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I'm not sure about the move from "my ordinary experience of a far-off panther is not singularly existential" to the same claim about up close experiences of a panther. It seems as if there could be a group of animals that, from afar, looks just like a panther looks from afar. Not so in the up close case. Isn’t that a relevant difference?

Kenny Easwaran

Bligers are a decisive counterexample to unrestricted composition? I would have thought they'd be a good example for composition being less restricted than one might imagine. So the content is singularly existential, and still true - there's one thing there even though (in some sense) there are several animals. This doesn't require unrestricted composition - it just requires that composition take place when a bunch of objects somehow interact in an organic-enough way to form some unified whole, like a bliger (or a pair of scissors).

Another possibility - the content really is plurally existential in each case, and a panther is really just a bunch of things arranged pantherwise.

Aidan McGlynn

It's made with real panther...

Dan Korman

Chad -- You're right that a panther up close looks quite different from a bliger up close. But as soon as you admit that a bliger from afar looks just like a panther from afar, and that a bliger from afar looks (phenomenally) to be some things (not one thing), then there is pressure to accept that a panther from afar looks to be some things as well. And then you're in the uncomfortable position of having to say either that even a panther up close looks (phenomenally) only to be many things, or that it goes from looking (phenomenally) to be one thing to looking (phenomenally) to be many things as it walks away from you.

Kenny -- Maybe you're right that the bligers are a less decisive case of some things not composing something than I'd like. We can change the example so that it's just a jumble of things that we agree don't compose anything, but that look from afar to compose something. As for the suggestion that phenomenal content is always plurally existential, that's actually just the concession I was looking for (so maybe the title of the post is misleading...) If that's right, then it's considerably harder for eliminativists (my arch-enemies!) to explain why on earth we think that there is a single thing in front of us when we look at things arranged statuewise, etc., since it's no part of the way things look (phenomenally) that there's a single thing there.

Aidan -- It's a formidable scent. It stings the nostrils. In a good way.


Hi Dan,

I'm not sure what it means for an expression to be "syntactically singular but semantically plural". I get that a definite description like 'the Princeton faculty' is syntactically singular although there are many people who make up the teaching staff at Princeton. So in some sense 'the Princeton Faculty' refers all those people and this is the sense in which the expression is semantically plural. But doesn't 'the Princeton faculty' in fact denote a single entity, namely the unique x, such that x is a Princeton faculty? After all, from the fact that the Princeton faculty is fighting against grade inflation it follows that there exists an x such that x is fighting against grade inflation.

Isn't a bliger a kind of thing too? It is a thing which is such that it looks like a single animal from afar but, on closer inspection, turns out to be several small animals traveling in formation so as to give the appearance of a large predator. I don't think I am suggesting that composition is unrestricted (maybe I am?).

Isn't your first sentence about bligers? Do you think they exist? If a bliger is F, then something (some one thing) is F (What would you deny here?). And if one sees a bliger from afar then they are seeing one single thing, namely a bliger!

The scenario then is this: At t1, S sees a bliger from afar but takes it for a single animal because S doesn’t know what bligers are. At t2, S learns what kind of things bligers are. At t3, S again spots one from afar. It seems natural to say that things are exactly the way they look to be at t3, even though there is another sense in which it still looks to S as though there is a single animal out there (note: bligers are things which are such that they look like a single animal from afar).

It seems to me that the phenomenal content of S experience at t3 is fundamentally veridical. It is that there is something (i.e., some one thing) that has so and so qualities. S just mistakes a bliger for a single animal. Bligers are hard to discriminate from large predators from afar. That is just the kind of things bligers are.

I guess I am taking something like the "objection 2" line. Maybe that debate can be avoided.

There are either bligers or there aren't bligers.

I was assuming (as I think you are) that there are bligers. The only way I can make sense of something being a bliger is if it is a single thing. You seem to be assuming that something y can be a bliger, yet it not be the case that there exists an x, such that x = y (hopefully not...this seems very wrong).

If we assume that there aren't bligers, then it seems that the problem you want to raise still crops up (so perhaps the existential worries about bligers is all a red herring).

At t1 I think I see something run by but don’t realize it’s not a single thing. At t2 I learn what kind of things run around in the field. At t3 I see the animals (in formation) run by again. It seems natural to say that things are exactly the way they look to be at t3, even though there is another sense in which it still looks to me as though there is a single thing out there. If so, then it cannot be part of the phenomenal content of my experience at t3 that there is some one thing that has so and so qualities, for in that case my experience would be nonveridical even at the most fundamental level.

The phenomenal content at t1 is the same as it is at t3. Why can't it be that at t3 it seems that there is one thing out there, just as it does at t1? It is just that at t3 we know better. The phenomenal content doesn't change. Just as looking at the Müller-Lyer lines after knowing that they are the same length doesn't change how they look. I guess I don't see (yet) why we can't just bite this one: my experience when looking at weird bliger-formations is fundamentally nonveridical.


"And then you're in the uncomfortable position of having to say...it goes from looking (phenomenally) to be one thing to looking (phenomenally) to be many things as it walks away from you"

Maybe I should say that it goes to looking in a way that is neutral about (indefinite?) whether there are one or many things there. Anyway something like this seems right to me--I don't find it uncomfortable. Am I missing something?

