TRANSCENDENTAL ARGUMENTS IN THE THEORY OF CONTENT

An Inaugural Lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 16 May 1989 by
christopher peacocke
Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy

C L A R E ND ON PR E SS
1989

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O XFO RD

Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6DP Oxford New York Toronto Delhi Bombay Calcutta Madras Karachi Petaling Jaya Singapore Hong Kong Tokyo Nairobi Dar es Salaam Cape Town Melbourne Auckland and associated companies in Berlin Ibadan Oxford is a trade mark of Oxford University Press Published in the United States by Oxford University Press, New York © Christopher Peacocke 1989 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Peacocke, Christopher Transcendental arguments in the theory of content. 1. Man. Experience I. Title 121 ISBN 0–19–951566–2 Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Peacocke, Christopher Transcendental arguments in the theory of content: an inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 16 May 1989 by Christopher Peacocke. p. cm. 1. Kant, Immanuel, 1724–1804—Contributions in philosophy of representation of content of experience. 2. Peacocke, Christopher— Contributions in philosophy of representation of experience. 3. Representation (Philosophy) 4. Experience. 5. Content (Psychology) 6. Transcendentalism. I. Title. B2799.E9P43 1989 128'.4—dc20 89–39295 CIP ISBN 0–19–951566–2 Typeset and Printed by S + S Press, Abingdon, Oxon

At the end of this process we appreciate not only the necessary interconnection between various elements of our thought. But imagination also plays a crucial part in these writings. and philosophical logic. The themes of these books are deep. A phenomenon is first selected— that of identifying reference to particulars. and they are treated with great generality. the philosophy of mind. and its great successor The Bounds of Sense. But one of the hallmarks of this work is its unity. and I can describe only their impact on me. Here was an intriguing common pattern. Individuals. now stand forth as major landmarks in twentieth-century philosophy. or of selfconscious thought about experience. The discussion moves back and forth between detailed examination of the phenomenon and various candidate descriptions of the ground of its possibility. found in all of Peter Strawson’s most fundamental arguments. The inspirational effects of this combination on the reader is as personal a matter as can be. We understand also the conditions under which the phenomenon would not be possible. its limits.TRANSCENDENTAL ARGUMENTS IN THE THEORY OF CONTENT It is just thirty years since the publication of Peter Strawson’s book Individuals. Of course Peter Strawson’s contribution extends far beyond his descriptive metaphysics into the philosophy of language. Theoreti- . These arguments opened up the possibility that we could actually make progress on some classical issues of metaphysics while still adhering to rigorous standards of reasoning. The conditions of this possibility are then explored.

like Kant and Aristotle. more than 1 any others. that they. 11. for any given concept.’ I hope that what I have to say in the remainder of this lecture suggests that the same is true of Peter Strawson himself. he continued. The Kant with whom the programme shares these aspects is the Kant of The Critique of Pure Reason. In the Introduction to Individuals. In this unity we have just one of his many affinities with Kant. i In recent years I have been arguing for the philosophical interest of pursuing a particular programme. the programme of providing possession conditions for concepts has many Kantian aspects. and’. The programme of providing possession conditions for concepts is motivated in part by a Principle of Dependence: the Principle that there can be no more to the nature of a concept than is determined by a correct account of what it is to possess the concept. I will be discussing some of these Kantian aspects here. These aspects are visible in its conception. When it is motivated in that way. Individuals (London: Methuen. ‘it is characteristic of the very greatest philosophers.2 transcendental arguments cal proposals in these apparently diverse areas are motivated by their ability to meet the needs of thinkers who communicate with one another about an objective world. Strawson. We can call such an account a statement of the possession condition for the concept. . repay this effort of re-thinking. 1959). F. an account of what it is for a thinker to possess that concept. One shared 1 P. its implementation. and its applications. One of the aims of this programme is to formulate. Peter Strawson wrote: ‘No philosopher understands his predecessors until he has re-thought their thought in his own contemporary terms.

noumenal psychological mechanisms.transcendental arguments 3 aspect is an insistence on some form of a Principle of Significance. Anyone developing such negative applications of the programme has to fulfill an obligation Kant recognized. according to the conception of the programme. So are certain spurious conceptions of absolute space and time. Illusions about the nature of personal identity are obvious targets for application of the Principles of Significance. Kant formulated his positive accounts of the possession of genuine concepts as claims about unknowable. If this Discrimination Principle were violated. If the Principle of Dependence is true. but on significance itself is derivable ultimately from the Principle of Dependence. B166. there must be an account which distinguishes what is involved in the state’s having that content rather than any other. viz. A second aspect this approach shares with Kant is found in the general kind of spurious conception to which their respective Principles of Significance are applied. a non-verificationist requirement not merely on knowability. spurious. In the programme on which I have been working. and certainly did not neglect. so too is this Principle: for any mental state with a given conceptual content. That is. that of explaining why we are tempted into spurious conceptions in some cases and not in others. some relation to 2 possible experience. then we would have contents which are individuated more finely than anything that is determined by possession conditions for the concepts composing the content. as he would put it. Any alleged concept that violates the Discrimination Principle is. B195. Peter Strawson has. and throughout the critical discussion of rational psychology and of the antinomies. the Principle of Dependence would be violated. dismissed transcendental psychology as an Critique of Pure Reason. It is in this way that the Discrimination Principle serves as a Principle of Significance. B724. surely rightly. 2 . Kant accepted a requirement to the effect that knowability requires.

