Robert Alan and Kathryn Dunlevie Hayes Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Rice University

Socratic Introspection and the Abundance of Experience

Journal of Consciousness Studies: Describing Inner Experience: a Symposium Debating Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES), Vol. 18, No. 1, January 2011.

 Abstract: I examine the prospects of using Hurlburt’s DES method to
justify his very ‘thin’view of experience, on which visual experience is
so infrequent as to be typically absent when reading and speaking.
Such justification would seem to be based on the claim that, in DES
‘beeper’ samples, subjects often deny they just had any visual experience.
But if the question of ‘visual experience’ is properly construed,
then (judging by the example of Melanie) it is doubtful they are denying
this. And even if they were, that would not generally warrant overturning
belief in the abundance of one’s own visual experience.
I defend use of non-DES introspective judgments in reaching this
conclusion. These are no more dubious overall than the near-term retrospective
judgments in response to open-ended prompts employed in
DES. Moreover, DES itself needs to presuppose subjects enjoy an
introspective competence not confined to their beeper reports. The
true power of DES to revise introspection thus lies in its interview portion.
This view is further supported by considering Hurlburt’s and
Schwitzgebel’s discussion of detail in visual imagery.
Introspectively based conceptions of experience should be
improved and corrected, not by means of a supposedly privileged
class of reports, but by questioning that clarifies distinctions and
makes explicit the implications of what one says in making introspective
judgments. My advocacy of this sort of ‘Socratic introspection’
leads me to broad agreement with many of Schwitzgebel’s conclusions.
But it also makes me regard myself as a ‘proponent’ of — not a
‘sceptic’ about — the use of introspection to study experience.

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