Sei sulla pagina 1di 21

Husserl Stud

DOI 10.1007/s10743-017-9215-2

Perceptual Error, Conjunctivism, and Husserl

Sren Overgaard1

 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Abstract Claude Romano (2012) and Andrea Staiti (2015) have recently discussed
Husserls account of perception in relation to debates in current analytic philosophy
between so-called conjunctivists and disjunctivists. Romano and Staiti offer
strikingly different accounts of the nature of illusion and hallucination, and
opposing readings of Husserl. Romano thinks hallucinations and illusions are
fleeting, fragile phenomena, while Staiti claims they are inherently retrospective
phenomena. Romano reads Husserl as being committed to a form of conjunctivism
that Romano rejects in favour of a version of disjunctivism. Staiti, by contrast,
claims that, from a Husserlian viewpoint, conjunctivism and disjunctivism are
equally untenable. I suggest that both Romano and Staiti offer implausible accounts
of illusions and hallucinations, and deliver premature verdicts on Husserl in relation
to the analytic debates on perception.

1 Introduction

In the last couple of decades, various attempts have been made to relate
phenomenological accounts of perception to debates within analytic philosophy.
Recently, considerable attention has been devoted to the specific question of how to
place phenomenological accounts vis-a-vis the analytic debates between so-called
disjunctivists (or relationalists, or nave realists) and conjunctivists (or

& Sren Overgaard


s.overgaard@hum.ku.dk
1
Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Centre for Subjectivity Research and
Philosophy Section, University of Copenhagen, Karen Blixens Vej 4, 2300 Copenhagen S,
Denmark

123
Husserl Stud

representationalists or intentionalists).1 Very roughly, conjunctivists believe


an experiential state of the same type can be had across cases of veridical
perception, illusion and hallucination the difference between these being a matter
of the extent to which the world is as it is presented in the experience. For
disjunctivists, by contrast, the experience a person enjoys in a veridical case is of a
type that could not have been had in a hallucinatory case perhaps one that could
not even have been had in a case of illusion.
Attempts to bring phenomenology into dialogue with disjunctive and conjunctive
theories of perception have tended to focus on Husserlian and Merleau-Pontian
phenomenology in particular.2 This paper considers one of the most recent
instalments of this ongoing endeavour, namely a pair of papers by Claude Romano
(2012) and Andrea Staiti (2015). As part of their discussion of Husserls alleged
Cartesianism, these papers touch on Husserls philosophy of perception and its
relation to the debate between disjunctivists and conjunctivists.
What makes these two papers particularly interesting is, first of all, that in a
couple of respects Romanos and Staitis papers are almost diametrical opposites.
As Romano sees it, it is clear that Husserl defends a conjunctivist account of
perception, while Staiti thinks it is obvious that Husserl is equally opposed to
conjunctivism and disjunctivism. Moreover, in their attempts to develop those
opposed accounts of Husserlian phenomenology of perception, Romano and Staiti
offer widely diverging accounts of illusion and hallucination. Briefly, Romano
thinks hallucinations and illusions are fleeting, fragile experiences, while Staiti
claims they are inherently retrospective phenomena. Finally, Romanos and Staitis
papers are worth a closer look for the simple reason that they are, I believe, wrong
on several key points. As I will argue in what follows, Romano and Staiti offer
implausible accounts of illusions and hallucinations and deliver premature (and I
suspect false) verdicts on Husserls position in relation to the mentioned analytic
debates.
The paper is structured as follows. In the next section, I define some crucial terms
and provide a rough outline of the debate between conjunctivism and disjunctivism.
Section 3 presents Romanos takes on Husserl and on illusion/hallucination. In
Sect. 4, I sketch Staitis response to those aspects of Romanos paper. I then suggest
(Sect. 5) that both Romano and Staiti draw premature conclusions about Husserls
position vis-a-vis the conjunctivism/disjunctivism debate. In Sect. 6, I argue that
Romanos and Staitis claims about illusion and hallucination are inadequate.
Finally, I conclude by (all too briefly) addressing some important remaining issues.

1
The labels intentionalism, conjunctivism and representationalism are not exactly co-
extensional. The same goes for disjunctivism relationalism, and nave realism. Addressing this
matter in detail would require much space and lead me away from my main topic. I hope it will become
clear which rough families of views I intend to contrast here. One point that will be of some importance
later on is that disjunctivists need not be nave realists; but with that one exception, we can, for present
purposes, treat the two groups of labels as roughly co-extensional.
2
Not exclusively, though. See Riccardi (2016) for a disjunctivist interpretation of Scheler. For
disjunctivist readings of Husserl see A. D. Smith (2008) and Hopp (2011, ch. 6); see Drummond (2012),
D. W. Smith (2012), and Soldati (2012) for different perspectives. Disjunctivist readings of Merleau-
Ponty are developed in Berendzen (2013) and Jensen (2013).

123
Husserl Stud

2 Conjunctivism Versus Disjunctivism

To set the stage for the analytic debate, we need to make some distinctions. First of
all, we must distinguish between perception and perceptual experience. Percep-
tion is a success term; perceptual experience is not. More precisely, S
perceives an X entails that an X exists in Ss surroundings. S has a perceptual
experience of an X carries no such entailment. The alcoholic who hallucinates a
pink elephant has a perceptual experience of (or as of) a pink elephant, but he
does not perceive one.
Secondly, we need to distinguish between perception and veridical perception. In
veridical perception, things are as they are perceptually experienced as being.3 All
veridical perceptions are of course perceptions, but not all perceptions are veridical
perceptions. Illusions are perceptions too: they are episodes of perceptual contact
with items in the environment, although that contact is not fully veridical.
Something perceived seems to have a property (or set of properties) it doesnt
actually have for example, one Muller-Lyer line looks longer than the other, even
though the two lines are the same length. But in experiencing this illusion, you still
make perceptual contact with the two lines and so unlike the alcoholic vis-a-vis
the pink elephant you perceive them.
Thirdly, I will refer to hallucinations and illusions collectively as perceptual
errors. They are errors because they are paradigmatically non-veridical. (In cases
in which they are veridical, if there are such cases, the hallucinatory or illusory
experiences are in some other way misleading or defective vis-a-vis the scene
experienced). As we will see later, both Romano and Staiti tend to use the term
illusion to characterize perceptual error more generally. I will, however, follow
normal philosophical usage in distinguishing between hallucination and illusion,
apart from when quoting Romano and Staiti. Since people occasionally lump
together hallucination and imagination, I should stress that hallucination, as I use
the term, is or involves a perceptual experience (though it is not a perception). Acts
of pure imagination are not perceptual experiences. For, to use Husserlian
vocabulary, in imagination nothing appears as presented leibhaftig (in the flesh).
The alcoholics pink elephants, by contrast, do appear as given in the flesh.
We can now approach the debate between conjunctivism and disjunctivism. It is
useful, I think, to conceive of them as two different strategies for defending what we
might call the nave picture of perception in the face of the arguments from
illusion and hallucination. On the nave picture, in veridical perception we are
directly aware of normal physical things (tables, trees, rivers, animals, etc.) and
some of their properties. We are directly aware of such things in the sense that
3
To be precise, things being as they are perceptually experienced as being is sufficient for veridicality,
but not for perception. It is possible or so most philosophers believe to undergo a hallucination that by
sheer coincidence (or scientific design) happens to reflect what is actually out there. In order to perceive
ones environment, one must, in addition, make perceptual contact with it, whatever exactly that means.
To complicate matters further, some philosophers believe there can be fully veridical illusions (see
Johnston 2006, pp. 271-274). Having noted these possible cases, I will set them aside and confine my
discussion to standard non-veridical illusions and hallucinations. Note that I will for ease of exposition
use the phrase veridical (perceptual) experience to refer to the experience had in a case of veridical
perception.

