Friday, March 16, 2007

Phenomenal Properties are not Properties

Talk about properties implies a world, full of things, that have the properties (putting aside for this occasion the Platonic alternative that properties are the kind of transcendental entities that need not be instantiated by physical particulars). Part of this "ground of being" is phenomenal experience. This is what Wittgenstein meant (in the Tractatus) by his "solipsistic" identification of the self and the world (5.6-5.641). "The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world." Subjective experience is the framework within which description of the world is possible (and yes Wittgenstein recognized that Kant had a very similar argument). Phenomenal experience constitutes the world, and the world constitutes phenomenal experience. Thus phenomenology is not possible: part of this argument is the private language argument of the PI, but a deeper thread here is the idea that phenomenal quality is the building material for description per se; ordinary description (of the object world) just is phenomenal description, at the limit of phenomenal description. This is the basis of Wittgenstein's rejection of the concept of mental representation, of mental content, altogether. On this view, there are no such things as "phenomenal properties." This seems right to me. (It looks like Spinoza is thinking along similar lines in his analysis of properties; and thanks to Professor John Heil for a substantive reply to my e-mail).

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