Philosophy Disjunctivism
by
Berit Brogaard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0033

Introduction

Disjunctivism—with respect to bodily or mental states or reasons of kind S—is the view that S-states (or reasons) can be divided into more fundamental kinds of entities that have different kinds of entities as their essential constituents, or that differ in what kind of information, evidence, or motivation they provide. The best-known version of disjunctivism is an offspring of one of the oldest theories of perception, known as naive realism. To a first approximation, naive realism is the view that perceptions have mind-independent objects among their constituents. Many historical philosophers (from John Locke to Bertrand Russell) argued that naive realism must be rejected on the grounds that hallucinations are perceptual experiences that do not have mind-independent objects among their constituents. Their reasoning, roughly, went as follows: Perceptions and hallucinations are constitutively on a par. Hence, either both perceptions and hallucinations have mind-independent objects among their constituents or neither does. As hallucinations do not have mind-independent objects among their constituents, neither do perceptions. Contemporary philosophers have resurrected the theory by treating perception and hallucination as having different kinds of entities among their constituents. This version of naive realism has come to be known as “the disjunctive conception of experience.” Epistemological disjunctivism and disjunctivism about phenomenal belief, or what I shall call “introspective disjunctivism,” have also gained popularity in recent years. Epistemological disjunctivism is the view that only genuine cases of perception provide (good) perceptual evidence. Introspective disjunctivism is the view that genuine phenomenal beliefs have phenomenal properties among their constituents. More recently, disjunctivist accounts of bodily movements, abilities, and reasons for action have entered the philosophical scene. These accounts treat the relevant bodily or mental entities as divisible into different kinds that have different kinds of entities among their constituents, or that satisfy different epistemic or practical constraints. This entry focuses on the contemporary debate about the different varieties of disjunctivism just outlined, including their characterization, their motivation, and their potential shortcomings.

General Overviews

There are several good introductory overviews of the debate about disjunctivism. One is Crane 2008, which offers a good overview of the arguments from illusion and hallucination. Traditionally, these arguments were taken to motivate sense-data theory. Disjunctivism is now one of the more common ways of responding to the arguments. Haddock and Macpherson 2008 provides an overview of the distinct forms of disjunctivism traditionally defended in the literature. They classify Snowdon as an experiential disjunctivist, McDowell as an epistemic disjunctivist, and Martin as a phenomenal disjunctivist (see Metaphysical Disjunctivism for more information). Another excellent overview article is Byrne and Logue 2008, which also provides an overview of the distinct kinds of disjunctivism. Byrne and Logue distinguish among Hintonesque disjunctivism, which denies that there is a common structural element in good and bad cases of perception; Austinian disjunctivism, which holds that there is a fundamental difference between the object one is aware of in good and bad cases of perception; and epistemological disjunctivism, which holds that there is a difference in the epistemic status of the perceptual evidence provided in good and bad cases of perception. They also discuss how different authors classify illusions. Finally, they offer an argument against disjunctivism that turns on the disjunctivist dictum that there is no specific mental state or event common to the good and the bad case. These authors also provide a good introductory overview in their collection Disjunctivism: Contemporary Readings (Byrne and Logue 2009). Here they distinguish the different kinds of disjunctivism and give a concise overview of the arguments for and against. Fish 2009 and Soteriou 2009 are good entries on disjunctivism. Campbell 2002 defends naive realism for the good case. Finally, the Chalmers and Bourget online entry on disjunctivism, part of the PhilPapers directory of articles and books on philosophy, is updated regularly.

  • Byrne, Alex, and Heather Logue. “Either/Or.” In Disjunctivism: Perception, Action, Knowledge. Edited by Adrian Haddock and Fiona Macpherson, 57–94. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    An accessible overview of different kinds of metaphysical and epistemological disjunctivism. Also contains a useful classification of metaphysical disjunctivism in terms of how illusions are treated, and two arguments against metaphysical disjunctivism.

  • Byrne, Alex, and Heather Logue. “Introduction.” In Disjunctivism: Contemporary Readings. Edited by Alex Byrne and Heather Logue, vii–xxix. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.

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    Examines the different kinds of disjunctivism and the main reasons for and against each one.

  • Campbell, John. Reference and Consciousness. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.

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    Defends a relational (naive realist) view of veridical perception. Campbell motivates the view by arguing that it is required to make sense of our knowledge of demonstrative reference. He also attempts to reconcile the view with the findings of empirical science.

  • Chalmers, David, and David Bourget. “Disjunctivism.” In PhilPapers. Edited by Heather Logue.

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    Bibliography updated regularly. Logue is the current editor.

  • Crane, Tim. “The Problem of Perception.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

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    Provides a critical discussion of the arguments from hallucination and illusion.

  • Fish, William. “Disjunctivism.” In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2009.

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    A good accessible entry on disjunctivism that presents the classic arguments for and against and shows how disjunctivists treat hallucination and illusion.

  • Haddock, Adrian, and Fiona Macpherson. “Introduction: Varieties of Disjunctivism.” In Disjunctivism: Perception, Action, Knowledge. Edited by Adrian Haddock and Fiona Macpherson, 1–24. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Offers an account of the distinct kinds of metaphysical disjunctivism, as well as an overview of epistemological disjunctivism and disjunctivism in the philosophy of action.

  • Soteriou, Matthew. “The Disjunctive Theory of Perception.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2009.

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    Accessible overview of the main debates about the disjunctive conception of perceptual experience.

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