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From Consciousness to Knowledge – The Explanatory Power of Revelation

Author(s): Gärtner, Klaus

Date: 2014

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Origin: Repositório Institucional da UNL

Subject(s): Consciousness; Self-knowledge; Privileged Access; Acquaintance; Revelation; Transparency


Epistemology in philosophy of mind is a difficult endeavor. Those who believe that our phenomenal life is different from other domains suggest that self-knowledge about phenomenal properties is certain and therefore privileged. Usually, this so called privileged access is explained by the idea that we have direct access to our phenomenal life. This means, in contrast to perceptual knowledge, self-knowledge is non-inferential. It is widely believed that, this kind of directness involves two different senses: an epistemic sense and a metaphysical sense. Proponents of this view often claim that this is due to the fact that we are acquainted with our current experiences. The acquaintance thesis, therefore, is the backbone in justifying privileged access. Unfortunately the whole approach has a profound flaw. For the thesis to work, acquaintance has to be a genuine explanation. Since it is usually assumed that any knowledge relation between judgments and the corresponding objects are merely causal and contingent (e.g. in perception), the proponent of the privileged access view needs to show that acquaintance can do the job. In this thesis, however, I claim that the latter cannot be done. Based on considerations introduced by Levine, I conclude that this approach involves either the introduction of ontologically independent properties or a rather obscure knowledge relation. A proper explanation, however, cannot employ either of the two options. The acquaintance thesis is, therefore, bound to fail. Since the privileged access intuition seems to be vital to epistemology within the philosophy of mind, I will explore alternative justifications. After discussing a number of options, I will focus on the so called revelation thesis. This approach states that by simply having an experience with phenomenal properties, one is in the position to know the essence of those phenomenal properties. I will argue that, after finding a solution for the controversial essence claim, this thesis is a successful replacement explanation which maintains all the virtues of the acquaintance account without necessarily introducing ontologically independent properties or an obscure knowledge relation. The overall solution consists in qualifying the essence claim in the relevant sense, leaving us with an appropriate ontology for phenomenal properties. On the one hand, this avoids employing mysterious independent properties, since this ontological view is physicalist in nature. On the other hand, this approach has the right kind of structure to explain privileged self-knowledge of our phenomenal life. My final conclusion consists in the claim that the privileged access intuition is in fact veridical. It cannot, however, be justified by the popular acquaintance approach, but rather, is explainable by the controversial revelation thesis.

Document Type Doctoral thesis
Language English
Contributor(s) Gärtner, Klaus
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