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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Whitehead´s symbolic reference and qualia taken qua qualitons

Eros and myself published a paper in Acta Analytica few years back defending the idea that qualia should be taken as tropes. They would be like abstract particulars, objects of perception and yet not universals - universalisation would come with conceptual abilities that introduce resemblance of qualitons amid the so-far bare particulars of qualia. These bare particulars are not themselves perceived, but they are the stuff on which perception (which is taken by us as fully conceptual) works. We don´t go as far as saying that these abstract particulars have causal efficacy (for this would be a strangle claim for causation is normally thought as taking place among concreta). However, we were responding to the inclination to give an external reality associated to our qualitative perception - an external reality independent of the workings of our conceptual abilities. To be sure, we were probably quite realists about the outcomes of the perceptual process, but that realism depended on some sort of response-dependence argument that establishes (or assumes) that our concepts are suitable. But we added an element of non-conceptual external element in perception in the form of qualia understood as tropes, as abstract particulars.

It is interesting to compare the move that made us consider qualia as qualitons with Whitehead´s drive towards a Lockean (indirect) realism concerning perception. Whiehead posits actual entities as the subject of perceptual experience. Those actual entities are the subjects when they are the content of perceptual experience - but they are also the experiencing suprajects, the ones that have the percpetual content. Actual entities are not abstract particulars, they are the ultimate ingredient of anything concrete (of any concrescence, as Whitehead puts it). Those actual entities affect each other by perception in the mode of efficient causation (see Process and Reality II, chapters 6, 7 and 8). Notice that efficient causation is for Whitehead a mode of perception together with presentational immediacy. The latter, though, comes later in the process of complexification. But the comparison with our qualia qua qualitons comes when we consider that these actual entities are the very basis of his ontology and therefore he is crucially sensible to the inclination that perception has to capture some reality. This is where he admires Locke for he never fully gave up the idea that in perception we are in contact with something. We are in contact with something that is partly constituted by our perceiving - together with all other perceptions (prehensions) that makes it a subject (and with all acts of perception where it is the supraject). It is interesting to notice that both the postulation of qualia as abstract particulars and the postulation of actual entities constituted by acts of perception are responding to this fundamental Lockean intuition that there is reality to what is perceived. (Even when the perceiving actual entities are not in a position to say anything about the reality they perceive - that is, even when perception is no more than an exercise in efficient causation and symbolic reference and language are still far for the perceiving actual entities don´t have yet anything to say.)

1 comment:

  1. Whitehead´s trick is to bring together the rejection of vacuous actuality (his reformed subjectivist principle, in II-7) and the Lockean emphasis on a res vera in perception. As a consequence, there is nothing beyond (all subject´s, all actual entity´s) perception but there is always something being perceived. To be is to be perceived (and to perceive) but not because there is nothing but qualities and a superject who perceive them but rather because there are no qualities (to a substance) but rather perceptions reaching a supraject - and these perceptions are subjects that are actual entities as much as the suprajects. True, qualitons - abstract particulars - are not as suitable as actual entities because they don´t have causal powers. But they are unsuitable also because they cannot themselves perceive (or be affected). In that sense, they are too much like universals, even though they are particulars, because they are abstract. Whitehead rejects the subjectivist principle according to which in perception what is grasped is mainly universals. Tropes, I think, are just not enough res vera to satisfy the Lockean inclination.