123
Husserl Stud

our awareness is not mediated through an awareness of objects distinct from them.4
Of course, in some cases we do have a mediated awareness of normal physical
objects. When I am aware of the Eiffel Tower by seeing a picture of it, my
awareness of it is mediated in a way it is not when I am looking straight at the tower
itself.
The nave picture has traditionally been challenged by the arguments from
illusion and hallucination. The argument from hallucination goes roughly as
follows. Consider the experience of the alcoholic. We do not do justice to his
experience if we simply say he is aware of nothing. On the contrary, it seems clear
that he is visually aware of something specifically something elephant-shaped and
pink. So there must be something pink and elephant-shaped of which he is aware.
(Call this italicized bit the first step.) That something cannot be a pink and
elephant-shaped (normal) physical thing, for, since the alcoholic is by hypothesis
(non-veridically) hallucinating, there is none. So the alcoholic must be aware of
some kind of non-physical, elephant-shaped object a sense-datum. But the
alcoholics hallucinatory experience is, or can be, indistinguishable from an
experience he might have in a case of veridical perception. (Call the italicized bit
Indistinguishability.) Thus, that hallucinatory experience is, or can be, an
experience of the very same kind as one enjoys in a veridical perception. (Call this
italicized sentence the second step.) Finally, it is concluded that even in cases of
veridical perception, we are aware of sense-data, and so our awareness of normal
physical things can at best be indirect.5
Now I can introduce conjunctivism and disjunctivism. As mentioned, both
are attempts to salvage the nave picture of perception. They differ in terms of where
they (mainly) seek to resist the argument from hallucination.6 Intentional,
representational or conjunctive accounts resist the introduction of sense-data in
the first place, and they do so by denying the first step in the argument.
Conjunctivists at the same time typically accept the second step that is, they
accept that hallucinatory and veridical experiences are (or can be) experiences of the
same fundamental kind. The basic idea of conjunctivism is to conceive of perceptual
experience as a representation of how things are or might be in the environment
(see e.g. Searle 1983, ch. 2). On this view, perceptual experiences are not unlike
judgements or thoughts: just as I may think theres a red, round thing in front of me
even if there is not, so I might have a visual experience as of such an object, even if
no candidate object is out there. And crucially, there is no need to introduce special,
mind-dependent entities to account for this. When I think falsely that there is a red
ball in front of me, there is no temptation to say that I am really thinking of some

4
This nave picture is, at least prima facie, compatible with believing that veridical perception is
mediated in certain ways e.g. (in vision) through retinal images, neuronal signals passing through the
optical nerve, and so on. Retinal images and the rest are not objects of our perceptual experiences, and so
they do not get in between us and the ordinary objects of perception in a way that would contradict the
nave picture.
5
This is merely a rough sketch. For more precise articulations of the argument, see Robinson (1994) and
A. D. Smith (2002).
6
Disjunctivists disagree about how to think of illusion. To keep matters simple, I therefore concentrate
on the contrast between hallucination and veridical perception.

123
Husserl Stud

existing red and round mental item.7 Similarly, if we think of perceptual experiences
as a special class of mental representations, the need to introduce sense-data to
account for misperceptions disappears.
We can now accept so the conjunctivist argues that the experience in a
veridical case is an experience of the same fundamental kind as might be had in a
hallucinatory case, without jeopardizing the nave picture. Since we did not have to
introduce sense-data in order to account for the hallucinatory case, there is no reason
to fear that sense-data could be spreading (via the second step) to the veridical
case. And importantly, we can still capture the idea that the two cases are crucially
different. In the veridical case in contrast to the hallucination things simply are
as they are presented experientially as being.
So-called relational, nave realist, or disjunctivist views (e.g. Martin
2002) are in agreement with intentional views about the need to salvage the nave
picture, but they disagree with the conjunctivists wholesale rejection of the first
step in the argument from hallucination. Disjunctivists typically do not accept that
there must exist an object of which a hallucinating subject is aware qua
hallucinating. So they do not accept the first step as it stands. Still, most
disjunctivists would accept that something like the first step is correct with respect
to veridical experiences. More precisely, disjunctivists generally start from the idea
that in veridical perception (and maybe illusion too), the type of experience we are
enjoying is such as to involve an existing physical object. The veridical experience
(qua the kind of experience it is) makes you aware of or acquaints8 you with an
existing physical object. But this means that if youre merely hallucinating, you
cannot be having an experience of that same kind. So the disjunctivist denies that we
can have the same kind of experience across perceptual and hallucinatory cases
that is, denies the second step in the argument from hallucination.9
It is important to see that disjunctivism is not the trivial thesis that hallucinations
differ from (veridical) perceptions. The conjunctivist would of course agree that the
cases are importantly different. What the disjunctivist denies and the conjunctivist
affirms is that an experience of the same fundamental kind can be had across the
three cases. For the disjunctivist, an experiencer is either having an experience that
(qua the kind of experience it is) acquaints her with an existing physical object, or
she is having an experience of some other kind. For the conjunctivist, by contrast,

7
Assuming otherwise seems to generate paradoxical consequences. If my false thought that theres a red
sphere in front of me is actually about a mental item thats red and spherical, not a physical one, and the
mental item actually exists, then its hard to see why my thought would be false in the first place. Also,
suppose I have that thought, and that its false at first, but then becomes true because somebody places a
red and spherical item in front of me. It is hard to see how that might make my thought true unless my
thought was about a physical item from the outset.
8
In Russells sense: the relation of subject and object which I call acquaintance is simply the converse
of the relation of object and subject which constitutes presentation. That is, to say that S has acquaintance
with O is essentially the same thing as to say that O is presented to S (Russell 1917, pp. 209210). Note
that an object cannot be presented to a subject unless they both exist, and so S cannot be acquainted with
O unless O exists.
9
One might not find it immediately obvious why anyone should find the disjunctive view attractive. For
a little more on the motivation behind at least some defences of disjunctivism, see Overgaard
(2012, 2013).

