Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Chris Viger


This dissertation examines representationalism about sensory phenomenology—the claim that for a sensory experience to have a particular phenomenal character is a matter of it having a particular representational content. I focus on a particular issue that is central to representationalism: whether reductive versions of the theory should be internalist or externalist. My primary goals are (i) to demonstrate that externalist representationalism fails to provide a reductive explanation for phenomenal qualities, and (ii) to present a reductive internalist version of representationalism that utilizes the empirical framework of psychophysics and neuroscience to develop a philosophical theory of content. The bulk of the project is an attempt to provide the outlines of what such an empirically-based representationalist theory would look like.

In chapter 2, I argue that reductive externalist representationalism fails because it is vulnerable to the problem of bad structural correlation: the mismatch between the structure of phenomenal qualities and the structure of physical properties “tracked” by our sensory systems with which phenomenal qualities are identified. In chapter 3, I develop the outlines of a reductive internalist version of representationalism that characterizes phenomenal qualities as modes of presentation of sensory representations that can be reductively characterized in terms of a location in a psychophysically-defined quality space (described in chapter 4), which can in turn be given a neurophysiological interpretation. In addition, I argue that the neural mechanisms responsible for the representation of spatial locations and visual objects serve a referential role in sensory psychosemantics that grounds the intentionality of sensory states. In chapter 5 I provide a detailed account of the representation of spatial locations in sensory experience, and in chapter 6 I examine the “binding problem”, demonstrating how object-based sensory representations function to demonstratively pick out sensory individuals without explicitly representing any of their features.

I describe the resulting view as methodological representationalism: an attempt to demonstrate how a particular philosophical theory of sensory phenomenology (representationalism) can be integrated into the empirical framework of cognitive science, and thereby provide an explanatory psychosemantic framework for sensory phenomenology that is valuable to both philosophers and cognitive scientists.