Strawson. . and this is a third Kantian aspect. 1966). ii For our purposes a transcendental argument will be any argument with a certain kind of premiss and a certain kind of conclusion. occur. This is the apparent availability. F. All of these points are arguably reflected in claims Kant made about noumenal psychological mechanisms. It is as if the truth about constitutive relations had been transposed into a noumenal mode.4 transcendental arguments 3 ‘imaginary subject’. on a fourth Kantian aspect. within each of the two conceptions. The premiss must state that experiences. The Bounds of Sense (London: Methuen. of transcendental arguments. for example. 32. though. I will be concentrating. expect the possession conditions of certain concepts to mention particular perceptual and other faculties. And we may expect the way experience represents the world as being to be individuated in part by the thinker’s relations to the world in which he is embedded. The more modest transcendental arguments have as their conclusions certain propositions about a mind-independent world. but some reconstruction is possible. The more ambitious arguments have a further 3 P. We may. That is. We may expect certain relatively primitive concepts to be individuated in part by their pattern of relations to the way experience represents the world as being. But if we accept the Principle of Dependence. perhaps of specified type. The conclusion must entail some proposition whose truth does not require the existence of experiences at all. concepts are individuated by their possession conditions. concepts are individuated by certain of their psychological relations. It would be a brave person who claimed that all of Kant can be retransposed back into a constitutive mode to yield truths. I call these ‘truthdirected’.

Presumably we also know that we have experiences of the sort mentioned in the argument’s premiss. though. But other examples are very different. With known premisses of an argumentform known to be valid. likely to be far less than we want from a good epistemology. though. I shall be concerned with truth-directed and with perception-directed transcendental arguments. So bracketing epistemological issues really is bracketing a substantial task. The construction of knowledge-directed transcendental arguments would need to draw on the results of a good epistemology. certainly seems at first blush not to have any verificationist premisses. we are then in a position to know that its conclusion is true. if that can be done. One does. These we can call ‘perception-directed’. The way in which such arguments appear to be entangled with verificationism varies. and is beyond my scope here. The transcendental arguments that have been developed in analytical philosophy in the past thirty years have had to face the charge that they depend upon a verificationist theory of meaning. Presumably any convincing reasons for saying that such an argument is sound will be ones which put us in a position to know that it is sound. We can also distinguish. Such transcendental arguments I will call ‘knowledge-directed’. The charge of a dependence . In particular. This mileage is. Strawson’s central argument in The Bounds of Sense. as a subset of the truth-directed arguments. those which aim to establish that at least some of the experiences mentioned in their premisses must be genuinely veridical perceptions. which I will consider further below.transcendental arguments 5 goal: that of establishing that subjects of the experiences mentioned in their premisses are in a position to know certain truths about a mind-independent world. get a little epistemological mileage just from establishing that some truthdirected transcendental argument is sound.

or a content. 1982). S. One of the contents about the mind-independent world that Strawson considered was ‘Objects continue to exist unperceived’. Oversimplifying in a way which causes no distortion of the heart of the issue. is individuated by its verification conditions. then the first principle holds. Journal of Philosophy. 65 (1968). R. then objects do continue to exist unperceived.6 transcendental arguments upon verificationism was most sharply and influentially for4 mulated by Barry Stroud. If verificationism is correct. on pain of there being a genuine content that is not verifiable. But for our purposes we can make his point in a stripped-down form which bears immediately on the truth-directed arguments. ‘Transcendental Arguments’. repr. Stroud was concerned in particular with knowledge-directed arguments. 241–56. then there are satisfiable criteria for their doing so. Stroud considered some of Strawson’s arguments in Individuals. The first principle was that If objects continue to exist unperceived. Actually. Stroud’s point thus throws down a general challenge to anyone who believes that there are sound transcendental Barry Stroud. in Kant on Pure Reason. 4 . ed. if verificationism is the doctrine that the meaning of a sentence. Walker (Oxford: Clarendon Press. we can say that Stroud found in Strawson a commitment to two principles. if verificationism is right. But it certainly does seem that verificationism is sufficient for them. and the second principle was that If our best criteria for objects’ continuing to exist unperceived are satisfied. it is far from obvious that verificationism is the only theory of meaning which endorses these two principles. Presumably the second principle holds too if the ‘best criteria’ it mentions embrace the holding of everything included in the verification conditions of a content. C. No more can be required for the truth of the content.

