Conscious Experience: A Logical Inquiry

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Harvard University Press, 2019 - Philosophy - 440 pages

A distinguished philosopher offers a novel account of experience and reason, and develops our understanding of conscious experience and its relationship to thought: a new reformed empiricism.

The role of experience in cognition is a central and ancient philosophical concern. How, theorists ask, can our private experiences guide us to knowledge of a mind-independent reality? Exploring topics in logic, philosophy of mind, and epistemology, Conscious Experience proposes a new answer to this age-old question, explaining how conscious experience contributes to the rationality and content of empirical beliefs.

According to Anil Gupta, this contribution cannot be determined independently of an agent's conceptual scheme and prior beliefs, but that doesn't mean it is entirely mind-dependent. While the rational contribution of an experience is not propositional--it does not, for example, provide direct knowledge of the world--it does authorize certain transitions from prior views to new views. In short, the rational contribution of an experience yields a rule for revising views. Gupta shows that this account provides theoretical freedom: it allows the observer to radically reconceive the world in light of empirical findings. Simultaneously, it grants empirical reason significant power to constrain, forcing particular conceptions of self and world on the rational inquirer. These seemingly contrary virtues are reconciled through novel treatments of presentation, appearances, and ostensive definitions.

Collectively, Gupta's arguments support an original theory: reformed empiricism. He abandons the idea that experience is a source of knowledge and justification. He also abandons the idea that concepts are derived from experience. But reformed empiricism preserves empiricism's central insight: experience is the supreme epistemic authority. In the resolution of factual disagreements, experience trumps all.


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1 The Problem of Conscious Experience
2 A Coherence Theory of Perceptual Judgments
3 Simple Theories of Perceptual Judgments
4 The Hypothetical Given
5 Presentation and the Transparency of Experience
6 Appearances
7 The Role of Appearances in Cognition
8 Experience and Concept
9 Empirical Transformations
10 Empirical Dialectic and Empirical Proofs
11 The General Logic of Empirical Dialectic
12 Physicalism from the Logical Point of View

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About the author (2019)

Anil Gupta is Alan Ross Anderson Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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