123
Husserl Stud

what makes the hallucinatory and veridical cases different does not concern the type
of experience undergone, but the extent to which the environment is the way the
experience represents it as being.
One final point worth noting about conjunctivism and disjunctivism is that they
both typically accept Indistinguishability.10 That is, the possibility of hallucinations
(and illusions) that a subject cannot tell apart by undergoing them or reflecting upon
them is generally accepted on all sides. If we call hallucinatory experiences that are
indistinguishable from veridical perceptions perfect hallucinatory experiences,
we can represent the relation between disjunctivism and conjunctivism with the help
of a triad of claims:
(I) Veridical perceptual experiences are,11 qua the fundamental kind of
experience they are, awareness-relations to existing objects.
(II) Veridical perceptual experiences and perfect hallucinatory experiences are
experiences of the same fundamental kind.
(III) Veridical perceptual experiences make us directly aware of normal
physical objects.

(III) is a formulation of what I called the nave picture of perception, and so (III)
is affirmed by disjunctivists and conjunctivists alike. Disjunctivists accept (I) and
reject (II), whereas conjunctivists reject (I) and affirm (II). (The classical opponent
of the nave picture, the sense-datum theorist, will typically side with
disjunctivists with respect to (I), agree with conjunctivists about (II), and depart
from both of them in rejecting (III).)
With these points in place, I turn to the question of how Romano and Staiti read
Husserl on perception and perceptual error.

3 Romano on Husserl and Perceptual Error

The central aim of Romano (2012)12 is to present a critique of Husserls alleged


Cartesianism. According to Romano, Husserl not only accepted the legitimacy of
Descartes universal doubt, but even took it more seriously than Descartes himself.
Husserlian phenomenology is inseparable from the attempt to offer a response to
the challenge presented by Cartesian scepticism, Romano claims indeed,
scepticism may support the very edifice of phenomenology (p. 427). As I
believe Staiti (2015) does a good job of debunking these claims, I shall not say more
about them here. Of more interest to me is how Romano places Husserl in relation to
disjunctivism and conjunctivism.

10
Austin (1962) may give the impression of being a disjunctivist (avant la lettre) who rejects
Indistinguishability, but in fact he does not: I do not, of course, wish to deny that there may be cases in
which delusive and veridical experiences really are qualitatively indistinguishable (1962, p. 52).
11
See footnote 3 for my use of the phrase veridical perceptual experience.
12
In this section, all references are to Romano (2012) unless otherwise specified.

123
Husserl Stud

There is a string of passages from Thing and Space, which Romano and Staiti
both discuss, and which contains a number of points that will be important to my
discussion. Husserl writes:
[] the foregoing characterization [of perception] is not to be understood in
the sense that there would pertain to the essence of every perception as such
the existence of the perceived Object, the existence of that which stands there
in the mode of presence in the flesh. In that case, talk of perception whose
object did not exist would indeed be countersensical; illusory perceptions
would be unthinkable. It is the essential character of perception to be
consciousness of the Objects presence in the flesh, i.e., to be the
phenomenon of it. To perceive a house means to have the consciousness, to
have the phenomenon, of a house standing there in the flesh [leibhaft
dastehenden]. How matters stand with the so-called existence of the house,
with the true Being of the house, and what this existence means about all that
nothing is said. [] The matter at issue will be clear if we forthwith bring out
the distinction between presence in the flesh and belief. [] The perception,
the phenomenon, of the house as standing there in the flesh is at once the belief
that it is standing there. If we presentify the example of an unmasked
hallucination, then we find in place of belief disbelief. Moreover, other
examples offer themselves, ones in which we are at first perceptually doubtful
whether it is a case of perception or hallucination. Here both belief and
disbeliefs are lacking, and instead of them we have doubt [] . Yet in all these
cases the phenomenon of the standing there of the Object in the flesh persists
or can persist. (Hua XVI, pp. 1416 [1213]13)
I will refer to this bit of text as The Quote. Although I shall cite other texts when
appropriate, The Quote contains most of the material that I need to get my
discussion of Romano and Staiti going. As we will see, Romano and Staiti offer
very different yet equally problematic readings of The Quote. One thing that is
agreed on all sides, I think, is that Husserl would defend (III) above, and that he
would vehemently reject the sense-datum theory.14 But that in itself leaves it open
whether Husserl might embrace conjunctivism, disjunctivism, or another sort of
view entirely.
As Romano reads The Quote, Husserl maintains that an object can perfectly
well be perceived, i.e. given not only in person (selbstgegeben), but in the flesh
(leibhaft), yet without this objects existing, since its givenness in the flesh in no
way implies its existence (p. 438). Romano observes that in this way Husserl does
not respect the normal usage of the word perceive, according to which to
perceive that p implies p (ibid.; cf. Romano 2011, p. 9). Indeed, Husserl
apparently uses perception (Wahrnehmung) to refer to what I have called
perceptual experience. But Romano isnt merely lodging a terminological
complaint. Rather, he is objecting to the conception of perceptual experience that

13
When quoting Husserl, I provide references to the English translations in square brackets.
14
This is clear throughout Husserls writings. For just a few examples, see Hua III/1, pp. 207208; Hua
VI, p. 236; Hua XVII, pp. 175, 287.

123
Husserl Stud

Husserl offers. For, as Romano reads him, Husserl not only believes that an object
can be perceived (i.e., experienced) without, for all that, existing (i.e. that there
are cases in which experiencing o does not entail o exists). In addition, Husserl
holds that perception is never more than the mode of givenness, by means of
concordant profiles, of an object that remains nevertheless liable not to exist (p.
438; my emphasis). In other words, there are no cases in which the perceptual
experience of an object entails the existence of the object, on the view Romano
attributes to Husserl. Not only, then, does perception experiencing something as
given in the flesh as such fail to guarantee the existence of the perceived
object. It is also ruled out that perceptual experience covers a heterogeneous
collection of cases, some of which do guarantee the existence of their objects:
Never, Husserl tells us, can the givenness of something in the flesh its perception
guarantee to us that this thing really exists (p. 438). Acceptance of (I) thus seems
to be out of the question.
Both a genuine perceptual experience and its perfect hallucinatory counterpart
present their respective objects in the flesh, and neither experience guarantees or
entails the existence of those objects. To this extent, the two are exactly on a par.
Consequently, Husserl defends a conception of perception that Romano calls
conjunctive. According to conjunctivism, there is an element that is common to
both perception and illusion,15 i.e. there is also a neutral sense of appear according
to which one might say of both an illusion [] and a perception [] that their
respective objects appear (p. 439).
Indeed, not only is there an element in common between the two sorts of cases
for example, a sense in which their respective objects may both be said to appear
in the flesh. Husserls conjunctive view ultimately has it that there simply is no
intrinsic difference between perception and illusion (hallucination). In Romanos
somewhat perplexing words, a perception is never more than a confirmed illusion,
and an illusion is a contradicted perception (pp. 439440). 16 The point is this: the
experience one has when genuinely perceiving is, as in (II), of the same fundamental
kind as the experience one might have when hallucinating. What distinguishes the
genuine perception from a hallucination is thus nothing intrinsic to the kind of
experience undergone, but simply the fact that in the perceptual case, the experience
is (or eventually will be) confirmed. The experience one has in a hallucinatory case,
by contrast, will eventually be disconfirmed. In sum, Husserls view is conjunc-
tive in that it claims that one and the same experience could just as well be a
perception as an illusion, depending on how it is coordinated with other
experiences (Romano 2011, p. 10).
As Romano reads Husserl, then, the latter rejects (I), maintains (II) and we may
suppose (cf. p. 437) accepts (III). Husserl thus lines up with conjunctivism.
Romano thinks this position is phenomenologically untenable (p. 440), and he
15
Recall that, as Romano and Staiti use the term illusion, it includes what I call hallucinations and is
thus co-extensive with my perceptual error.
16
In line with these enigmatic statements, Romano also suggests that an experience, on the Husserlian
view, can be at the same time perception and illusion (p. 440). I am not sure what to make of this, but
one thing seems certain: one and the same experience cannot be both confirmed and disconfirmed at the
same time, nor would Husserl suggest otherwise.

