Inferring Sensory Experiences


Several scholars, e.g. Sellars (1956), Meltzoff & Gopnik (1993), have construed the attribution of experiences as being governed by a folk-psychological theory in which experiences function as theoretical entities. However, so far this claim has not been convincingly supported by an account of how people infer the existence of experiences. In this paper I argue that the mechanisms that lead to the stipulation of experiences are fundamentally inferential and are applied in both self-attribution and third-person attribution of experiences. The two most common sources for going through such inferential processes are (i) disagreements between two people in how the world is presented to them, (ii) being aware of or suspecting differences between how the world is presented to a person and extraneous information the person has about the world. From situations like these, I show that ‘experience’ is a theoretically-acquired concept which refers to entities that play an explanatory role in virtue of fulfilling two conditions: a person entertains the concept experience if that person makes an appearance-reality distinction (C1) and considers the appearance to be subjective (C2).

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