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Has anyone examined the relationship between qualia and the fact/value dichotomy?

Consider a functional description of pain: Those who disagree with functionalism, typically do so because it leaves out the "what its like" of pain, which also just happens to be what makes pain a bad thing instead of a good thing.

Similarly, what makes me prefer maple walnut ice-cream over strawberry ice-cream is the "what its like" of the taste of maple walnut for me, i.e. the qualia of walnut.

My questions:

  • Has anyone given a more formal analysis of the relationship between the fact/ value dichotomy and qualia?
  • Does this pose a problem for higher order and self-representational theories of consciousness? Such theories try to solve the question of qualia by positing that first person experience is just a functional state(s) about other functional states.
  • Can one take this a step further, and argue that the fact/value dichotomy is an argument against physicalism since values do exists (even if they are not objective) and influence the way the world is?
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My $0.02.

  • Has anyone given a more formal analysis of the relationship between the fact/ value dichotomy and qualia?

If you think there are qualia, then you probably think there are facts such as "I am being appeared to redly" or "I am in pain". It isn't clear to me that you would have to endorse an account of qualia on which those facts are "value free" uninterpreted data, the way that is required for you to count as endorsing the "fact/value distinction". I doubt that most defenders of qualia would want to build that kind of controversial epistemological position into their description of qualia, though. It would also be possible to reject the existence of qualia and endorse the fact/value distinction. I take Wittgenstein to do just this, since he thinks there could be no "private" mental experiences of the sort qualia are supposed to be and also distinguishes facts, which may be meaningfully stated, from statements about values, which cannot.

Given that you can endorse qualia without endorsing the distinction and endorse the distinction without endorsing qualia, I think you'd have to say there isn't really a connection.

  • Does this pose a problem for higher order and self-representational theories of consciousness? Such theories try to solve the question of qualia by posting that first person experience is just a functional state(s) about other functional states.

No. Or at least, I couldn't see how an argument from the falsity of the fact/value distinction to the denial of qualia would go.

  • Can one take this a step further, and argue that the fact/value dichotomy is an argument against physicalism since values do exists (even if they are not objective) and influence the way the world is?

No. Physicalists are willing to say there are things that are non-physical, in the sense that we can describe, for particular human purposes physical objects using a vocabulary which is not itself reducible to the vocabulary of fundamental physics. For instance, "being a king in chess" won't ever be reducible to a physical property because you can make any kind of physical thing the king in a game of chess if you want. But physicalists need not deny there are such things as Kings. Rather, the point physicalists are making is that the causal story of the universe is a completely physical story---a being who knew all the fundamental physical facts would know all the facts you needed to know in order to know about the universe. That such a being didn't know about chess wouldn't matter, since chess playing is just a human convention and the chess pieces don't cause any physical events qua chess pieces. The physicalist would just say the same thing about values. The fact that the super mind doesn't know about justice doesn't mean that physicalism is false, it just means that justice is a way human beings have of describing certain features of the world relevant to particular human concerns and interests. The point is that a situation's being just or unjust isn't going to cause any physical changes in the universe.

  • What do you make of Sellars's distinction between sensings and knowings (observation facts), and his argument that passing from "seeing red x" to "seeing x as red" is a kind of naturalistic fallacy, a.k.a. the myth of the given? His non-fact sensings seem like candidates for qualia, but I never saw a discussion of them in such context. And on your last point, why shouldn't Super Mind know about justice if it is supposed to know all about humans including forms of their "emergent" behavior, which would include talk about justice? – Conifold Jul 22 '16 at 1:51
  • @Conifold I can't make heads or tails of Sellars, or what the problem with "the myth of the given" is really supposed to be. (But I've also never worked on the topic.) Super Mind doesn't see emergent properties, but, so the story goes, this is because either there are no "emergent properties" with their own causal powers, or because "emergent properties" are just higher-order descriptions of underlying physical states. Note, I think that the physicalist is actually on pretty thin ice here, empirically speaking---I'm just reporting the view. – shane Jul 22 '16 at 15:53
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This got really long. The TL;DR summary is 'there is no such thing as a little bit of postmodernism'. If qualia are anything like values, then experience is as socially constructed like consequentialist ethics, and you go down that rabbit hole.

  • Has anyone given a more formal analysis of the relationship between the fact value/dichotomy and qualia?

