About Me



Ayer has a discussion later in his book on the nature of the self and how it
relates to the 'common world', or an external world. It is a discussion on the
soul as well as external objects and, I think, aims to answer the question of
what it means (for humans?) to be aware of external objects, to have knowledge
of them, to be sure of their existence, and to experience them. It is not, of
course, a matter of knowing an object through the soul or having some sort of
mind that gives the experienced object existence, as these are metaphysical
questions and have no real content. For Ayer, all it means to say that someone
is having an experience of an object is to say that "the sense-experience which
is the element of [a person] A occurring at time t contains a sense-content
which is an element of [a material thing] X, and also certain images which
define A's expectation of the occurrence in suitable circumstances of certain
further elements of X, and that this expectation is correct: and what we are
saying when we assert that a mental object M and a physical object X are
causally connected is that, in certain conditions, the occurrence of a certain
sort of sense-content, which is an element of M, is a reliable sign of the
occurrence of a certain sort of sense-content, which is an element of X, or vice
versa, and the question whether any propositions of these kinds are true or not
is clearly an empirical question" (page 125). Ayer later goes on to demonstrate
that these sense experiences are not, ultimately, shared by any two people. I'm
curious how this relates to other theories of mind that exist, most especially
at the time in which Ayer is writing. I took a course a few years ago at MSU
(with professor O'Rourke) where we discussed, for the first part of the
semester, different theories of the mind. For instance, we discussed the
distinguishing characteristics of theories like functionalism and behaviorism,
as well as occasionalism and phenomenalism. In particular, we discussed the
problem of the existence of qualia for certain theories. We discussed at great
length the kind of problem that Mary and the Room presented for different
theories. If Mary spends her entire life trapped in a colorless room studying
the color red, she has learned many facts of the matter relating to 'redness'.
Indeed, it seems that she has spent much time empirically determining the nature
of red. The question we are now presented with is that, when Mary leaves her
colorless room for the first time, and sees the color red for the first time,
does she learn something new about the color? To put it in Ayer's words, Mary
has learned various scientific and empirical matters of fact about red. When she
is presented with an object X which perhaps has the sense-content red and she
has the sense-experience of this sense-content, she has had an experience of a
red object that she did not have before. Would Ayer be okay with us saying that
she had a new experience? Would he call this experience more fundamental than
others, and does it provide new knowledge of red, or of objects? 


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