Notes on Tye, "Visual Qualia and Visual Content Revisited"

Philosophy of Mind
Curtis Brown


We've been considering arguments that qualia pose problems for physicalism.

A number of different arguments have been employed to try to show this: absent qualia (zombie) arguments, inverted qualia arguments, the knowledge argument, etc.

We've seen that Dennett replies to these arguments by denying that there are any such things as qualia in the sense philosophers have in mind. We can read Tye as developing a version of Dennett's approach.

Notational device: Tye distinguishes between "qualia" (no capital) and "Qualia" (capitalized).

qualia: "the introspectively accessible properties of experiences that characterize what it is like to have them"

Qualia: "intrinsic, introspectively accessible, nonrepresentational qualities of experiences" [What Tye objects to here is the idea that there are any nonrepresentational qualities of experiences. He doesn't object to the "introspectively accessible" part; I don't know whether he thinks these qualities of experience are intrinsic.]

Tye thinks qualia (lower-case) are uncontroversial, but denies the existence of Qualia. According to Tye, what it's like to have an experience is determined by the representational properties of the experience. If this is correct, then we may hope for a two-stage physicalist analysis of experience. Stage one "reduces" the qualitative character of experience ("what it's like") to representational properties. Then we may hope for a further reduction or analysis of representational properties to physical ones.

Central Thesis

The phenomenal character of experience, what it's like, "is a matter of a certain sort of representational content that the experience has" (p. 448).

Important Consequence

"any two visual experiences that are exactly alike in their representational contents are exactly alike in their phenomenal character."

So one way to argue against Tye is to find examples in which experience1 and experience2 have the same representational content, but different phenomenal character. (Inverted qualia cases would seem to be like this, for example.)

A Crucial Distinction: Properties of the Representation vs. Represented Properties

Tye doesn't really stress this, but it's important. On his view, experiences are mental representations. As with other kinds of representations, we can distinguish between the properties of the representation, and the properties it represents.

It's important not to confuse these, although it can also be difficult. Example: red blue green (this won't work on the handout, you'll need to look at the web page!)

Objections and Replies

1. argument from introspection

"transfixed by the intense blue of the ocean": isn't it a property of my own experience (a Quale) that I am attending to here?

Tye: no, what you're attending to is the objective property (blueness of a particular shade) that your experience represents.

2. argument from hallucination

I can hallucinate a pink square that isn't there. Since the pink square doesn't exist in reality, it must be in my mind. So its properties (pinkness and squareness) aren't objective properties but properties of experience. In fact, they are Qualia!

Tye: There is no pink square. To hallucinate a pink square is not to be related to a mental object. It's simply to have an experience with the representational content that there is a pink square. The content of my experience is that there's an (objective) square there with the (objective) property of pinkness. That this isn't true doesn't prevent me from having it as the content of an experience.

3. the red, round, fuzzy afterimage

I look at something bright, then turn and shut my eyes and see a red, round, fuzzy afterimage. Isn't this just an experience with no representational content? And aren't the redness, roundness, and fuzziness properties of the experience itself?

Tye: (a) there is a representational content: roughly, that something red and round is floating in the air. It's a false content, but still a content. (b) red, round, and fuzzy are still not features of the experience itself. They are objective properties which my experience represents something as having. (I may say that the experience is red and round, but that's not literally what I mean. Similarly, people watching an oscilloscope may say that the visual image they are looking at is "loud" or "high-pitched." But although the speak as though the image had these properties, what they really mean is that the image represents a sound as having the properties. Loudness and high pitch are not properties of the representation, but rather they are the properties it represents.)

[actually, the fuzziness is tricky. I may have the experience of something fuzzy, or the experience may just have an incomplete representational content. In the case of the afterimage, I'm tempted to say that it's actually ambiguous. I don't think this is a problem. Is the stretched-outness of Giacometti sculptures a feature of what's represented or of the representation (or some of each)? Not sure there needs to be a determinate answer]

4. experienceless sight

What about someone who has a conceptual understanding of the world in front of him, but doesn't actually see it? Doesn't he have the same content, but different experiences?

Tye: He's missing most of the content of the visual experience, which carries more information than any conceptual representation could. A visual experience may represent a precise hue for which we have no words or concepts, for instance. Much of perceptual content is nonconceptual.

5. inverted spectrum

A and B have spectra that are inverted relative to one another: the experience A has when seeing red matches the experience B has when seeing green. But they both reliably identify the colors of objects. Don't they have inverted experiences with exactly the same content?

Tye: no. One of them has a perceptual system that is representing the wrong color nonconceptually (even though conceptually they both agree).

[I think this is a very strange idea. If both subjects label objects as being the same color (etc.), I don't understand what could make one of their experiences represent a different color than the other's. Of course, the only other way Tye could defend his view is to deny that inverted qualia are possible, which also seems implausible.]

6. Twin earth

same visual experience, different content.

Tye: there's plenty of similar content to explain why the visual experience is the same.

7. Peacocke's examples

(a) two trees, same size but one closer than the other

Tye: viewpoint-relative size vs. viewpoint-independent size. Both are represented in a visual experience.

(b) Necker cube: flip-flop: same representational properties, different qualia

Tye: representational properties have changed [in fact our inability to prevent our perceptual systems from interpreting figures three-dimensionally seems to be the source of visual effects like this, so on this particular example I think Tye is on solid ground]

Positive view: PANIC

According to Tye, phenomenal content is Poised, Abstract, Nonconceptual, Intentional (= representational) Content.

Last update: October 21, 2015. 
Curtis Brown | Philosophy of MindPhilosophy Department | Trinity University