People who talk about qualia are sure they are facts. If they are something intermediate between facts and values, much of their importance evaporates. In the latter case, since values are clearly negotiated, one can fall back on Wittgenstein to resolve the problem, by injecting the perspective that qualia are just artifacts of the social value of definitions. If red is an experientially defined parameter of our interpretation of sensory data to which we train our reactions, and not a quality, then all red things have in common is a social agreement about their likely physical effects on human beings, and not a real common content to our experiences. So to the degree qualia exist and have value, this has to remain unrelated to them.

  • Does this pose a problem for higher order and self-representational theories of consciousness? Such theories try to solve the question of qualia by posting that first person experience is just a functional state(s) about other functional states.

No, injecting the social position skips over those theories to a place of greater relativism. If qualia are socially negotiated like values, then you do not need the notion of a functional state -- first person experience is a representation back to yourself of your interpretation of your experience through the social medium of storytelling. (That is why it takes time. A functional state should be achieved instantaneously, and conscious experience does not seem to be so.)

  • Can one take this a step further, and argue that the fact/value dichotomy is an argument against physicalism since values do exists (even if they are not objective) and influence the way the world is?

Do bear in mind that some pain is positive, especially in cultures with things like initiation rituals and transformative models of adulthood or high values for independence and 'realism' (in the political sense, not the philosophical one -- the pain that tells me I worked hard yesterday has a positive value for 'martyred' Catholic men; the Scourge is a tool in older traditions of Wicca for invoking ecstatic states through pain; lying on a bed of nails is purifying and redemptive.)

From a point of view that takes those effects as genuine value rather than psychosocial self-manipulation, the fact/value dichotomy is an argument for social construction. At its extreme, social constructionism is an argument against physicalism: if we all have to agree on what is and what is not physical, how can that be the basis of reality? But that is far more extreme position than the idealism that simply accepts qualia as facts.

  • I would have thought that if you're a Wittgensteinian, you're not going to believe there are any such things as qualia at all---they are supposed to be ruled out a priori by considerations about the nature of language or meaning (by "The Private Language Argument," whatever one takes that to be.) But I don't take this to mean that Wittgenstein (even the later Wittgenstein) would deny the existence of the fact/value distinction. – shane Jul 21 '16 at 17:01
  • @shane Right, I think that only by claiming qualia as facts, given the fact/value distinction, can you ignore Wittgenstein's argument. If you hang onto them hard enough, then descriptions really are about something process-independent, even if the names are negotiable, the things named are "real shared experience" and you can evade his logic indefinitely. – jobermark Jul 21 '16 at 17:13
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I would like to answer by disagreeing with your assumptions.

I think that Qualia should not be defined by the "what its like" to experience a thing. I believe that the fact that it is commonly defined in these terms by dualists and functionalists alike, has been misguiding the entire debate for too many years.

I believe that it is better to say that some people insist that there is a mysterious thing in our mind which seems to be inexplicable on mechanical grounds. There is very little that we can say about it coherently, and while it seems that it ought to be, and probably is causal, we cannot conceive how (which does not entail that it isn't).

Wittgenstein says:

It’s not a Something, but not a Nothing either! The conclusion was only that a Nothing would render the same service as a Something about which nothing could be said. (Philosophical Investigations, §304)

In particular we do not know that it has anything to do with liking or disliking the taste of ice-cream or the sensation of pain, as these seem to be perfectly explainable mechanically.

There are other similar misconceptions; for example to ask whether someone else has the same experience of red, or could be having a so called inverted qualia. In my view such a question is simply incoherent. See here: Is it possible that I see color differently?

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    Thanks for the Wittgenstein quote. Question, you say that "it is probably causal", but then later "In particular we do not know that it has anything to do with liking or disliking the taste of ice-cream or the sensation of pain, as these seem to be perfectly explainable mechanically." -- I don't follow, if it is causal, what exactly is it's effect? – Alexander S King Jul 21 '16 at 7:26
  • evolution compels me to believe that it is causal, and I believe that my reporting its existence is a case of causation rather than a convoluted case of epiphenomenalism. I have some other speculative ideas (such as attention, since it is involved in said reporting) but generally speaking I don't know what it is good for. – nir Jul 21 '16 at 10:52

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