Alternative look at Fred Dretske’s thoughts on counscious experience Essay

Fred Drestke takes introspective knowledge to be a given and proceeds by trying to explain how such of knowledge is possible without the appeal of inner sense. He gives a proposition that introspection is a type of displaced perception. He gives two important differences, which exist between introspective knowledge and other forms of displaced perception. This seems to suggest that introspective knowledge cannot be looked as an instance of displaced perception.  Because of this, he fails to give explanation on how introspective knowledge is possible. Therefore, he fails to give a compelling alternative to the inner sense account of introspective knowledge. Introspective knowledge can be termed to be the kind of knowledge that mind has of itself. For instance, he gives an example of a yellow box where if an individual perceives a yellow box he or she knows that he or she is having certain experience. This is the experience of the yellow box. This knowledge is not about the box being yellow but is the knowledge about self i.e. the knowledge that one is having certain experience. Introspective knowledge seems to have some strange properties (Dretske, 1997).

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Fred Dretske holds the notion that human beings have introspective knowledge has a given knowledge. He develops this interest as one tries to give explanation how one comes to this kind of knowledge and what makes one to acquire this first person knowledge. He rejects one idea, which holds that introspective knowledge is acquired by the mind perceiving its own working. He tries to provide an account of introspective knowledge, which dies not rely on the inner sense. He commits himself to an externalist theory of the mind. He holds that if it is possible for introspective knowledge to be attained by the mind attaining its own internal working them it means that the intrinsic character of the events, which occurs in the mind, constitutes mental facts. Dretske holds that introspective knowledge can occur without an inner sense. (Rosenthal, 2005). This is because if introspective knowledge is a type of displaced perception then it is possible for introspection to occur without an inner sense as Dretske holds.

However, in regard to the distinction that he makes between other forms of knowledge and introspective knowledge then is seems that introspective knowledge cannot be taken as a form of displaced perception. If this is right then he has failed to offer an alternative to the explanation of the inner sense of introspective knowledge. He also fails to give a defense of externalism out of the problems that his problem poses. Dretske holds that displaced perception happens when a system perceives facts concerning an object not sensuously perceiving such an object but by perceiving, a different object. Dretske gives the example of then perception of a person weight by looking at a bathroom scale. In this case, a person sensuously perceives only the scale. The person may perceive that the scale is showing 170. The facts that the person perceives concerning the scale are not instances of displaced perception. The person perceives that he or she weighs 170 pounds. This later fact that the person knows that he or she weighs 170 pounds is a fact about the perceiver that is the person who is standing on the scale (Dretske, 1997).

However, it should be understood that the person is not perceiving herself or himself but perceiving the scale. This perception would require certain beliefs on the part of person. The belief, which the person should have, is that the object he or she is standing on represents the weight of the object or the person who is standing on it and that the scale is functioning properly. This shows an instance of displaced perception. The person who is standing on the scale perceives facts about herself or himself and the object. He or she perceives the scale. This shows that if introspective knowledge is a type of displaced perception, then Dretske has succeed in explaining how people come by such knowledge without appeal to such knowledge.

However, there is a problem, which arises at this point. In the above case which Dretske gives of a person weighing by use of bathroom scale, the displaced knowledge is not only informed by sensuous perception of the scale but also by connection of beliefs for example the belief that the scale has the function pf showing weight and also the belief that the scale is operating correctly and inference (Rosenthal, 2005). In the case of Introspective knowledge, Dretske denies that there is inference, which the person in the bathroom has. Dretske claims that in case of introspective knowledge, the misperception of the object does not mean that the displaced perception did not take place. This means that the information about the mind was not acquired by misperception of the object. The difference between introspective knowledge and other forms of knowledge are meant to reveal that introspective knowledge is non-inferential and therefore it avoids the problem mentioned above. Dretske holds that in inferential knowledge the premises need not be true to establish a conclusion. (Dretske, 1997).

He also holds that the distinction between introspective knowledge and other forms of displaced perception is that the inference, which exists from the perception to the introspective knowledge, cannot be untrue. This distinction should show that introspective knowledge is non inferential. However, if this is inferential knowledge then it means this is a very unusual type of inference. The premises do not have to be true and the inference cannot fail. The distinctions seem to be true. Despite this it seems that in making them Dretske provides unsuspectingly a basis for the rejection of his attempts to explain introspective knowledge which out recourse of inner sense. If in case of introspective knowledge, one assumes that there is no inference from the perception of one thing to the knowledge about another thing then it seems that one must then make a conclusion that introspective knowledge is not a type of displaced perception after all. He argues that it is possible to for one to garner knowledge concerning a certain thing Z by not perceiving that object but from perception of a different object Q. This is what he terms as displaced perception (Rosenthal, 2005).  What is wanting in his argument is not the fact that it is possible to garner knowledge of an object by perceiving another object but in his explanation of how this happens.

He explains that this occurs because of the process of inference from beliefs that one has along with the perception of the object to the knowledge about the non perceived object. However he explains that introspective knowledge is non inferential. This makes one be left with the argument that introspective knowledge is acquired by perceiving other objects. By claiming that that this knowledge is non-inferential the Dretske has given up on the explanation of how this occurs which he is supposed to give. To state that introspective knowledge is non inferential is to say that introspective knowledge then is not displaced perception. By claiming that introspective knowledge is non inferential he undercuts the power of the explanation of the concept of introspective knowledge. This makes one to be left with the explanation that we garner introspective knowledge by perceiving objects. In terms of its explanatory adequacy, this is no better than an inner sense.Dretsky fails to offer a satisfying alternative and therefore fails to head off the objection he gives to externalism, which the inner sense view brings forth.


Dretse, F.  (1997) Naturalizing the mind, 1st edition, United States of America,
MIT Press.

Rosenthal, D. (2005) Consciousness and mind, 1st edition, New York, Oxford University Press.

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