what general theory of content is being endorsed? Strawson conceded. then there must be P.transcendental arguments 7 arguments. All the other main parties to the discussion came to accept one or the other of these alternatives. I will be giving a different response. Not every transcendental argument which is sound under a verificationist conception of content can be rebuilt from non-verificationist materials. ed. 1979). 1985). Whenever we have an argument that apparently assumes verificationism. Strawson Skepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties (London: Methuen. in response to Stroud. 6 Bennett in ‘Analytic Transcendental Arguments’.F. If the generalized Discrimination Principle I stated at the outset is correct. 5 . 3–14. 5 (1971). the question arises whether there is some revision of the argument which is sound and which can be endorsed by a nonverificationist theory of content. that transcendental arguments either “rely on an unacceptably simple verificationism or the most they can establish is a certain sort of interdependence of conceptual 5 capacities and beliefs”. Noûs. (Dordrecht: Reidel. Bieri et al. There are contents of thoughts and experiences which require for their truth that the objective. while Richard Rorty drew the conclusion that indeed a transcendental argument can be at most an argument for the parasitism of one set of concepts 6 on another. Jonathan Bennett reacted by endorsing a commitment to verificationism. material world be a certain way. P. truth-directed transcendental argument that relies upon general considerations drawn from a non-verificationist theory of content. 21. and Rorty in ‘Verificationism and Transcendental Arguments’. in Transcendental Arguments and Science. If such arguments involve general commitments about meaning or content. But I will be arguing that there is a sound. What I have to say on this topic can be seen as an attempt to provide part of the answer to a general challenge which thought about the objective world poses to the theory of content.

. The framework is motivated by the intuitive idea that these contents of experience are to be individuated in part by giving a spatial type. It is part of the task of the theory of content to say what these facts are. It will help us to use a simple framework for treating these representational contents of experience. include the fact that you see the tree as located in a particular direction from you. solids. Suppose you see a tree in the quadrangle. Such nonconceptual representional contents are needed in giving the content. The framework I will be suggesting is one that emphasizes the nonconceptual and egocentric character of these contents. and from states that have no truth-evaluable content at all.8 transcendental arguments facts about what is involved in being in mental states with such objective contents that distinguish them from states with contents that have no such objective significance. iii The premiss of the truth-directed transcendental argument I will be constructing is this: that there are experiences whose representational content is partly non-conceptual. You can hear an unseen wasp as being in a particular direction from you. A specification of the nonconceptual representational content of your experience must. The idea is that specifying the content of a perceptual experience involves saying what ways of filling out a space around the origin with surfaces. of experiences in any sense modality that represents the world as being a certain way. and that you see it as having a certain height and three-dimensional shape. you can feel a small bottle you are gripping as having a particular shape. that you see it as at a certain distance from you. a tree of a kind you have never seen before. textures.

viz. or continuant material objects. So must . and up–down with respect to the centre of gravity (in the standard upright orientation of the body). hue. In giving the content of tactile experience. we need to take the second step in determining one of our spatial types. brightness. There are two steps to take if we are to specify fully one of these spatial types. together with its degree of resistance to touch. It is this labelling by interrelated properties which helps to constrain what are instantiations of the spatial type we are determining. and so forth. and temperature it has at that point. Such contents are not built from propositions. for each point (strictly one should say point-type) identified by its distance and direction from the origin. The orientation of the surface must be included. are consistent with the correctness or veridicality of the experience. and if so what texture. that of specifying a family of ways of locating surfaces and their properties in the space around the origin. with axes defined by relation to parts of the hand. Nevertheless. it is important that the origin and axes be labelled by certain interrelated properties. We need. to specify whether there is a surface there. The first step is to fix an origin and axes. senses. with the three axes given by the directions back–front.transcendental arguments 9 light. we would sometimes have to use as origin something labelled with the property of being the centre of the palm of a human hand. We can sharpen that intuitive formulation a little. Thus. we need to do at least the following. The origin and axes will not be a specific place and set of directions in the real world. left–right. Having fixed origin and axes. one kind of origin is given by the property of being the centre of gravity of a human body. In picking out one of these ways. for instance. saturation. This is precisely because we are fixing a type which may potentially be instantiated at many different places in the real world. concepts.

We can now also say what. The correctness of such a content is explained as a matter of instantiation. rather than as the correctness of some set of propositions comprising the content. however primitive the conceptual resources of the perceiver with whom we are concerned. and character of light sources. may be employed in fixing the spatial type. There is no requirement. however sophisticated. which still fall . There is a very great deal more to be said on all aspects of scenarios. the rate of change of perceptible properties. The content of the experience is correct if this scene falls under one of the ways of locating surfaces and the rest which is in the family of ways in the scenario. is required for the correctness of the non-conceptual content of an experience. Indeed the framework needs to be enriched to capture various additional layers of content. with an origin and axes in the real world fixed in accordance with the labelling in the scenario. Any apparatus we want to use. including location. Such correctness comes in degrees.10 transcendental arguments much more in the visual case: the direction. This applies both to the apparatus used in characterizing distances and directions. indeed it should include second differentials with respect to time where these prove to be perceptible. Consider the volume of the real world around the perceiver at the time of a particular experience. in relation to such a labelled origin and family of axes. at this point that the conceptual apparatus used in specifying a way of filling out the space be an apparatus of concepts used by the perceiver himself. intensity. We can call this a scene. features. and the rest. and to that employed in characterizing the surfaces. features. I call such a spatial type a scenario. A spatial type of the sort I am concerned with can now be characterized as a family of such ways of locating surfaces. More or less of the real scene around the perceiver may fall under the spatial type. and the rest.