123
Husserl Stud

opts for a disjunctive conception of perceptual experience. On the latter view,


there is a much greater difference, phenomenologically speaking, between
perception and illusion than Husserl envisages (p. 440). Whereas the latters
conjunctivism entails that genuine perceptual experiences and hallucinatory ones
are indistinguishable at the moment they are experienced (ibid.), or at least that
they can be indiscernible on all points while they are being experienced (Romano
2011, p. 11), Romanos disjunctivism denies all of this.
What does Romano say about perceptual error? An illusion might be more or
less stable, orderly and enduring, but it plays itself out in a different theatre from the
one in which the perceived world manifests itself (p. 440). It also possesses a
fleeting and volatile character, and irrupts like a flickering flame that just as soon
flickers out (ibid.). The illusion or hallucination superimposes itself onto
[perception] a fraction of a second and thus has no duration in the proper sense of
the term (ibid.). Illusions and hallucinations tend to burst forth and vanish
(ibid.). Or again, the illusion is a fleeting upsurge unstable, indeterminate
(Romano 2011, p. 12).
Romano does recognize that not all hallucinations and illusions are without
duration. But he thinks that in cases where such experiences are more stable and
enduring, some other aspect of their character will give them away. Thus, longer-
lasting illusions like the mirage [] keep a sort of indecision, a blur that singles
them out (ibid., p. 441). And the recurring hallucinations of the person with
schizophrenia, which are even more stable and long-lasting (ibid.), are not
situated on the same level as perception (ibid.).
Romanos basic claim, then, is that illusory experiences are never indistin-
guishable from genuine and veridical experiences. For Romano, this is merely a
small step in his showdown with Cartesian scepticism. More important is his
holistic conception of perception according to which it is the coherent whole of
experience that primarily deserves to be called perception (p. 442). However, a
more extensive discussion of Romanos views is beyond the scope of this paper.17

17
But let me indicate very briefly some of the key questions such a discussion would have to address.
As we have seen, Romano objects to Husserls (alleged) view that one and the same experience could
just as well be a perception as an illusion (Romano 2011, p. 10), depending on whether it accords with
other experiences. Now, Romanos holism rejects the false presupposition underlying the entire
Cartesian tradition, according to which it is meaningful to attribute such a thing as truth or falsity to
experiences considered in isolation, conferring on some of them a relation to objects, and on others not
(2011, p. 14). For Romano, it simply makes no sense to attribute to an isolated experience the property
of being a perception (and therefore also the property of not being a perception), in the absence of its
integration into the whole of perception (ibid.). So, take a token experience, E. For Romano, it makes no
sense to confer the property of being a perception (or a hallucination) to E, independently of its relation to
perception as a whole. So it is that relation alone that determines whether E is a perception or a
hallucination, nothing intrinsic about E. Indeed, Romano concedes that [i]t goes without saying that
every perception may turn out to be illusory after the fact (2011, p. 5; my emphasis). One question is
how exactly a holism with such commitments is supposed to differ from the allegedly Husserlian
conception Romano rejects. Another question is whether Romanos holism is consistent with the points
he repeatedly presses in his discussions of conjunctivism. Recall, hallucinations and perceptions are never
indistinguishable, Romano claims they always differ phenomenologically. The former are fleeting,
indecisive, a blur and so on. So why, then, cant it be immediately read off E whether it is a
perception or a hallucination? Why does it even make no sense to say of E (in isolation) that it is a
hallucination, say, if it is experienced as blurry, indecisive, fleeting and the rest? Only a careful

123
Husserl Stud

All that concerns us here is his take on perceptual error and his interpretation of
Husserl.

4 Staitis Response

According to Andrea Staiti (2015),18 Romano gets it all wrong. He misunderstands


the passages on hallucination (illusion) and perception from The Quote, and
consequently mischaracterizes Husserl as a conjunctivist. As Staiti sees it,
conjunctivism and disjunctivism are equally untenable from a Husserlian point of
view. And Staiti seems to think that the Husserlian view, as he presents it, offers the
correct account of perception and perceptual error.
Staiti quotes Romanos claim that, for Husserl, an objects givenness in the
flesh in no way implies its existence (2012, p. 438; quoted in Staiti 2015,
p. 130). Staiti rightly sees this claim as being key to Romanos conjunctivist reading
of Husserl. But, according to Staiti, Romanos take on givenness in the flesh is
fundamentally mistaken (p. 131). Crucial is Romanos failure to take into account
the temporal dimension in Husserls account of illusory and hallucinatory
experiences. More specifically:
Romano believes that the experience of illusion can be meaningfully
addressed without referring to the temporal dimension, and hence, that it
can be compared with perception, as if illusion and perception were two kinds
of intentional act on an equal footing. [ But:] If we focus exclusively on the
abstract, momentary cross-section of perceptual consciousness in which some
object is given in the flesh, then we can hardly speak of illusion (p. 132).
Staiti thinks it is significant, for example, that Romanos reading of The Quote
seems to overlook the fact that Husserl is referring to an unmasked hallucination,
because such talk clearly suggests a temporal dimension. Indeed, as Staiti puts it,
[a]n unmasked hallucination can only be characterized as such in retrospect (p.
138, second emphasis mine). Still with reference to The Quote, Staiti goes on to
explain that:
Husserl is not claiming that in the very moment I am perceiving an object as
present in the flesh, this might not exist [] [P]erceptual experience of
something present in the flesh is de facto the experience of something existing
(p. 138).
In fact, Staiti claims that as long as nothing calls into question an experience of
an object, arbitrary talk of possible perceptual illusion is simply nonsensical (p.
133). Staiti should not be read as allowing that there might be other, non-arbitrary
ways of talking about possible perceptual errors in such a case whatever exactly

Footnote 17 continued
examination which, unfortunately, I cannot undertake in this paper can reveal whether Romano
ultimately has good answers to these questions.
18
All unattributed references in this section are to Staiti (2015).

