Alien Experience

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Oxford University Press, Jan 20, 2020 - Philosophy - 298 pages
"We sometimes feel disgusted by-even alienated from-our desires. Suppose I feel alienated from my persistent desire to smoke, and disgusted that the thought of dying while my children are still young isn't enough to extinguish that desire. I could talk to my friends about my predicament, confident that they would sympathize at least to some extent. If I were so inclined, I could also consult work from many distinct philosophical traditions, written in many different centuries, to learn what philosophers have thought was the best way to characterize someone in my condition; what they have thought someone in my condition ought to do; and what philosophical problems they thought could be illuminated by considering conditions like mine. I might learn that reflection on such cases could help in developing accounts of self-deception, wishful thinking, moral motivation, the nature of agency, and the boundaries of the authentic self. We also sometimes feel disgusted by-even alienated from-our experiences. More specifically, we sometimes feel alienated from a perceptual or sensory experience of ours because we are troubled by its evaluative shading. Many people, if you press them and they trust that you won't immediately turn and berate them, will acknowledge that they have experiences like the one I am about to confess. A woman walks by, and my visual perception of her includes the content fragility, and on reflection I realize that this content is positively valenced in my experience. And I don't just perceive her as fragile in the sense of floaty or graceful, but fragile in the sense of breakable, or erotically consumable. I am disgusted with myself because no one is breakable in that sense. How could I be such that a fellow human looks that way to me? Yet if I look again, my moment of anguished self-castigation doesn't shake the way she looks to me. She still looks fragile, and in a pleasing way. Such experiences-and alienation from them-are, I contend, disturbingly common. Yet if I were to try and read some philosophy to help me understand this predicament, as I might have done in the case of my alienated desire, I would find almost nothing. Philosophers in many different centuries, and in many different traditions, construe sensation and perception as passive. They talk about experiences in ways that would lead us to conclude that someone's feeling alienated from a particular experience, unlike her feeling alienated from a particular desire, is an odd neuroticism-not a phenomenon deserving of serious philosophical reflection. Within contemporary analytic philosophy, philosophers frequently argue for views of mind, self, and action on which many aspects of a human life can be understood as expressive of agency. And yet even in these approaches, we do not see experience treated in a way that would enable us to make sense of this common human response to it. We certainly don't see philosophers set it up, as a condition of adequacy for an account of experience, that it make room for the phenomenon of alienation from experience. (In contrast, a philosopher might treat the ability to account for akrasia as a condition of adequacy for accounts of belief and desire, or of practical reasoning generally.) And so of course no one goes on to ask what progress on other philosophical problems-like the nature of self-control; or the functions of ascriptions and avowals of experience; or the status of folk-psychology-might be made if we were starting from an account of experience that made room for alienation from particular experiences"--

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1 Alien Experience
2 SelfControl
3 The Forensic Approach to Experience
4 Paths to Alienation
5 Consequences for Philosophy of Perception

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About the author (2020)

Maura Tumulty is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Colgate University. She received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, her MSc from the University of Edinburgh, and her BA from Williams College. She is interested in questions at the intersection of philosophy of mind and moral psychology.

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