(2008) Synthese 160 (3).

Phenomenological immanence, normativity, and semantic externalism

Steven Crowell

pp. 335-354

This paper argues that transcendental phenomenology (here represented by Edmund Husserl) can accommodate the main thesis of semantic externalism, namely, that intentional content is not simply a matter of what is ‘in the head,’ but depends on how the world is. I first introduce the semantic problem as an issue of how linguistic tokens or mental states can have ‘content’—that is, how they can set up conditions of satisfaction or be responsive to norms such that they can succeed or fail at referring. The standard representationalist view—which thinks of the problem in first-person terms—is contrasted with Brandom’s pragmatic inferentialist approach, which adopts a third-person stance. The rest of the paper defends a phenomenological version of the representationalist position (seeking to preserve its first-person stance) but offers a conception of representation that does not identify it with an entity ‘in the head.’ The standard view of Husserl as a Cartesian internalist is undermined by rejecting its fundamental assumption—that Husserl’s concept of the ‘noema’ is a mental entity—and by defending a concept of ‘phenomenological immanence’ that has a normative, rather than a psychological, structure. Finally, it is argued that phenomenological immanence cannot be identified with ‘consciousness’ in Husserl’s sense, though consciousness is a necessary condition for it.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11229-006-9083-3

Full citation:

Crowell, S. (2008). Phenomenological immanence, normativity, and semantic externalism. Synthese 160 (3), pp. 335-354.

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