123
Husserl Stud

arbitrary might mean here. For as he emphasizes discussing Romanos example


of a flag, but the point is obviously meant to generalize the experience of the flag
cannot meaningfully be described as possibly illusory (p. 133).
This brings us to Staitis key thesis: on a Husserlian view which Staiti seems to
think is the correct view an experience can only be characterized as illusory or
hallucinatory in retrospect. Or in Staitis own, possibly even stronger formulations,
[i]llusion can be characterized exclusively as a retrospective phenomenon (p.
132); [i]llusion is the way that an invalidated span of experience appears
retrospectively (ibid.). Again, illusion or perceptual error is an intrinsically
retrospective characterization of [a] given sequence of experiences (ibid., p. 133,
my emphasis); illusion is merely a retrospective characterization (ibid., my
emphasis). The temporal factor is intrinsic to a phenomenologically sound
account of [] illusion (ibid., p. 138); and so on. The point here is not merely that
illusions are always or mostly identified as such retrospectively. The claim is that
the label illusion can only be correctly applied retrospectively, to an invalidated
span of experience.
In other words, on the view here alleged to be Husserls, illusions and
hallucinations just are retrospective phenomena and nothing more. An object de
facto exists as long it is currently given-in-the-flesh. (Indeed, it is allegedly
simply nonsensical to suggest otherwise.) And so Romanos fundamental mistake
is revealed: he is wrong to think such current givenness in no way implies the
existence of the given object. Current givenness does imply existence of the given
object; only lapsed segments of experiences can be illusory or hallucinatory.
Because he overlooks the temporal dimension so crucial to the Husserlian account,
Romano misses these points.
Now we are also able to see why contra Romano Husserl can be neither a
conjunctivist nor a disjunctivist. For conjunctivism and disjunctivism are precisely
as oblivious to the temporal dimension as Romano is, and thus a Husserlian must
reject all these accounts. In Staitis words,
both the conjunctive and the disjunctive theories are untenable. Even the
question of whether perception and illusion have a common sensible basis is
falsely posed. To formulate the question in this way presupposes that
perception and illusion denote two distinct classes of act that can be
distinguished without any reference to time, and that might turn out to share a
common sensible basis. But if illusion is understood as an intrinsically
retrospective characterization of a given sequence of experiences, then the
alternative between the two theories should be rejected on phenomenological
grounds (p. 133).
Thus, we have two views at loggerheads. Romano claims that Husserl thinks of
perceptual experience as never guaranteeing the existence of its object; and Romano
rejects that conjunctivist account in favour of a disjunctivism that highlights the
phenomenological differences between the fleeting, volatile nature of hallucinations
and illusions and the order and stability characteristic of veridical perceptions.
According to Staiti, in contrast, Husserl (correctly) claims that objects currently
given in the flesh do exist. Illusions and hallucinations are merely past segments

123
Husserl Stud

of experience that have been cancelled out. Since disjunctivism and conjunc-
tivism fail to appreciate this crucial temporal dimension, they are both untenable.
We do not need to choose sides here, however. For as I will show in the next two
sections, there is good reason to question both Romanos and Satitis readings of
Husserl, and even better reason to think their accounts of perceptual error inadequate.

5 Interpreting Husserl

I think Romano is right to hold that Husserl believes illusions and hallucinations can be
indistinguishable from genuine, veridical perceptions. Husserl grants the possibility
of an exactly correspondent illusion (Hua XIX/1, p. 458 [137]), and maintains that
differences of [] veridical and delusive perception, do not affect the internal,
purely descriptive (or phenomenological) character of perception (Hua XIX/1, p. 358
[83]). This at least seems to imply that the hallucinatory or illusory character of
experience is not, or at least need not always be, phenomenologically detectable. This
already places Husserl in opposition to Romanos version of disjunctivism. But it does
not mean that Husserl is a conjunctivist in terms of the analytic debates about
perception that I have outlined. For, unlike Romano, all parties to those debates and
thus also the disjunctivists typically accept the possibility of a hallucinatory
experience that is indistinguishable from a genuine perceptual experience. So
Husserls acceptance of Indistinguishability tells us nothing about whether or not he
would accept (II) and embrace conjunctivism.19
Key to Romanos reading of Husserl as accepting (II) is the formers
interpretation of The Quote. In The Quote, as we have seen, Husserl denies that
the existence of the perceived object pertain[s] to the essence of every perception
as such. On Romanos reading, Husserl here advances the claim that no perceptual
experience guarantees the existence of its object. Perceptual experience in
hallucinatory and veridical cases alike is just the consciousness of an objects
presence in the flesh (see The Quote). Insofar as this describes the fundamental
kind of experience a person is having in those two kinds of cases, Husserl seems to
affirm (II).
For the sake of argument, let us assume that if Romano can show that Husserl
rejects (I), we must concede that Husserl embraces (II).20 It may perhaps seem
obvious that Husserl rejects (I). But as I will now argue, such a conclusion would be
premature.
For starters, notice that Romano seems to misread The Quote.21 Husserl denies
that the existence of the object belongs to the essence of every (jeder) perception;
he does not deny that the existence of the object belongs to any perception. So what
19
I discuss Romanos reasons for denying Indistinguishability in the next section.
20
In fact, even if neither the hallucinatory nor the genuine experience guarantees their respective objects
existence, it is not clear that we must think of them as belonging to the same fundamental kind. That
would follow if there would be no other basis on which Husserl could maintain that hallucinatory and
genuinely perceptual experiences belong to different fundamental kinds. But it is not clear that this is so. I
will, however, waive this point, as discussing it would lead us too far afield.
21
It seems he is not alone in doing so. See Soldati (2012, p. 391).

