The Two Types of Phenomenalism

Published: 2021-06-29 07:07:28
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Category: Philosophy

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Phenomenalism responds to scepticism about the physical world by making a logical link between our experience and the world of physical objects. There are two famous defences of Phenomenalism: Mill's 'metaphysical' account and Ayer's linguistic account.


John Stuart Mill (An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, Ch. 11) begins by
saying we have only our experience to go on in establishing what there is. When we
interact with material objects, for example looking for something on a desk, we are
presented with a series of new sensations. Certain sensations which were possible come
about. I could move this piece of paper, and experience the colour of the surface beneath
it. There are all sorts of possible sensations that would occur under certain conditions.
We have come, from experience, to expect this sequence of sensation; we are certain it
will happen. And so we come to think of certain possibilities for sensation as being
permanently available, under certain conditions. Material objects are 'permanent
possibilities of sensation'.

We associate certain sensations, and the possibilities of other sensations, together, since
whenever I have one sensation, the conditions of having another associated with it are to
hand. These 'clusters' of possible sensations are what material objects are. A piece of
paper is the permanent possibility of certain sensations that we associate together. Only
some of the sensations in fact occur; but the material object is a collection of those that
do and those that could occur. We derive the complexity of ideas of space, distance,

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