it may be correct to say that you see some as rounded. In describing the scenario. Concepts and Perception’ (forthcoming). 7 . of course we do have to employ concepts. nor that the concept must be possessed by the experiencer. Writers on the objective content of experience have often remarked that an experience can have a finer-grained content than can be formulated by using concepts possessed by the experiencer. with the infinitely various For more on these and other issues involving scenarios. Since we should not stray too far from the announced topic of transcendental arguments. The ways included in the scenario will omit many which equally involve the appropriate mountains being rounded or jagged. If you are looking at a range of mountains. The description involving the concepts round and jagged would cover many different fine-grained contents which your experience could have. The fine-grained concepts have done their work when they have fixed a unique spatial type. others as jagged.transcendental arguments 7 11 short of the conceptual. contents which are discriminably different from one another. If we are to fix on the scenario uniquely. But the content of your visual experience in respect of the shape of the mountains is far more specific than that description indicates. the spatial type itself. We must not confuse the scenario. But it is crucial to observe that the fact that a concept is used in fixing the scenario does not entail that that concept itself is somehow a component of the experience’s representational content. we will indeed have to use very fine-grained concepts too. This fine-grained content is captured in the scenario. I will just mention two illustrative applications of these scenario contents. see my ‘Scenarios. to capture the fine-grained content. Only those ways of filling out the space around you which are consistent with the veridicality of your experience will be included in the scenario.

in part. The positive phase concerns the role of states with scenario contents. Then we can say that one and the same restriction on the distance between the sides of the table. Now let us return to transcendental arguments. and has this as its conclusion: that the scenario contents of some experiences are.12 transcendental arguments ways of picking it out. and saying that they are 100 centimetres apart. one and the same restriction on the ways in which the space around the perceiver can be filled consistently with the experience being fully veridical. as opposed to centimetres. The argument can be divided into a positive phase and a critical phase. we do not see it as having a certain width in inches. say. or . The unit-free nature of spatial perception is illustrated by the fact that when we see a table to have a certain width. Suppose we prescind here from qualifications about perceptual acuity. It is distinctive of this class of states that one of them must be implicated when a subject perceives something or other to be in a certain direction from him. The same point also goes for directions and the units in which they may be measured. The second illustrative application of scenarios concerns the sense in which the content of perceptual experience is unit-free.4 inches apart. This too is explained by the distinction between the ways of characterizing a scenario and the scenario itself. or a certain distance. and for that reason does something explicable in terms which relate him to that very direction. The transcendental argument I will be suggesting has as its point of application certain features of the scenario of an experience. perceptual (and a fortiori correct). is given by doing these two things: saying that the sides are 39. or distance. and therefore moving one’s hand that far to grasp it. Examples of this include such fundamental abilities as that of seeing something to be a certain distance. The transcendental argument is truthdirected.

scenario content is not perceptual.transcendental arguments 13 seeing something threatening to be approaching from a certain direction. This then An argument pressing this question is reminiscent of what in earlier work I called the ‘switching’ tactic in applying the Discrimination Principle. But what is crucial is that both ways of answering involve commitment to the proposition that the scenario contents of experiences are sometimes at least partially veridical. In fact in the present case the tactic is applied to a nonconceptual content: see further below. rather than as represent. See ‘The Limits of Intelligibility’. The critical phase of the argument presses the following question. We can make the question more specific. and so moving in the opposite direction. surfaces. this kind of role in explanation of an action rationally explicable by reference to its spatial environmental relations must be at least a possible role for perceptual experiences with scenario spatial contents. rather than another? This is a question concerning the scenario allegedly presented by such experiences. Why. as at angles rotated around the direction of straight ahead by a certain quantity? This is not a verificationist question. We can conceive of two ways in which the question might be answered. 97 (1988). and solids as at various distances and directions. 8 . Though an experience may misrepresent the scene around a perceiver. why is it correct to say its contents concern one set of egocentrically identified distances and directions. The descriptions under which the actions are made rational in these examples are ones that relate the actions to the subject’s immediate spatial environment. Philosophical Review. 463–96. in the circumstances envisaged. It is rather a question about what it is for one scenario rather than another to be the content 8 of an experience. If an experience with a spatial.ing the same features &c. is it correct to take an experience as representing the existence of various features. One way to answer is to say that a given subject’s illusions are of the same conscious type as certain other experiences enjoyed by that same subject.

