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Volume 15 Issue 3 (December 2007), Pages 315-476

That Which Makes the Sensation of Blue a Mental Fact: Moore on Phenomenal Relationism (pages 334-366)

A gift of a dollar for each article in the philosophy of perception and consciousness published since 1990 making reference, explicitly or implicitly, to Moore's discussion in the second half of Moore 19031 of an alleged ‘transparency’ and ‘diaphanousness’ pertaining to some aspect of perceptual experience would very likely cover the tab of a mid‐priced dinner for two.2 Moore's poetically expressed observations have captured the imagination of contemporary philosophers of perception and consciousness, and have served as the basis of much fruitful discussion in those areas.

Still, despite all the attention these observations have received, the contemporary literature lacks a close reading of the second half of Moore's paper, without which it is impossible to understand Moore's observations in the context in which they were originally expressed. It is understandable that such a close reading is lacking: the second half of Moore's paper has been rightly described by one of his most sympathetic and dedicated interpreters as ‘extremely dense and opaque’ (Klemke 2000: 55).3 But despite the evident difficulties of the task, I aim here, with some trepidation, to provide the missing close reading.

The main points of my interpretation will be these. The centerpiece of the anti‐idealist manoeuvrings of the second half of the paper is a phenomenological argument for what I will call a relational view of perceptual phenomenal character, on which, roughly, ‘that which makes the sensation of blue a mental fact’ is a relation of conscious awareness, a view close to the opposite of the most characteristic contemporary view going under the transparency rubric.4 The discussion of transparency and diaphanousness is a sidelight, its principal purpose to shore up the main line of argumentation against criticism; in those passages all Moore argues is that the relation of conscious awareness is not transparent, while acknowledging that it can seem to be.

My discussion will proceed as follows. In section 1, I will discuss some theses and elucidate some notions from the philosophy of perception and consciousness which will be central to my interpretation; having done so, I will be in a position to explain how an accurate understanding of Moore may contribute to theoretical advances in the philosophy of perception and consciousness. The next two sections contain the exegetical heart of the paper: section 2 provides an analysis of Moore's case for the relational view; section 3 attempts to explain the place of the relational view in the overall refutation of idealism. Section 4 critically discusses a pair of competing interpretations. Section 5 wraps things up, drawing concluding morals as to the campaigns on behalf of which Moore should and should not be enlisted.

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