Dan Korman

Hi Brian -- It may be that you think that there are *no* syntactically singular but semantically plural expressions. What about 'the assortment of things spread out across my desk'? Can we make sense of something being an assortment without there being a single x such that x is an assortment? In any event, just replace the bliger case with any case at all in which you’ll agree there are several things, but it looks like there is a single thing from afar.

I’m not sure what more to say about allowing that my experience at t3 is nonveridical. The thing about bligers is that once you know that they’re many things, you can’t help but notice the breaks between the various animals (though you saw them, without noticing them, even a t1; so noticing them doesn’t change the phenomenal content). Now take someone who has always knew the truth about bligers, and notices the breaks from the beginning. Are you even willing to say that this person’s experience is nonveridical?

Chad -- Something like that is definitely tempting, but I’m wondering what the details would look like. That is, what is the propositional content? Is it disjunctive: that there is something with such and such qualities or there are some things with such and such qualities? Or maybe there’s a neutral quantifier: that there is/are some things with such and such qualities? Are there such quantifiers?


Someone might hold that the familiar plural quantifier is itself neutral, so that 'there are some philsophers in the room' is true if there is in fact just one philosopher in the room. I think Kripke raised this question in his recent "Russell's notion of scope" and declined to take a position. Alternatively, I could say that we don't have a neutral quantifier in English, but that we could just introduce one. It would be nec. eq. with 'either there are or there is', but I don't see why we'd need to claim synonymy.

marc moffett

Hi Dan,

I want to press you on your linguistic claims as well, but from a somewhat different direction than Brian and Kenny. Specifically, suppose that it is granted that "bliger" is syntactically singular but semantically plural. Why does its syntactic singularity matter? If the sentence "It looked to you at t1 that there is a bliger" is true, then presumably the syntactic component drops out--all that matters is the semantics. It is the (by hypothesis) plural proposition that characterizes the content of your phenomenal state, not the vehicle by which it is expressed. To see this, imagine that the French translation of "bliger" is a syntactically plural counterpart. By hypothesis, both sentences express the same proposition. And so either both are true of you or neither is. It is simply irrelevant that one is syntactically singular and the other is syntactically plural.

Dan Korman

Chad -- Perhaps that's just right. One interesting implication (for my purposes) is that eliminativists will not be able to explain our beliefs in statues and the like by appeal to fact that there *looks* to be a single thing there when we see atoms arranged statuewise.

Marc -- I agree with everything you say, and I agree that it doesn't matter that 'the bliger' is syntactically singular. I just threw that in to help head off the objection: "How can there not be a single thing if there's *a* bliger??". So you concede that the phenomenal content is a plural proposition -- at both t1 and t3? How about when I look at a real panther -- is it a plural proposition then too? That'd be weird; but, indeed, that's where these considerations seem to lead us.

marc moffett


My claim was simply that if it is true that it looks to me at t1 (alternatively t3) that there is a bliger and if that proposition is in the relevant way plural, then my phenemonal content is in the relevant way plural, too. Now it might well be that these sort of phenomenal state attributions are open to the same sort of anti-individualist constraints as normal belief attributions. (This seems right given the way you tell the story.) In that event, it seems to me that the content is plural at both t1 and t3 in the same way that corresponding beliefs at those times would be. But that doesn't in any way imply that in the corresponding panther cases the propositions must be plural, any more than it would in the corresponding belief-attributions.

Is the thought that they should be? That doesn't seem right to me, but then I think that phenomenology is pretty highly concept-laden.

Derek Ball

Hi Dan,

Let me try a line on behalf of the existential content theorist. The goal will be to show that the ECT can admit that there is a good sense in which your perception is veridical, while sticking to strictly existential contents.

A theme in Descartes (also picked up in Austin and Charles Travis) is that in some purported cases of illusion, our perceptual systems are functioning just right, even if we are disposed to make false judgments. Straight sticks in water look bent; they are supposed to look bent. If you are normal, they look bent to you; if they look straight, then something is going wrong. Similarly, it seems natural to say that a bunch of things from a distance can look like one thing. They should look like one thing; if you have normal vision, they will look like one thing to you.

So here's a proposal on behalf of the existentialist. Let's distinguish two senses of veridical: a visual perception is 1-veridical when things look to you the way they're supposed to look (the way they look to normal perceivers; the way they look when everything is going right, when your perceptual system is functioning properly; you might even say, the way they really look). A visual perception is 2-veridical when things look to you the way they are (i.e., when the content of your perception is satisfied or correct).

Given this distinction, it seems to me that the ECT can describe the phenomenon rather nicely. It's true that your perception of a bliger isn't 2-veridical. (After all, there looks to be a single animal before you, but there isn't.) But it is 1-veridical. From a distance, bligers look like a single animal, and it looks to you like there is a single animal before you. So things are going well - things look to you the way they're supposed to look.


From a very different perspective you could see this as an illustration of the thesis that number is not a property a thing has.

After all, we're all bligers really; so is everything in the universe including, of course, the universe itself.

The puzzle can certainly be solved by translating attributions of number from statements of fact about bligers into statements of fact about perception or even operational usefulness:

"Seen from a distance, it's convenient to consider a bliger a single unit, but close-up we're interested in it as a collection of bligerlets"

and so on. Nothing changes in the bliger, but in our description of it.

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