the question pressed in the critical phase of the argument is answered by saying that the experiences in the sequence are of the same conscious kind as those of experiences in other human subjects. made rational by those spatial contents. In more common circumstances . Again. But the supposition of universal hallucination seems to leave us without a basis for the distinction between right and wrong linkages. The other way to answer is one which allows that a sequence of nonperceptual experiences with scenario contents may even exhaust the experiences of a given subject. rather than a variant. in the context of the subject’s other states. genuinely perceptual. which are implicated in the production of spatial behaviour that is. and not in relation to another. Under this way. experiences mentioned in the answer can explain actions in relation to one set of egocentric directions and distances in the perceiver’s environment. what makes it correct to assign one set of directions to the features in the scenario of an experience. Our question is: if hallucination is universal. Quite different spatial actions would have been forthcoming if the scenarios presented had been systematically switched in respect of distances and/or directions represented. The answer requires that there be a range of experiences with spatial contents. this answer evidently relies on the supposition that not all experiences with scenario contents are wholly non-perceptual. These latter experiences in turn present one scenario rather than another in virtue of the environmental descriptions under which they are capable of explaining their subjects’ actions. assignment of directions uniformly rotated a certain angle about the origin? Perhaps an answer to this question would exist if we could distinguish correct from incorrect ways of hooking up the alleged experiences to the limbs involved in spatial actions.14 transcendental arguments allows one to say that one assignment of distances and directions to the scenario presented in the experiences is correct because the other.

a correct linkage is one that gives an experience the relations to spatial action one would expect on the basis of the experience’s own relations to other experiences. For the relevant intentions or subintentional states themselves have an egocentric spatial content. Suppose a theorist accepts these arguments. The existence of alleged universal illusions of action would not suffice to meet the challenge in question. lacking if hallunication is universal. Thus we have no difficulty in saying why one rather than another family of links is correct for someone who cannot act within a certain range of angles to his body. This theorist thereby violates the Discrimination Principle. But any basis of this general kind is. 10 of vol. If such The reasons for preferring to speak of subintentional states are given in B. but to real spatial changes such as bodily movement. applied to the contents of experience. there is still a fact of the matter as to which assignment of egocentric directions is correct for the scenario of an experience.transcendental arguments 15 than universal hallucination. which in turn are suitably tied to spatial abilities. This highlights the fact that the present arguments tie spatial content not just to intentions. what would make it true that an intention has an egocentric content involving one direction. but can nevertheless perceive things there. but insists that nevertheless in the case of universal hallucination. in the nature of the case. rather than a rotational variant? We could go through arguments for intentions (or subintentional states) corresponding to those we just gave for experiences. 1980). O’Shaughnessy’s ‘The sub-intentional act’. II of The Will (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ch. These considerations go beyond a mere insistence that the spatial contents of experiences are constitutively linked with the intentions (or subintentional states) to which they 9 give rise in the presence of other attitudes. So the above considerations can be applied to them too. In the case of universal hallucination. 9 .

there is no obstacle to imagining that. we would refer back to the real-world relations of experiences of the same kind in the actual world. rather. But the argument requires a series of comments. we can argue that not all such experiences are wholly nonperceptual. or . (b) When we think of putative cases of universal hallucination. We may. As so often when making a regulative use of the Discrimination Principle. die same may be true of everybody else simultaneously—and so the transcendental argument just offered must be unsound. The argument is. our first reaction. it does not show the transcendental argument to be unsound. these considerations have an open-ended character. there would be no account to be given which distinguishes what it is for experience to have one spatial content rather than another. (a) It may be tempting to argue that since I can imagine all of my own experiences to be nonperceptual. That anchoring helps to determine which scenarios are presented by experiences. is to think of a subject deceived by Descartes’ evil demon. then the scenarios they present are anchored to the real spatial world. perhaps. But in answering the question of why it is that the experiences present one scenario rather than another. But of course that does not suffice to establish the unsoundness of the argument if some of our actual experiences with scenario contents are perceptual. then go on to conceive of other worlds in which all such experiences are nonperceptual.16 transcendental arguments a theorist were right. some of them are perceptual. and some of their contents must be (at least partially) correct. they have shown that the plausible answers support the conclusion of the transcendental argument. then. that given the premiss that there are experiences with scenario contents. given the philosophical tradition. They certainly do not prove that no other answers to our question are possible. If they are. If the objector’s claim about imaginability is correct.

if these considerations are right. an objector may protest. The criterion I adopted for an argument to be transcendental is met. it seems that this awareness has to be verdical (and caused by feedback mechanisms). So far I have considered . from premisses about the spatial content of the experiences to conclusions that entail propositions about the mind-independent world. Though there are not in general sensations of position. a subject can be under a total illusion whilst having a properly functioning motor system. then. which should now be removed. The objector may wonder whether we may not elaborate and extend such a case so that the spatial content of the subject’s illusions is properly grounded in facts about his dispositions to spatial behaviour. But. it cannot just be luck that he moves his limbs in a way appropriate to the content of the illusion. But it is no counterexample to the conclusion of the transcendental argument. The subject has to move his body and limbs systematically in response to the content of his illusions. and keep track of the position of his limbs after any movements. a conscious awareness of the position of one’s limbs is certainly part of ordinary human consciousness. not be illusory in all respects. (c) I have been tacitly working with an oversimplification. The objector may continue by saying that the fact that the totally deluded subject sees something frightening to be in one direction rather than another can be reflected in his moving in the opposite direction. I agree that we might possibly do this. If the example is to be convincing. If the extended example is to be elaborated. the conclusions in question are those about the body-relative location of the subject’s limbs. in a coherent development of the case.transcendental arguments 17 to think of a brain in a vat. The subject’s total conscious states would. We can certainly draw conclusions. We can make such an extended and elaborated case coherent only if we allow that the subject is able on the whole to keep track of the positions of his limbs relative to the rest of his body.