123
Husserl Stud

he says is compatible with the view that the existence of the object belongs to some,
just not all, perceptual experiences. Now, as it happens, I dont think this is a very
convincing response to Romanos interpretation. For there are plenty of other
passages in Husserl that seem to lend themselves nicely to Romanos interpretation
of The Quote. In Ideas I, for example, Husserl writes (his emphasis): Anything
physical which is given in person [leibhaft gegebene] can be non-existent (Hua
III/1, p. 97 [102]). So even if Romano reads something into The Quote that isnt
there, this does not show that he is wrong to take Husserl to reject (I).
The crucial point, however, is that Romanos interpretation is optional. As we
have seen, Husserl grants the possibility of what I have called perfect
hallucinations hallucinations that we cannot distinguish from genuine perceptual
experiences by undergoing them or reflecting on them. Genuine experiences do not
have an experiential tag that allows the subject undergoing them to discriminate
between them and possible hallucinatory counterparts. This means that it will never
be absolutely evident, from a first-person point of view, whether one is in fact
genuinely perceiving or not. For all one knows as one undergoes a perceptual
experience, the experience could conceivably turn out to be a hallucinatory one. As
unquestionably real as the computer screen in front of me seems to be, it is thus
possible,22 for all I can tell as I am undergoing (or reflecting on) my current
experience, that the further course of my experience reveals that no such thing was
ever there. This is a straightforward consequence of Indistinguishability.
Now, when Husserl emphasizes that any physical object given in the flesh can
(for all that) fail to exist, he could simply be saying the following: since any token
perceptual experience could, for all one can tell as subject of that experience, be
hallucinatory, any perceptually experienced object could, for all one knows as
subject of the experience, be non-existent. This is crucially different from saying
that any token experience you care to pick is such as not to guarantee the existence
of its object. The former, unlike the latter, is perfectly compatible with the view that
genuine perceptual experiences are, qua the kind of experiences they are, relations
to existing physical objects. For the latter is a view about the metaphysical nature of
veridical perceptual experiences. Given Indistinguishability, the view will be
committed to holding that we cannot immediately read off from the token
experience that we undergo at a given point in time whether it has that nature (i.e., is
veridical) or not (i.e., is hallucinatory). And so it follows that for all one can tell as
one undergoes an experience any experience its object might turn out not to
exist. If this is all Husserl is saying, his point is thus perfectly compatible with the
disjunctivists rejection of (II).
My claim for now is not that Romanos reading of Husserl is wrong, but merely
that it is not obviously right. The quotes highlighted by Romano are compatible with
a different reading, and so Romanos labelling of Husserl as a conjunctivist is at
the very least premature. 23

22
Although this is obviously a possibility for which nothing whatever speaks.
23
In the conclusion I offer some more positive, albeit tentative, remarks on how I think Husserl ought to
be read.

123
Husserl Stud

Let me now turn to the question of whether Staitis interpretation of Husserl is


right. As we have seen, Staiti faults disjunctivism and conjunctivism for failing to
take into account the temporal factor. Now, Staitis way of articulating the latter
positions does not seem altogether felicitous. In particular, when Staiti portrays
disjunctivists and conjunctivists alike as presupposing that perception and illusion
denote two distinct classes of act (Staiti 2015, p. 133), it suggests that he is also
saddling conjunctivists with a denial of (II), which would be confused. But be that
as it may, it is clear that neither disjunctive nor conjunctive approaches highlight the
temporal factor in the way Staiti does, and thus insofar as that factor is essential
from a Husserlian point of view, as Staiti claims it is, it seems to follow that Husserl
can be neither a conjunctivist nor a disjunctivist.
Although there is clearly something right about Staitis reading of Husserl a
point to which I will return shortly I dont think Staiti is right about the precise
role of temporality in Husserls account of perceptual error. First of all, to the best
of my knowledge, Husserl nowhere states that illusions and hallucinations are
merely (or intrinsically) retrospective phenomena. At any rate, I am confident
Husserl does not pace Staitis reading suggest anything of the sort in The Quote.
As Staiti reads The Quote, it supports his claim that illusions and hallucinations
can only be characterized as such in retrospect (Staiti 2015, p. 138). Specifically,
according to Staiti, Husserl does not claim that in the very moment I am perceiving
an object as present in the flesh, the object might not exist (ibid.). As I read The
Quote, however, that is exactly what Husserl is claiming. Husserl is saying (i) that it
is entirely possible and meaningful to wonder whether an experience one is
currently undergoing is hallucinatory. After all, he explicitly refers to an example
in which we are at first perceptually doubtful whether it is a case of perception or
hallucination. And (ii) Husserl is clear that an experience can be unmasked as a
hallucination and yet continue to present its object in the flesh. As he puts it, in
such cases the phenomenon of the standing there of the Object in the flesh persists
or can persist (my emphasis). That is to say, a hallucination can be experienced
here and now, in full awareness of its hallucinatory character. And since a
hallucination exposed as such can go on to present its object in the flesh, it is
obviously possible that an object currently experienced as present in the flesh might
not exist (hallucinated objects generally dont). More generally: If anything, Husserl
in this passage seems to deny that hallucinations (and by extension illusions) can
only be characterized as such retrospectively.
Husserl in fact consistently denies that perceptual experience of something
present in the flesh is sufficient for the experience of something existing.
Numerous passages could be adduced here. In The Quote, for example, Husserl
discusses the example of a perception (i.e., perceptual experience) of a house, he
explains that what this means is that a house is presented in the flesh, and he goes
on to point out that this implies nothing about the existence or nonexistence of the
house experienced. And a few pages ago, I quoted Husserl saying (in Ideas I) that
any physical object presented in the flesh can be non-existent. Consider, in addition
to those, the following passage, which has the additional benefit of pointing us to
what is right about Staitis reading of Husserl:

123
Husserl Stud

[] one says with good reason that despite the fact that they are perceived,
perceptual, bodily things do not have to exist: it could turn out later that the
perception was a deceptive one (Hua XI, p. 293 [579]).24
Again, Husserl is making the point that a material thing can be perceptually
experienced presented in the flesh without, for all that, existing. But he is of
course also highlighting the temporal factor that Staiti claims is essential to the very
idea of perceptual error. Husserl, so Staiti might insist, is precisely not saying that
the perceptual experience can be deceptive here and now he is saying it might
later be revealed as such.
It must be admitted that Husserl often speaks of illusions and hallucinations in
the context of retrospective invalidations of previous stretches of experience.25
Presumably, at least part of the explanation for that is that in a phenomenological
description, perfect illusions and hallucinations will only figure as such once they
have been unmasked somehow. When they have not been shown to be illusory,
presumably they will, from the point of view of the person undergoing them, not
differ from run-of-the-mill veridical perceptions and this will be reflected in their
phenomenological descriptions. Moreover, when a hallucination is unmasked, it
seems there is an inbuilt temporal reference to a previous stretch of experience
before the unmasking. But, as far as I can see, none of this entails that hallucinations
and illusions are merely retrospective phenomena, or that it is nonsensical to even
suggest that an object currently given in the flesh might not exist. And, as I have
suggested, Husserl seems to contradict both of these points in The Quote.
At the very least, then, Staitis conclusion that Husserl can be neither a
conjunctivist nor a disjunctivist also seems premature. It may perhaps be that,
ultimately, this turns out to be the right conclusion to draw.26 But since Husserl does
not follow Staiti in construing perceptual errors as exclusively retrospective
phenomena, the problem with disjunctivism and conjunctivism from a Husserlian
point of view cannot be that those two accounts also diverge from Staitis line.

