Public Defense of Işık Sarıhan on The Internalist-Intentionalist Research Program: Towards a New Paradigm for an Analysis of Consciousness and Mental Content

Doctoral Defenses
Open to the Public
Nador u. 9, Monument Building
Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 5:00pm
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Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 5:00pm to 8:00pm

The Department of Philosophy cordially invites you to the Public Defense of the PhD Dissertation
Işık Sarıhan
The Internalist-Intentionalist Research Program
Towards a New Paradigm for an Analysis of Consciousness and Mental Content

Supervisor: Katalin Farkas
Members of the Defense Committee:
Amy Kind (Claremont McKenna College)
Howard Robinson (CEU)

Chair: Hanoch Ben-Yami


This thesis aims at laying the groundwork for a research program in philosophy of mind by arguing for two theoretical positions, internalism and representationalism (intentionalism), which are rarely defended jointly, but which together can form the basis for a plausible theory of the mind.

The first chapter argues for internalism against the dominant externalist view. Firstly, it is discussed what the best way is to elucidate the debate between internalism and externalism rooted in the Twin Earth thought experiment. (Putnam 1975) It is argued that the issue between internalists and externalists is whether concrete items that stand in a referential relation to mental states are among the constitutive bases of mental states. The Dry Earth thought experiment (Boghossian 1998) is introduced to make a case for internalism, relying on concepts that do not refer. Externalist counter-arguments are introduced and rejected.

The second chapter argues for representationalism/intentionalism against qualia theory. It is argued that there are no mental qualities (qualia) that account for the qualitative aspects of phenomenology. What do account for the qualitative aspects of phenomenology are apparent qualities of the intentional objects of conscious experiences, the qualities the world is represented as having by the experiences. Three sets of arguments for qualia are introduced and rejected. The first set of arguments are the type of arguments that are variants of the argument from error, which are rejected by an intentionalist analysis of mentality, and an epistemology of experience is developed where experience provides an acquaintance relation between a subject and something abstract such as a possibility. This makes it unnecessary to postulate epistemic relations both to concretely instantiated items in the environment and to mental items such as qualia or sense-data. Arguments based on allegedly non-representational states such as double vision and afterimages are shown to fail by demonstrating that such states are non-endorsed representations. Arguments that rely on spectrum inversion cases where representational content allegedly differs while qualitative phenomenology stays the same are rejected by arguing against the account of representation that underlies such arguments.

The account is completed by briefly discussing and rejecting the disjunctivist theory of perception, and some other motivations for externalism such as externalism’s advantage in providing a naturalistic account of mentality is discussed. The thesis concludes by pointing at the naturalistic prospects for an account of mentality that analyses mental states as representational states while the representational content is based neither on mental qualities like qualia, nor on causal-informational relations to environmental items. I further speculate about the role of powers and dispositions of organisms that might underpin a future naturalistic analysis of mentality, and also consider the plausibility of a mysterian account of mind where the special mystery regarding the explanatory gap about consciousness is downgraded by suggesting that explanatory gaps might be widespread in nature, such as in our failure to logically link qualities like color and sound as we experience them to the lower-level physical phenomena they supervene on.