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Warwick Graduate Conference in the Philosophy of Mind

Relational Looking and the Reversibility Constraint

Richard Price (Oxford)

Abstract

In this paper I am interested in cases of relational looking; cases where one object looks to you to bear a relation to another object. In particular, I am interested in whether you have to see objects A and B in order for A to look to you related to B. Here are two examples that bring out what I have in mind. In the first example, you see two lines, A and B, before you, and you say that A looks longer than B. In the second example, you see only one building in front of you (that is not the Eiffel Tower), and you say that this building looks to you the same height as the Eiffel Tower. In this paper I shall discuss the relation between saying that A looks to you longer than B, and saying that this building looks to you the same height as the Eiffel Tower. In particular, I will discuss whether both statements are true in the same sense of 'looks'.

This is an issue to do with how rich the content of experience is. When you look at a building and say 'this building looks to me the same height as the Eiffel Tower', the question is whether it is part of the content of your experience that the building before you is the same height as the Eiffel Tower. In this paper, I develop a constraint on relational contents of representational states, which I call the 'reversibility constraint', and I argue that the case of the building before you looking to you the same height as the Eiffel Tower does not satisfy this constraint--hence the relation of being the same height as the Eiffel Tower is not part of the content of experience. By contrast, when you see lines A and B, and A looks longer to you than B, this case does satisfy the reversibility constraint, and so it is an open possibility that it is part of the content of experience that A is longer than B.

In the second section of the paper, I introduce a principle I call the 'Content Principle', which I use to define the notion of the content of experience. I then argue that the content principle seems to entail that the relation of being the same height as the Eiffel Tower can be in the content of experience, even when you do not see the Eiffel Tower. I then suggest an intuitive amendment of the content principle to resolve this puzzling conflict between the reversibility constraint and the content principle.

In the third section of the paper, I discuss how the reversibility constraint can do useful further work in demarcating the content of experience, especially in contentious areas. For instance, it is a matter of controversy whether the property of having a back, and, by extension, the property of being a three-dimensional physical object can occur in the content of experience. I will argue that the reversibility constraint rules out from the content of experience the property of having a back, and, by extension, the property of being a three-dimensional object from being in the content of experience.

In addition the reversibility constraint rules out the property of being to the left of me, the property of being far away from me, the property of being circular-and-at-a-slant-from-me from the content of experience. This raises a question about what kinds of location properties objects can look to have. I discuss the options, absolutist and relationalist location properties, and I reject both. Using the reversibility constraint, I also reject the notion that objects look to be at certain visual angles from us. This leads to a puzzle that lies unresolved at the end of the paper, namely what kinds of location properties objects do look to have.

 

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