6 How Not to Think of Perceptual Error

As we have seen, Romano emphasizes the vague, indecisive, volatile and


fleeting character of illusions and hallucinations. In most cases, these features
will suffice to distinguish between perceptual errors and veridical perceptions, he
believes. And the recurring hallucinations of persons with schizophrenia, which
Romano admits may be characterized by a certain stability and duration, are situated
on a different level than veridical perceptions. We must insist on the essential

24
Husserl continues: And conversely: Things can be in reality without being perceived. Thus, no one
needs to perceive an object for it to be there and thus for there to be facts about the object. While
Husserl points out that such statements go beyond the purely phenomenological sphere (Hua XI, p. 293
[579]), he obviously doesnt think they are nonsensical.
25
Again, numerous references could be made here. See, for example, Hua VII, p. 117; Hua VIII, p. 46;
Hua XVII, p. 164.
26
Although I will tentatively suggest later on that Husserl may well have been a disjunctivist of sorts.

123
Husserl Stud

heterogeneity (Romano 2012, p. 440) between illusory/hallucinatory and veridical


experiences, and for Romano this also means that Indistinguishability is
phenomenologically untenable (ibid.).
The first thing to notice about Romanos claims is how well they fit certain kinds
of perceptual error. In the waterfall illusion,27 for example, something, such as the
bank of a river, both seems to move and not to change position in space. The illusion
is a result of adaptation and occurs when one has been looking at something in
continuous unidirectional movement (e.g. a river) for a while, and then looks at
something stationary. The stationary object will then seem to move in the opposite
direction of the previously observed movement and yet (paradoxically) not change
position in space. The illusion typically only lasts a few seconds. Clearly, there is
something volatile (if you didnt focus exclusively on the river, you wont
experience the illusion subsequently), fleeting (it is soon over), indecisive (moving
or not moving?), and vague (how far does the object move?) about the waterfall
illusion. Similarly, what Romano says about hallucinations in schizophrenia
strongly resonates with points originally made by Merleau-Ponty,28 which current
research in phenomenological psychopathology has tended to affirm (Parnas and
Henriksen 2016, pp. 8283).
However, the second thing to notice about Romanos claims is how inadequate
they are with respect to a whole lot of other illusions and hallucinations. Consider
that old philosophers favourite: the Muller-Lyer Illusion. There is some vagueness
here, to be sure: one line looks longer than the other, but by how much, exactly? It is
not clear this question has a precise answer. But the illusion is highly stable. Look at
it. Then look away, drink some coffee, and look again: there it is. Look at it for
longer it doesnt go away. Or take the so-called Checker-shadow Illusion.29 Two
patches, A and B, are the same shade of grey. Yet you cannot possibly see them as
being the same shade of grey. Your visual experience firmly and consistently
conveys the message that they are not. There is nothing fleeting, volatile, or
indecisive about this, and your experience is difficult if not impossible to tell apart
from a veridical experience of two differently coloured patches.
As for hallucinations, it seems rash to assume that all hallucinations must be
superimposed the way those in schizophrenia perhaps typically are. And indeed it
is easy to find examples of hallucinations that are not like that. As Oliver Sacks
(2012, ch. 5) explains, patients with Parkinsons Disease, for example, may have
extremely vivid, even multimodal, hallucinations that they cannot tell apart from
veridical perceptions. Similarly life-like hallucinations may occur as a result of drug
abuse. Under the influence of LSD, Sacks himself experienced having an entire
conversation with his two friends Jim and Kathy only to discover five minutes
later that they had never been there. As Sacks writes: my conversation with Jim

27
First described by Aristotle in On Dreams, 459b (Aristotle 1984, p. 731).
28
Several of Romanos formulations sound like paraphrases of Merleau-Ponty. The latter writes of
hallucinations in schizophrenia, for example, that they play out on a different stage than that of the
perceived world; it is as if they are superimposed (2012, p. 355).
29
See http://web.mit.edu/persci/people/adelson/checkershadow_illusion.html.

123
Husserl Stud

and Kathy had no special quality; it was entirely commonplace, with nothing to
mark it as a hallucination (ibid., p. 108).
Thus, as apt as Romanos points may be with respect to a subset of illusions and
hallucinations, they are clearly not characteristic of perceptual error across the
board. And so they are of very limited use in an attempt to understand the overall
relation between veridical perception, hallucination, and illusion. In particular,
Romanos remarks do not give us any reason to reject Indistinguishability.30
Turning to Staitis account of perceptual error, it may appear to be less
vulnerable to such empirical counterexamples. When Sacks discovered that Kathy
and Jim werent there, one perceptual experience invalidated the previous segment
of experience. And when you finally convince yourself that patches A and B in the
Checker-shadow picture are the same shade of grey, you presumably do so by
creating a situation in which you can see that they are (perhaps by occluding
everything but those two patches).
However, a little reflection suffices, I believe, to show that Staitis purely
retrospective account cannot be right either. Consider what happens when you look
at the Muller-Lyer diagram after having carefully measured the lines and on that
basis concluded that they are in fact equally long. One Muller-Lyer line still looks
(right now) to be longer than the other, although (as you now know), it isnt. This
insensitivity to what we know or believe is a key characteristic of illusions, which
has ramifications for Staitis account. For in the present case you will now be
enjoying an illusory experience that you know is illusory and that you are
consequently aware of as such. The current experience, we might say, has been
prospectively invalidated, and is right now undergone in full awareness of is illusory
character.31
More importantly, even if it were true that illusions, at least from a first-person
perspective, would only appear as illusions retrospectively, it would still be
problematic to say that illusions just are (inherently) retrospective labels that we
give past sequences of experience. For someone call her Jill might happen upon
a poster depicting the Muller-Lyer diagram, notice that one line looks longer than
the other, and walk away never to see a Muller-Lyer diagram again. For that brief
moment, however, Jill surely experienced an illusion. While the two lines Jill saw
were actually equally long, she experienced one as longer than the other.
From Staitis perspective, as far as I can see, the example with Jill must be
incoherent. For Jill is said to have undergone an illusory experience that was never
invalidated, and illusions just are invalidated segments of experience. But there is
surely no incoherence in the example. All or most of us at least those who have
30
A reviewer complains that I simply presuppose the possibility of perfect hallucinations, and so the
truth of Indistinguishability. Note, however, that cases such as the one related by Sacks strongly suggest
that some real-life hallucinations may be perfect in the relevant sense. Similarly, Bill Brewer claims to
have once had a hallucinatory experience that was not distinguishable by introspection alone from one in
which a large pink elephant in a desert was the direct object of my perception (Brewer 2011, p. 109).
Clearly, what is actual is also possible. And even if no actual hallucinations did precisely fit the bill, the
onus would be squarely on those looking to deny that perfect hallucinations are possible.
31
It should also be noted that some illusions seem to unmask themselves, as it were. This seems to be
the case with the waterfall illusion (in which something seems at once to move and not to move). When
you undergo the experience, you have a sense that something isnt right.

