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  • Temporally Token-Reflexive Experiences
  • Uriah Kriegel (bio)


John Searle has argued that all perceptual experiences are token-reflexive, in the sense that they are constituents of their own veridicality conditions. Many philosophers have found the kind of token-reflexivity he attributes to experiences, which I will call causal token-reflexivity, unfaithful to perceptual phenomenology. In this paper, I develop an argument for a different sort of token-reflexivity in perceptual (as well as some non-perceptual) experiences, which I will call temporal token-reflexivity, and which ought to be phenomenologically unobjectionable.

I Conscious Experience and Token-Reflexivity

It has sometimes been claimed that many states of consciousness have a reflexive character — that they are in some way partly about themselves. Traditionally, such claims have been made on behalf of certain states of self-awareness or self-knowledge (Castañeda 1966, Perry 1979, Burge 1989). More recently, Caston (2002) argued that in Aristotle’s philosophy of mind all states of perceptual consciousness are regarded as [End Page 585] reflexive in this way. Hossack (2002) follows Thomas Reid in arguing that all sensations represent themselves. Perhaps the strongest claim in this vein is Brentano’s (1874) view that every mental state is intentionally directed at itself. Brentano’s claim rested on his view that all mental states were conscious; it is possible to formulate a ‘neo-Brentanian’ theory according to which not all mental states are conscious, but those that are do represent themselves (Kriegel 2003).

These accounts, and others similar to them, differ both in how they construe reflexive character and in how they argue for it. That is, they differ in both elucidation and argumentation. Sometimes the elucidation or the argumentation leaves something to be desired: it is not always clear what reflexive character is supposed to amount to, or what the grounds are for ascribing it to some or all conscious states. In both respects, Searle’s (1983) account of token-reflexivity in perceptual consciousness is of major help.

According to Searle, perceptual experiences are token-reflexive in that a full specification of the truth conditions, or rather veridicality conditions, of a perceptual experience P must make reference to P itself. There is no way to specify the veridicality conditions of a perceptual experience fully and correctly without mentioning that very experience. The experience thus figures in its own veridicality conditions, in the sense that it is a constituent of the state of affairs that makes them up. On the assumption that the representational content of a perceptual experience is given by its veridicality conditions, it follows that every perceptual experience figures in its own representational content — which is to say that the experience represents itself.1 This provides a clear elucidation of what the reflexive character of perceptual experiences amounts to.

As for Searle’s argument for such reflexivity, it too is relatively straightforward. Suppose you hallucinate a purple swan in the middle of your living room, when a purple-dyed swan is entered into the room and placed exactly where your hallucinated swan would be. Intuitively, says Searle, this does not render your perceptual experience veridical. Your experience is still hallucinatory, still non-veridical. To rule out the veridicality of your experience, Searle proposes that we construe its veridicality conditions as featuring not only a purple swan, but a purple swan that is causally responsible for your experience. What would make your experience veridical is not just that there would be a purple swan in the middle of your living room, but that that swan would be [End Page 586] causally responsible for your having your experience. On this view, a perceptual experience P of an object O represents O to be the cause of P. Therefore, P figures in its own veridicality conditions, hence self-represents.

Thus Searle’s account of perceptual reflexivity is clear with respect to both elucidation and argumentation. As such, it is also more open to straightforward objections. One immediate objection might be that Searle conflates the semantic and epistemic properties of the purple swan experience. Searle is right that something is not right about the experience. But what is wrong with it may not have to do with its veridicality...


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