There is More to The Content
Institut Jean Nicod, École Normale Supérieure
The sensory-like experiences we undergo through imagination and memory are very similar. In both cases they are faded and lack the feeling of presence involved in genuine perceptual experiences. This raises the question of how we can distinguish our imaginings and memories. In the literature, three accounts of the markers of imagination and memory have been put forward: (1) the mental images account (imagination and memory involve different types of mental images), (2) the content account (imagination and memory involve different types of content), and (3) the epistemological account (imagination and memory differ as to the conditions of their warranted self-ascriptions).
In the first part of my paper, I shall review the three approaches. According to (1) imagination-images differ from memory-images in terms of their vividness, steadiness, or the nature of the feelings involved. I will show that none of these three criteria can do the work. Recently, Byrne has criticized the content account, endorsing instead the epistemological account. According to him the notion of content can explain the similarities between imagination and memory, but it is useless in order to distinguish them. On the contrary, he claims that the epistemology of perception, sketched in the spirit of Evans’ procedure for self-ascription of belief, may give a clue for grasping the markers of memory and imagination. Against Byrne, I argue that there is more to the content account.
In the second part of my paper I shall first claim that Byrne’s point depends on the adoption of an unclear notion of content. If one takes into account a broad notion of content, the content account is still a valuable alternative. Moreover, once we have acknowledged the complexity of the relevant notion of content, the epistemological account can be seen as a natural development of the content account.
Following some insights from situation theory and in particular its interpretation by Recanati, I will argue that there are two notions of mental content: the first corresponding to what is explicitly represented, the second further including the appropriate situation of evaluation for the relevant explicit content. I will show that although imagination and memory may share the same explicit content, they necessarily involve different kinds of situations of evaluation. In addition, I shall explore a version of the epistemological account, suggested by Pagin, which in fact is congenial to my broad construal of the content account. Once we have the two notions of content on board, the conditions on the warranted self-ascriptions of our imaginings and memories can be better understood, for they can be linked to the situation of evaluation. Thus, (2) can be seen to encompass (3). We are then left with just two accounts of the markers of imagination and memory, namely the mental images account and the content account, and the second is the most promising.