Dreyfus Strikes Again

Heterophenomenology: Heavy-handed sleight-of-hand

Abstract:We argue that heterophenomenology both over- and under-populates the intentional realm. For example, when one is involved in coping, one’s mind does not contain beliefs. Since the heterophenomenologist interprets all intentional commitment as belief, he necessarily overgenerates the belief contents of the mind. Since beliefs cannot capture the normative aspect of coping and perceiving, any method, such as heterophenomenology, that allows for only beliefs is guaranteed not only to overgenerate beliefs but also to undergenerate other kinds of intentional phenomena.

I thought this was an interesting critique of Dennett’s heterophenomenology. If you don’t know, heterophenomenology is a research methodology that acts as “a bridge – the bridge – between the subjectivity of human consciousness and the natural sciences.” Essentially, the heterophenomenologist is an objective gatherer and interpreter of first-person subjective reports who doesn’t construe the reporter as completely authoritative.

What this interpersonal communication enables you, the investigator, to do is to compose a catalogue of what the subject believes to be true about his or her conscious experience.

So, the heterophenomenologist interprets all intentional phenomena as beliefs. This is a problem for Dreyfus and Kelly because it overgenerates mental content. They use the example of going out of a door to illustrate their point on overgeneration. If you ask someone going out of a door whether they “believed there was a chasm on the other side”, they might say yes, but in reality, as they were going out of the door, they were thinking no such thing but were merely responding to the “to-go-out” solicitation given by the door. No beliefs were involved in the act at all, just pure motor intentionality.

This last point on “motor intentionality” is crucial, because Dreyfus and company also accuse the heterophenomenologist of undergenerating intentional contents.

But to deny that skillful coping involves belief is not to deny that it lacks intentional content altogether. There is a form of motorintentional content that is experienced as a solicitation to act. This content cannot be captured in the belief that I’m experiencing an affordance. Indeed, as soon as I step back from and reflect on an affordance, the experience of the current tension slips away. Since beliefs cannot capture this normative aspect of coping and perceiving, any method, such as heterophenomenology, that allows for only beliefs is guaranteed not only to overgenerate beliefs but also to undergenerate other kinds of intentional phenomena.

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