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On Learning From Experience

Beck, Ori (2016) On Learning From Experience. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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How can I come to justifiably (or knowledgeably) believe that there is an owl over there on the basis of my seeing its being there? More generally: How can we come to justifiably (or knowledgeably) believe things on the basis of our experiences? I argue that we can make do with a simple and intuitive answer: Experiences present us with objects, properties, relations and states of affairs (or, events). If we have the capacities to tell what these presented entities are, we can justifiably (or knowledgeably) form appropriate beliefs on the basis of the experiences. I call this position the “Simple Picture” (or, “SP”).

SP stands in contrast to the Representationalist epistemology, according to which experiences do not present us with entities, but represent how the world is. Under certain conditions, we can justifiably form beliefs on the strength of these experiences by taking it that things are as our experiences represent them to be.

The Representationalist epistemology cannot be correct. Through a series of thought experiments, involving various kinds of spectrum inversions, I show that none of the current theories of content can assign representational contents to our experiences in a way that tracks the beliefs that we can justifiably form on their strength. I then further show that even intuitive and pre-theoretical attributions of representational contents cannot perform this feat.

Representationalist epistemologists might retort by saying that SP must have problems of its own: “SP holds that perceptual experiences are mental states that present us with entities. This means that it belongs to the Naive Realist family of views. And all views of this family cannot give an adequate account of illusions and hallucinations.” SP's response sets it apart from other Naive Realist views. While most Naive Realist views (e.g., those of Brewer, Fish and Martin) favor a Metaphysical Disjunctivist line, SP offers a uniform metaphysics and epistemology for perceptual and hallucinatory experiences. SP furthermore gives a positive account of illusions as well.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Beck, Oriozb1@pitt.eduOZB1
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGupta, Anilagupta@pitt.eduAGUPTA
Committee MemberMcDowell, Johnjmcdowel@pitt.eduJMCDOWEL
Committee MemberMachery, Edouardmachery@pitt.eduMACHERY
Committee MemberWilson, Markmawilson@pitt.eduMAWILSON
Date: 15 January 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 9 September 2015
Approval Date: 15 January 2016
Submission Date: 15 August 2015
Access Restriction: 1 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 1 year.
Number of Pages: 154
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Perception, Epistemology, Relationalism, Representationalism, Hallucination, Illusion
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 20:48
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2017 06:15


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