Building up a cognitive map is a matter . Perceptual states with scenario-involving contents have to play a certain role in the spatial reasoning that leads to the construction by the subject of a cognitive map of his immediate environment (perceived and unperceived). when functioning properly. and it also instantiates one of the ways constituting the scenario (under the given assignment to the origin and axes). Its actions might include. Such consistency means that there is a way of filling out the mapped space that meets two conditions. and is incapable of moving any part of its own body. Yet it seems that this organism could still have perceptual experiences. it instantiates at least one of the ways of filling out that space given in the map. with a spherical light-sensitive surface. This organism does not have limbs. Otherwise it will just be a counterexample: for this imagined organism is incapable of any of the bodily actions that have played so large a role in the argument so far. have limbs they can control. It is arguable that the content of the map is also nonconceptual. for instance. But it seems that we could develop a coherent story of a spherical organism or device. The scenarios of these experiences would have labelled origins and axes. When the space is filled out in that way. If such a being can indeed have experiences with scenario-involving contents. rather than limbs. If it is. rather it is passively moved within a fluid environment.18 transcendental arguments only perceivers who. altering the chemical properties of its surface. There is a necessary property of scenarios we have not yet touched upon. under a given assignment of a real location and a set of directions to the scenario’s origin and labelled axes. we have to say how the present transcendental argument can be applied to it. then we could expect spatial reasoning involving the scenario to exploit a basic relation of consistency of a map with a particular scenario. But the labels of the axes would mention mere bodily parts. Its actions are not bodily movements.

under the regulative requirement that this sort of consistency be preserved. In this sense. not sense. On the theory of content I endorse. its behaviour is still explicable under spatial descriptions that relate it to its spatial environment.transcendental arguments 19 of constructing a map from the subject’s stream of experiences and other information. restrict what is in a given egocentric direction. a scenario. Is there some slippage here? There is no slippage. then. can be explained. by the fact that it is at one place rather than another. On the con- . in the presence of its cognitive map and other states. The spherical organism too can do this. even if only chemical rather than spatial. What the query about slippage does succeed in bringing out is an important difference. potentially a legitimate means of establishing a violation of the Discrimination Principle. Its behaviour. I have been arguing that one kind of content of experience is given by relations to spatial types which. rather than another. when instantiated. If we construe certain psychological states as relations to entities of some sort. Applying a switching argument amongst such spatial types is. a concept is individuated by the correct account of what it is to possess it. which are at the level of reference. rather than reference? Yet one of the applications of the Discrimination Principle was made to the directions themselves. Isn’t the theory of content a theory of the level of sense. But it would be absurd to say that a spatial type. (d) I said that the transcendental argument would be based on considerations in the theory of content. is fundamentally individuated by something to do with thinkers or perceivers. we must not select as relata entites so finely sliced that no account is possible of what distinguishes standing in the given relation to one of these entities. The Discrimination Principle is just as compelling for the scenario contents of experience as it is for conceptual contents.

in mentioning scenarios. T. 1981). and P. In any case. H. This is because any genuine sense must be such that there is an account of what has to be the case (perhaps in a given context) for something to be the referent of that sense. Wettstein. 10 . It is in part because this is so that we can hope to individuate some concepts by their relations to perceptual states with contents given in part by scenarios. even at the level of conceptual content. It is the requirement that in earlier work I formulated as the demand that the possession condition for a sense must allow an account to be given of how the reference is determined (again perhaps in context) from 11 the possession condition. French. it is meant to be a notion of type which can be instantiated by some portion of the real world. 11 ‘What Are Concepts?’. in Contemporary Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language II (Midwest Studies in Philosophy 1989). no account is possible of how a demonstrative sense such as “that distance” or “that direction” succeeds in latching on to one disThe point is made in Michael Dummett’s Frege: Philosophy of Language (London: Duckworth.20 transcendental arguments trary. Certainly we still need a substantive account of what it is to be in a perceptual state with a content given by a scenario. considerations at the level of sense necessarily have some impact on theory at the level of reference. ed. use ontology not proprietary to perception. and in doing so to individuate concepts in part by their possessors’ relations to their environments. Uehling. This is the requirement that underlies Michael Dummett’s insistence that grasping a sense is knowing the condition for some10 thing to be its referent. whereas accounts of concepts will be using an ontology proprietary to propositional attitude psychology. 1973). and its significance emphasized in The Interpretation of Frege’s Philosophy (London: Duckworth. The considerations above in support of the transcendental argument can be taken as considerations in favour of the following point: that under the supposition of universal hallucination. It is just that such accounts will.

