The Phenomenal Character of Attention
Lachlan Doughney (La Trobe University)

April 18, 2012 (time unknown)
Department of Philosophy, La Trobe University

HU2 room 431
La Trobe University
Melbourne 3086


Aaron Harrison
La Trobe University

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ABSTRACT: The expression ‘phenomenal character’ refers to the felt qualities of our experiences, or those parts of our experiences where there is ‘something it is like’ to undergo them. The phenomenal character of mental states such as perceptual states (visual, auditory, olfactory, etc.), emotions, pain, and thoughts have been discussed extensively in philosophical literature. Attention has been neglected. This needs to be rectified, as attention is a major component of our conscious mental lives. As such, I will discuss the phenomenal character of attention in this talk. We will find the reason that attention has been neglected is that it is not a mental state but is rather an aspect of our mental acts - and it is a matter of debate as to whether mental acts, and their constituent parts, have any felt qualities. Through some recent work of Thomas Crowther we will see why mental acts do have felt qualities, so that we may proceed. I will then establish a method for identifying the phenomenal character of attention. When I utilise this method, we will find that attention feels like a particular kind of directed mental effort, whenever we use it. In establishing my position I will criticise the claim of proponents of ‘flow experience’ like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that sometimes the use of attention can feel effortless. I will conclude by discussing the finer qualities of the feeling of directed mental effort, that we feel whenever we attend.

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