SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Analyzing Time-Consciousness: A Pluralistic Proposal
(Philosophy of Mind, English)

The experience of time, or time-consciousness, especially as it relates to the subjectively felt present, remains one of the thorniest yet most fundamentally important aspects of the mind for philosophers to understand. In recent times, two contemporary accounts of time-consciousness have become especially popular. One of these accounts holds that what our temporal experience is like (i.e., the "phenomenal character" of experience) is rooted in an actual extension of experience over time, while the other account maintains our temporal experience is fundamentally constituted by intentional content, for instance, content as of an extended interval. The former view is commonly known as __extensionalism__ and the latter __retentionalism__. These two positions are typically treated as opposed. I will argue this common wisdom is misguided. I will argue not only that these two ways of thinking are compatible, but that combining them in a complementary way results in numerous explanatory benefits that would otherwise be shut off to us.

In making this argument, I will adopt a pluralistic approach, pursuing an explanatory strategy that calls upon different resources in pursuit of different explanatory goals. I will explicitly avoid making strong ontological claims about the true nature of the mind, especially as concerns the metaphysical status of intentions. Instead, I will be concerned with which strategies provide the most sensible explanations for features of experience given the admittedly thorny problems that any single more reductive account of temporal phenomenology faces.

For extensionalists, experiences themselves are simply extended in actual time and this extension explains multiple facts about our experience, such as the duration of the experienced present. Retentionalists, in contrast, appeal to intentions directed at different phases of time, like fine-grained sections of the recent past and/or future, but the intentions are not necessarily themselves extended or distributed over those time-phases. Taken together, the intentional content is supposed to constitute an experienced present. Classically (e.g., in Husserl), retentional models also include a stipulation that the intentions can in principle be simultaneously occurrent and not spread out over actual clock time. However, it is not this contention, but rather the postulation of retentions (i.e., past-directed intentions) that fundamentally distinguishes retentional models from competing views. Retentionalism and extensionalism would be mutually exclusive if we insisted that the explanatorily relevant intentions all exist simultaneously in one moment, but this need not and should not be the case.

A hybrid extensional-retentional model could include features of both accounts. Such a model is pluralistic, appealing to different explanatory strategies for different ends. Specifically, it holds there are intentions directed at different phases of time, but also that those intentions are temporally extended or "distributed" over an interval. Both features "intentionality and the temporal extension of intentions" can be seen as contributing to the phenomenal character of temporal experience. This extensional-retentional analysis is better able to accommodate our temporal phenomenology than either retentionalism or extensionalism alone.

First, I will argue that the hybrid view can escape a potentially infinite explanatory regress associated with classical forms of retentionalism that undermines those models' ability to offer a coherent account of the so-called "specious present", i.e., the interval of experienced time that we take to be now. Furthermore, I will argue a hybrid view evades the unpalatable implication of the classical retentionalist picture that the specious present might have no boundary in principle and might extend indefinitely. The hybrid view can achieve both these ends by explicitly casting actual temporal extension as explanatorily relevant for experience. Following this, I will argue that a hybrid model can also recruit solutions from each of its components to answer potential threats to the other. Specifically, I will show how a hybrid approach can handle what Barry Dainton has identified as the "extensional" and "retentional simultaneity problems", which stem from oversimplifications made by each account when considered as sole explanations for temporal phenomena. Finally, I will argue that a hybrid model strikes the right balance between parsimony and phenomenal accuracy while still accommodating temporal illusions through appeal to intentional explanations. Ultimately, I conclude that a pluralistic explanatory approach endorsing a hybrid model of time-consciousness can provide a more satisfactory understanding of the experienced present, experiential succession, and temporal variability than the standard accounts can offer on their own.

Chair: Martin Niederl
Time: 16:00-16:30, 07 September 2022 (Wednesday)
Location: HS E.002
Remark: (Online Talk)

Camden McKenna 
(University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom)

Testability and Meaning deco