viz. in Subject. According to those considerations. and John McDowell. 1986). there is no corresponding sense (mode of presentation) of the 12 form ‘that apple’. There is still a contrast here even if we hold the view of Gareth Evans and John McDowell that when a person has a hallucination as of an apple in front of him. The application of the Discrimination Principle in the transcendental argument is somewhat different from the applications I made of it in earlier work. whilst respecting the Discrimination Principle. McDowell and P.e. give an account of what relations the alleged senses have to bear to a quite kosher domain. there remains a condition which is the one that would have to be met for there to exist a perceptual-demonstrative sense of the type the thinker attempts to employ. one reference rather than another. Under the Evans–McDowell view. that in the Gareth Evans. In the present case. Thought and Context. even in a given context. 12 .transcendental arguments 21 tance or direction rather than another. In the present case we have rather an example of the use of a tactic to argue that under a certain conception. ‘Singular Thought and the Extent of Inner Space’. the legitimacy of the referents in question—i. 1982). the distances. we cannot. and result in attempts at perceptual-demonstrative thoughts which fail to refer. Pettit (Oxford: Clarendon Press. whereas the legitimacy of absolute locations or of unknowable subjective experiences was certainly being questioned in the applications developed in the earlier work. The case can be contrasted with that of hallucinations which occur in the actual world. then no account would be possible of the conditions under which the alleged senses determine. ed. and the rest—is not in question. if the conclusion of the transcendental argument were false. it will not have been fixed how the world has to be for the alleged contents to be correct. (e) The points I have just made in (d) aim to establish that in the alleged case of universal hallucination. The Varieties of Reference (Oxford: Clarendon Press. directions. J.

Against this. iv I now turn to consider the bearing of the argument I have been developing upon some other well-known positions. 1981). Hilary Putnam.22 transcendental arguments given context. and it seems that the latter can be done only by someone with the right causal relations to trees. 72. there occurs to the subject a genuinely perceptual experience of the subjective sort actually enjoyed. Reason. Press. of thinking that there are trees. That. 13 . 1986). Thomas Nagel wrote I can use a term which fails to refer. To show that I couldn’t think there were no trees if there were none. the burden of the argument has been that no condition of correctness has been fixed which would allow us to say how the world has to be for a perceptual-demonstrative based on the alleged experiences to refer. Hillary Putnam argued that a permanently envatted 13 brain cannot think that it is a brain in a vat. provided I have a conception of the conditions under which it would refer—as when I say there are no ghosts. Nagel overlooks a strong intuition that thinking that there are plants of a natural kind with a certain characteristic shape and set of properties falls short. But in the alleged case in which all experiences with scenario contents are nonperceptual. 14 Thomas Nagel The View from Nowhere (New York: Oxford Univ. Truth and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. it would have to he shown that this thought could not be accounted for in more basic terms which would be available to me even if all my impressions of trees had been artifi14 cially produced.

Then. is not the point I want to highlight here.transcendental arguments 23 though. The thinker just has to find the instances compelling. I would argue. is. of course. We are concerned here with concepts of shapes. To say that the concept is individuated in part by these restrictions on the scenario content of experience is not to say that a thinker has to have thought about them. the area of space apparently occupied by a given perceptually presented object is square. The corresponding point is true of perceptual shape concepts individuated in part by their links with scenarios. whether the ‘more basic terms’ which Nagel says he wants to use to formulate the thought—even if it is only a thought about tree-like things—will he available to a thinker in the case in which the scenario contents of experiences are universally nonperceptual. But the concept of something’s having a certain shape. Presumably possession of a characteristic three-dimensional shape would be included in the more basic terms with which Nagel intends to account for the concept ‘tree’. as used by Nagel here. this simple account suggests. A simple account might. Suppose a thinker is taking his experiences at face value. A logical concept is arguably individuated in part by certain inferential transitions having instances that are found primitively compelling by any thinker who possesses the concept. propose the following as necessary for possession of the perceptual concept square. the thinker must find the present-tense demonstrative thought that that object is . I want to question. for example. a concept individuated in part by the restrictions it imposes on the scenario content. of experience of one who correctly perceives something of that shape from a suitable distance and orientation. or even to have thought about their common form. and not necessarily to have theorized about them. rather than the shapes themselves (for which individuation in perceptual terms would be absurd). Suppose too that in all the ways comprising the scenario of his experience. rather.

