Calendar | Conference

Demystifying the Given

Beijing, 19 - 20 October 2019

Official Website
CFP is closedOriginal Call for Papers

It seems to be obvious that something is given to the experiencer in almost any kind of experience. Whether this something be a flower, an attraction towards a person, a work of art, a beverage, the solution to a logical puzzle, or whatever other example we can come up, it seems to make no sense to speak of experience without some content which is there, “in”, or “through”, the very experience itself. In most human activities, cognitive, emotional, and volitional, we have something in view. Indeed, it seems that most of our mental and bodily life is comprised of a permanent engagement with the “givenness” of one thing or another. However, what is properly “given” is far from clear. In some cases, we even find that there arise some seeming paradoxes when we adopt an understanding of experience which makes use of the concept of givenness. This is especially true in cases such as hallucination, dreaming, imagination, or when we experience something specifically as absent, or as missing, and thus one would rather incline to consider it as un-given.

As is well-known, the very issue of givenness, i.e. how things are given in experience, and what in experience is properly given, is one of the main concerns – if not the concern – of Husserl's Phenomenology, as well as, to a large extent, of the Brentano School from which Phenomenology partially derives and of most of the followers of Husserl's project. Likewise, the same issue, though mainly under the label of “content” (of perception, experience, intentional states, etc.), also lies at the center of many debates in Analytic Philosophy of Mind, from Frege and Russell onwards. In both traditions there has been a great deal of debate on what it means to say that something is given and on the very legitimacy of speaking of givenness.

At any rate, in both the Analytic and in the Phenomenological traditions, the idea that something is directly given in experience has been sharply and vigorously criticized. The most famous critique is quite certainly that of Wilfrid Sellars. At first sight, his demolition of the “myth of the given” and his “Rylean” critique of qualia seem to constitute something tantamount to a total dismissal of Phenomenology. However, critiques similar to that made by Sellars against the myth of the given can also be found within the phenomenological tradition itself. Indeed, Heidegger, Derrida, and several other (more or less legitimate) descendants of Husserl's phenomenological breakthrough, have contested the idea of an immediate and direct givenness. In doing so, they have stressed the hermeneutic or semiotic character of experience itself

With that said, one should acknowledge that if we were to totally deny any kind of givenness, it would be very difficult to understand in which sense we can even speak of any phenomenological analysis. In all cases, phenomenology analyzes what is experienced, and to deny the existence of any sort of givenness “in” or “through” experience could possibly amount to denying the very possibility of Phenomenology as such. What is more, in the analytic tradition as well, the need to reconsider experience itself, and to avoid a kind of experience-less understanding of mind and intentionality, has become apparent.

Outgoing from this background, we can see that there is a need to rethink what has been referred to as the ‘myth’ of the given, and to carefully assess what is given in experience.

In this conference, we aim to gather scholars who are willing to participate in this enterprise. We would like to look at different understandings of “the given”, and the different myths which are connected to them. In this way, we hope to evaluate whether or not we can make a “secular” use of this term, and thus, finally endorse a demystified and fruitful understanding of what it refers to.

Although the conference is mainly concerned with questions concerning philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics, we also welcome contributions which deal with the problem of the “given” as it relates to fields such as ethics and aesthetics as well.