EXRE Weekly Colloquium: Bruno Cortesi - On the Supposed Metaphysical Neutrality of the Phenomenological Approach

Breite Öffentlichkeit
01.05.2024 17:15 - 19:00

My talk will be about phenomenology understood as a discipline, an enterprise or an inquiry in philosophy, rather than as a movement in the history of philosophy: as the title suggests, it will be about the (so-called) phenomenological approach and not - or not just - about the (so-called) phenomenological tradition. To be even more precise, a discipline or an enterprise may be defined in terms of three facets: (1) its domain of study, (2) its methodology and (3) its main results (Woodrof-Smith, 2018). My talk will be concerned with (1) and possibly (2), but I won’t say much on (3). If one has a look at the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on phenomenology (Ibid.), in the very first few lines of the introduction one finds: «The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. […] Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first-person point of view.». There’s a widespread tendency to assume that the phenomenological approach so understood is metaphysically neutral (Siewert, 2007 and Kriegel, 2015, among many others, are particularly explicit on this point). The idea seems to be that an effort to describe the way given (kinds of) experiences are experienced firsthand as accurately as possible does not imply, per se, any commitment about the ontological/metaphysical status of those experiences. I will try to make a case that the latter assumption, intuitive and prima facie appealing as it may be, is nonetheless misguided. For, as I will suggest, phenomenology is in the business of describing the core essence or nature of experiences. In turn, the latter implies that the essence of experiences is immediately and directly presented to subjects in the very having of those experiences: we are immediately and directly presented with (or aware of) what it is for our own experiences to exist or to be part of reality. As I will argue, this is incompatible with (almost) any coherent form of physicalism about the mind (that I know of), at least given how the latter view (or family of views) is conceived in the contemporary debate in philosophy of mind. In fact, I will argue that given certain minimal and rather widespread assumptions, physicalism turns out to be a much more radical view than one might think, for it commits one to at least one of the following claims if not, possibly, to a combination of them: (I) there is nothing it is like for a subject to undergo certain experiences: an experience makes no difference whatsoever for the subject who has it in virtue and only in virtue of its occurring; (II) we have no cognitive access whatsoever to the way it is like for us to undergo given experiences: no way to think about our experiences in terms of the way it is like for someone to have them, no grasp of the latter …; (III) it is not essential to an experience that it is experienced precisely in the way it is experienced rather than in another way. Hence, experiences may keep on being the entities they are without being experienced in the way they are experienced. There is a very strong prima facie case that (III) is false, and embracing a phenomenological – hence eminently first-personal - standpoint in the study of consciousness commits one to deny both (I) and (II).
01.05.2024 17:15 - 19:00
Elisa Bezençon
Vortragende / Mitwirkende
Bruno Cortesi, Université de Fribourg & University of Pavia, Italy