lower level is removed. and not just at the level of reference. rather than jettisoning it. . that ‘we must . These remarks on Nagel point up the significance of the fact that arguments based on the Discrimination Principle sustain conclusions at the level of sense.24 transcendental arguments square to be primitively compelling. The argument does not exclude the possibility of a person’s experiences becoming non-veridical through envatment of his brain after a period of normal perception of the external world. As I emphasized earlier. as long as this is not the position of all humans. restrictions in the formulation of the transcendental argument I have endorsed leave plenty of footholds to establish the intelligibility of interesting forms of scepticism. In the terminology of ‘What Are Concepts?’. Concepts and Perception’. But there will be other variants to which the argument can be applied which do not at all preserve apparent shape. Now the argument of the preceding section was precisely that in the alleged case in which the scenario contents of experience are never perceptual. for further details. So much at the conceptual level is individuated ultimately by reference to its connections with the level of the nonconceptual representational content of experience that once that. Hence he would not have the particular spatial concepts at the more basic level that Nagel hoped to employ. we cannot make sense of the idea that experiences have one scenario content rather 16 than another. this simple partial account could be written in what is there called the A(C) form. see ‘Scenarios. So a subject allegedly having such experiences would not be in those states with which connections are required if he is to possess concepts of three-dimensional shapes. On the contrary. in an argument that has certain affinities with Putnam’s. even for the particular case it treats. 16 I explicitly considered only variant contents that involved rotating the spatial features some degrees about one labelled axis. This simple account is not circular. I have not even excluded permanent envatment. little if anything can 17 remain at the conceptual level. It uses the concept square in fixing a certain sort of scenario. that does not require 15 the thinker to possess the concept square. 17 These remarks should not be taken to imply that I object in general to Nagel’s views on the intelligibility of scepticism. 15 . This simple account is overly simple. Donald Davidson writes. But it is plausible that improvements would consist in refining its basic idea. .

219–20. E. Philosophical Quarterly. 19 The section in question is on pp. Harrison in ‘Strawson on Outer Objects’. With vast oversimplification. We can take such experiences as experiences whose conscious. on the part of the subject. even if they are completely compelling. 21 See for instance R. ‘A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge’. LePore (Oxford: Blackwell. I will not pursue 21 this point. subjecDonald Davidson. in Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson. of concepts of the objective world. he needs to be able to extend them to the realm of sense too. repr. give us only conclusions about reference and not sense. as it has been considered by others. If this assumption is false. 1986). ed.transcendental arguments 25 18 take the objects of a belief to be the causes of that belief. then saving the possibility of thought about experience may involve much more than saving the possibility of experience itself. in judgements of 20 experience. The minor difference is that Strawson regarded his conclusion as excluding the possibility of a total sequence of experiences of a given subject which is exclusively of the sort envisaged by ‘the sense-datum theorist’. we can say that Strawson develops an argument to the effect that the possibility of thinking of experience as experience requires. 20 This formulation is drawn from p. the employment. Such points. 18 . where Strawson says he is giving the argument ‘in its boldest possible form’. 20 (1970). 317–18. 97–112. and a major difference. There is a minor difference. The Discrimination Principle allows him to do so. Actually Strawson’s argument appears to assume that any subject who has experiences also possesses the concept of experience. What I do want to consider is the relation between Strawson’s conclusion and that for which I have been arguing. If the defender of such arguments is to have a reply to all of Nagel’s points. 111 of The Bounds of Sense. Finally I return to Peter Strawson’s central argument in the section of The Bounds of Sense entitled ‘Unity and Objec19 tivity’.

23 More generally. it does not exclude the possibility of 23 such a total sequence of experiences. The major difference from Strawson’s view is rather one that remains even when we bracket the gap between having experiences and having the capacity for thought about one’s own experiences. 103). But as Strawson’s own cautious summary of his conclusion makes clear. on occasion. in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Supplementary Volume). but it is not required to be so. if there are sensational properties at all. Since my argument here has dealt only with representational content. So his arguments may establish that the picture must be of a certain kind. though. This apparent gap could be closed by some extreme forms of phenomenalism or verificationism. 22 . See for instance the treatment of definitional and cognitive priority in Sense and Content. Strawson writes that ‘some . . But these would he as alien to Peter Strawson as they are to The ‘sensational properties’ of my Sense and Content (Oxford: Clarendon Press. because the thesis that there are sensational properties of experience is certainly not obviously essential to every theory of content in which the Discrimination Principle is embedded. but it is arguable that such conceptions are available. The sensational properties must also be conceived by us in a way that does not make them vulnerable to sound forms of the private language argument. 1984. I do not know of any argument which excludes the possibility which Strawson took his reasoning to exclude. and the discussion in my ‘Consciousness and Other Minds’. members of the series [of experiences] are conceptualized in such a way that they fit together to form a coherent picture of an objective world’ (p. 1983). but not that it accurately depicts anything. I say this whole issue is minor. Of course a total sequence of experiences with only sensational properties could not be conceptualized as such by their owner. . his arguments do not ensure that the experiences the subject takes. as experiences of an objective world really are so. Strawson’s conclusion can be summarized thus: conceiving of one’s own experiences requires conceiving of an objective world whose existence is independent of an experience of it. We should not exclude the possibility that a satisfactory evolutionary theory of the mind together with a neuropsychology of more primitive species will identify a species that enjoys experiences with only sensational properties.26 transcendental arguments tive properties are given only by nonrepresentational prop22 erties.

it has already to be a type related in various complex ways to the spatial. given by a scenario. the apparent gap in question is never allowed to open up in the first place. and certainly to anyone sympathetic to the general approach to content I have been following. To suppose there is always a gap to be bridged is to be subject to another of those illusions which can be dispelled by an adequate theory of content.transcendental arguments 27 many other present-day philosophers. though. we accept the transcendental argument based on the Discrimination Principle. If. For an experience to have a fine-grained spatial representational content. mind-independent world. . objective.

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