The Difference between Language and Perception

But Who Confuses Vehicle and Contents?

It seems obvious that avoiding this confusion is important. If one doesn’t do so, it looks as if one will get the anatomy of tigers wrong (“this animal is made of ink?”), run screaming away from words (“The word is going to eat me!”), or, worse, get eaten by a tiger (‘It’s only a sent-‘).

But it also seems as obvious that, for any proficient language-user, it’s not hard to avoid this confusion. In fact, I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met, using English, who has ever confused an English word (vehicle) with what the word refers to (content). That doesn’t mean there’s not people out there who don’t do this (‘white crows’ and all that), but it looks uncommon enough to ignore it as a scenario worth taking seriously.

Yet, the vehicle/content-confusion objection does get raised — against accounts of experience. For time, Rashbrook again, quotes Tye:

It seems to me that there is a serious confusion here. . .. In general, represented order has no obvious link with the order of representations. Why suppose that there is such a link for experiential representations?

(Tye 2003, p.90 in Rashbrook, p.587)

And Lee:

A content/vehicle confusion occurs when an aspect of how a representation depicts the world as being is mistaken for an intrinsic property of the representational vehicle. An example of this would be thinking that your experiences of color are themselves colored. In the present case, thinking that the temporal structure of one’s experience must mirror how it represents the temporal structure of the world is supposed to involve a similar confusion.

(Lee 2014, p.9)

In brief, when it comes to some theories about experience, the objectors are warning some theorists that they are taking the content of the experience and ascribing it to the experience itself. And they shouldn’t do this.

So: the experience is coloured, shaped, or lasts some time because the content of the experience is coloured, shaped or lasts some time. But they shouldn’t do this. They shouldn’t do it because: (a) That content is represented content. And (b) The experience is a vehicle of that representation. One should no more ascribe to experience colour, shape, duration, etc., from the fact that the content of the experience is colour/shape/duration than one should ascribe to the word ‘tiger’ orange stripes or arm-eating tendencies from that fact that the word’s content is a tiger.

So why does anyone do this with experience? Again, it seems, no-one does it with language or representation otherwise.


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