the object (Jackson, 1977). This derives from the properties of sense data that are the kind of things we are directly aware of in perception; they are dependent on the mind and have properties that perceptually appear to us (Johnston, 2004). These qualia are homogeneous, simple and subjective and as such cannot be the sources of any errors or mistaken predictions unlike the objectivity of an object that is characteristic of the realistic deductions. This is because of the ineffability nature of these qualia. Two individuals might get the physical characteristics of an object right but mentally their description of the objects did rely on two very different qualia. This is to say that, qualia as perceived by two individuals might be very different but they do not alter the knowledge of the physical characteristics, that is, the objectivity of an object as it is perceived in real life (Lewis, 1929, 124). This makes them private too as we cannot discern the thoughts of another person.

One limitation of Lewis’s concept of qualia is the use of short-cuts in language. Although individuals might perceive an object with universal characteristics reflected in the qualia, they might give wrong interpretation of the objective properties of the object by way of the choice of words that they use. This is to mean that interpretation of the objective characteristics of an object cannot entirely rely on qualia as qualia is purely subjective (Lewis, 1929, 124).

In light of the Lewis’s concept of qualia and the thesis of physicalism, many arguments and counter theories have been made at an attempt to dispute these two theories (Hawthorne, 103-113). Of interest for this essay are the consequences that Diana Raffman’s argument has for both Lewis’s concept of qualia and on physicalism. Raffman argued that physicalism was not enough an explanation of the nature and dimensions of the world. This argument was brought forth by the intuition that being in possession of physical information is not enough information. This implies that physicalism leaves out a great deal of information about the world, mainly as is experienced in the states of mind. This is depicted in Fred’s and Mary’s stories. Mary, despite having all the physical information of the world acquired from the study of the world from black and white television set, her experience of the world from its reality and from the colored television set was wanting. On exposure to the real world from the black and white room, she learned new things and new aspects of the world that physical information could not provide. The same applies to Fred’s story in which, until his death, scientist could not actually say that they knew everything about Fred as the study of his anatomy and physiology gave just enough physical information but left out the biggest part that is the king of experience that he had from perceiving the different shades of red1 and red2 colors (Frank, 1950).

The consequence of Raffman’s argument on the thesis of physicalism is that it discredits this theory as a complete explanation and view of the world and its dimension. Physicalism explores the world as consisting of the physical world only leaving the perceptual world ignored. The explanation of the world cannot be termed complete without the exploration of the experiences we have in this world. Physicalism fails to remove the concept of qualia. Therefore, I tend to agree with the intuition that physicalism leaves out various aspects of the real world that cannot be explained to anyone else. I agree with Jackson that Mary did learn something new on release from the black and white room into the real world. It is also evident that there was something about Fred that even scientific experiments could not decipher. This was his experience on perceiving the two colors. The two cases are not at all different as they point out the deficiency and limitation of the physicalist’s thesis on physicalism and physical information.

The discrediting of materialism is further achieved by Laurence Nemirow Ability Hypothesis that states that, “some modes of understanding consist, not in the grasping of facts, but in the acquisition of abilities” (David, 1997, 591). Lewis depicts that experiencing the actual feel of the experience gives one the knowledge how and basically watching one doing something gives you the knowledge that. For example, watching your mother cut onions gives you the knowledge that as was acquired by Mary by simply studying the world from the television and is the knowledge acquired from the physical information propagated by physicalism: knowledge that. Getting to cut the onions yourself gives you the knowledge how that is basically left out in the physical information obtain in observations. This feeling constitutes an important part of consciousness and hence necessary for the explanation of the world.

As much as Raffman is openly not a fun of physicalism, she is also not entirely for the concept of qualia. In her argument, she presents the differentiation problem as a major setback on Lewis’s concept of qualia (Raffman, 1995). She states that qualia depend largely on memory of perception that is not fine. This course-grained nature of the human memory limits the extent to which one can relate objects in reality based on the qualia they perceive. Therefore, while for example participating in a neuroscience experiment to try and identify the neural correlates of subtle experiences of emotions, the course-grained nature of the memory proves to be the major setback as one cannot finely pin-point to one particular experience in their mind. This is mainly because qualia are subjective and objects are objective as explained by C. I. Lewis. This can further be explained by the statistics that in a population, the quale about the appearance of an object could be a sign of different objective properties and different qualia may be the sign of the same objective property. This implies that a single physical property of an object can be described by many qualia inferences and that one quale or mental representation of an object can decipher tons of physical characteristics of that object.

The consequence of Raffman’s argument on the concept of qualia is that it made the proceeds of qualia appear insufficient in explaining the mental experiences and how they are exactly correlated with the physical world as it was limited by the human memory that very forgetful and cannot exactly and correctly place an experience with the physical word.

I agree with Raffman’s argument to dispute the proceeds of physicalism. Physicalism only does not bring out the mental experience in explaining any subject whatsoever. It is deviant of the mental state obtained from key aspects relayed in the senses. This makes the consideration of physical information as enough to describe he world inappropriate. Despite the fact the mental state and consciousness have to be involved in the explanation of the proceeds of the world to give full and competent explanation of the world. This topic too has its limitation. One of the limitations is in describing the fine experience associated with and object as the state of mind relies heavily on the memory that is insufficient and course grained. Therefore, Raffman’s argument is effective and successful as it pin-points practical shortcomings of the concept of qualia and the physicalism thesis.

Work cited

Armstrong, D. A Materialist Theory of the Mind, London: Routledge, 1968

Bennett, K. and McLaughlin, B. 2011. Supervenience in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. E. Zalta Edition

Chalmers, D. 1996. The Conscious Mind. New York: Oxford University Press

Clarence Irving Lewis. ‘The Knowledge of Objects’ (excerpt) In Mind and the World-order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1929. 37-7, 121, 142

Clarence Irving Lewis. Professor Chisholm and Empiricm. The Journal of Philosophy, 45: 517-24. Reprinted in Lewis (1970), 108-208

Diana Raffman. On the Persistence of Phenomenology, in Thomas Metzinger’s Conscious Experience. Imprint Academic Schoningh, 1995. 293-308.

David Lewis. 1997. What Experience Teaches in N. Block, O.J. Flanagan and G. Guzeldere, The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Cambridge, MIT Press: 591-595

Frank Jackson. Epiphenomenal Qualia. The Philosophical Quarterly (1950), Vol 32, No. 127 (April, 1982) 127-136. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hawthorne, J. Blocking Definitions of Materiaalism. Philosophical Studies, 110(2): 103-113

Johnston, Mark. 2004. The Obscure Object of Hallucination. Philosophical Studies. 120: 113-183

Jackson, Frank. 1977. Perception: A Representative Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Kim, J. 2011. What is Consciousness? Philosophy of Mind. 3rd edition. Boulder: Westview Press.

Thomas Metzinger. Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity.66

Tye, M. Qualia. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2015 Fall edition. Retrieved from Accessed on 10th May 2017

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