123
Husserl Stud

grown up in carpentered environments experience one Muller-Lyer line to be


longer than the other. So clearly Jill could have an illusory experience that given
that she never sees the diagram again she would never have occasion to expose as
such. (Nor let us stipulate does anyone else retrospectively invalidate her
experience.32) It is only Staitis assumptions about illusion that creates an apparent
incoherence in what is otherwise a thoroughly plausible example. What needs to be
abandoned, then, are those assumptions.
Indeed, when we take into account Staitis remarks about the current experience
of something given leibhaft beingde facto an experience of something existing
(Staiti 2015, p. 138), it becomes questionable whether Staitis account of perceptual
error is even coherent. Suppose I experience a football as presented to me in the
flesh. Staiti seems to suggest that this is sufficient for my experience to be an
experience of an existing ball.33 Indeed, Staiti thinks it makes no sense to suggest
that the ball does not actually exist.
Suppose the future course of my experience reveals that I was hallucinating.
Staiti does not deny that this sort of scenario is possible. Nor could he deny it, since
he accepts that as a matter of fact there are hallucinations. Given that hallucinations
just are past stretches of experience that have been invalidated, this means there are
cases in which an object was originally presented in the flesh and thus de facto
existed but where the experience is later revealed to have been a hallucination. In
the football example, what this means is that the particular past segment of my
experience in which I experienced a football in the flesh has now been
invalidated. So, at time t1 the football was given in the flesh and so on Staitis
view it existed. Yet at time t2 it is revealed that the football did not exist at t1. We
seem to be maintaining both that the ball did and did not exist at t1, which is clearly
incoherent. We cannot get out of this mess by stipulating that the ball did actually
exist at t1 because if it did, I wasnt after all hallucinating back then. What we
should maintain instead is obviously this: If it is revealed at t2 that the ball did not
exist at t1, then back then at t1, when I had the experience of a ball in the flesh, I
evidently did not experience something existing. And so it isnt true to say and
would not have been true to say back then either that the ball existed at t1.

32
Might it be replied that we, in our discussion of Jills experience, are classifying it (retrospectively) as
invalidated? True enough, but the point is the experience would have been an illusion even if nobody
would ever have classified it as such. Its status as an illusion is determined by facts about Jills experience
in conjunction with facts about her environment. The question of whether anyone ever unmasks the
illusion is neither here nor there.
33
One might of course go with the sense-datum theory and claim that a mind-dependent sense-datum
is what de facto exists in such a case, not a physical object (ball). I am assuming that Staiti like
Husserl (footnote 14) does not want to embrace the sense-datum theory. Note also that what Staiti
(2015) seems to say exists is precisely a physical object a flag.

123
Husserl Stud

7 Concluding Remarks

I have argued that Romano and Staiti offer implausible accounts of illusions and
hallucinations, and deliver premature verdicts on Husserl in relation to the
conjuncivism/disjunctivism debates. By way of concluding, I would like all too
briefly to address two important issues that remain. First, I must confront what is
surely the (pink) elephant in the room: Husserls idealist notion that, in Staitis
words, existence is not a metaphysical attribute of things in themselves, but a
Geltungsphanomen (Staiti 2015, p. 138). I suspect it is this notion that is driving
Staiti to make some of the claims that seem to make his account incoherent. Second,
I should say something about how Husserl should be placed vis-a-vis the
conjunctivism-disjunctivism debate.
Let me take these points in reverse order. A. D. Smith (2008) and, following him,
Walter Hopp (2011), have suggested that Husserl is committed to a kind of
disjunctivism. Very roughly, their arguments go as follows.34 For Husserl, to each
individual existing object belongs an ultimately harmonious system of possible
experiences of that object (and no other). Type-identical, but numerically different
objects have different such systems. Hallucinated objects do not have such
ultimately harmonious systems of experiences attached to them, since for any
hallucinated object there is a possible experience that reveals the objects unreality.
Given that Husserl also believes that each perceptual experience is essentially a
member of whatever harmonious system (if any) it is a member of, a commitment to
disjunctivism follows. For, any veridical experience E of an object o then essentially
belongs to an ultimately harmonious system of experiences of which no
hallucinatory experience is a member. Thus, veridical and hallucinatory experiences
are intrinsically different. According to Smith, this is precisely the conclusion
Husserl draws (or is at least committed to drawing) (Smith 2008: p. 331).
Although I cannot properly argue the point here, I think Smith has presented a
strong case for the claim that Husserl was some kind of disjunctivist.35 And it is
hard to find anything in Romanos or Staitis papers that undermines that case. It is
of course true that for Husserl, existence, when ascribed to material things, does

34
I offer a more detailed summary in Overgaard (2013).
35
Perhaps there is a more direct route to the same conclusion. For Husserl, every external perception
necessarily has its perceived correlate. In the case of genuine perception (whether veridical or illusory),
each experience is of an individual (token) object. Thus, two experiences whose objects are entirely
similar have direction toward something similar, but not identity as a direction toward something
identical, toward one and the same object (Hua XVI, p. 155 [131-132]). Now, Husserl maintains that
the experience of imagination in general provides no individual objects in the true sense but only quasi-
individual objects (Husserl 1999, p. 203 [174]). Thus, if I imagine a leprechaun at t1 and again at t2 and
t3, then it is impossible to speak of several objects or even of one and the same object represented
repeatedly (ibid., p. 197 [169]; cf. p. 202 [173]). This seems due, not to peculiarities of the act of
imagining as such, but to the unreality of what is imagined (ibid., p. 202 [173]). If so, it seems Husserl
would be committed to a similar story for total hallucinations: If I hallucinate a pink elephant at t1 and
again at t2, it makes no sense to ask whether it was the same elephant again, or a different one. But then
hallucinations and perceptions differ qua experiences, in that a singular object necessarily belongs to the
latter, but not to the former. (I fully acknowledge that this is merely a very rough sketch of a speculative
line of thought. But it is one I hope to be able to develop more fully in future work).

123
Husserl Stud

not mean what it does for standard disjunctivists.36 Disjunctivists are mostly nave
realists but a disjunctivist need not be. Maintaining that hallucinatory and
veridical-perceptual experiences are of different fundamental kinds is sufficient for
being a disjunctivist. And, as we have just seen, it seems Husserl may well have
been committed to maintaining precisely that. As Smith (2008) points out, an
idealist version of disjunctivism may be an unusual one, but it is still a version of
disjunctivism.
Now, Husserls idealism is likewise a topic that vastly exceeds the scope of
this paper.37 Nevertheless, lest some Husserlians think they must reject the points I
have been making about perceptual error and conjunctivism/disjunctivism, I want to
end by suggesting that those points are not obviously incompatible with the view
that existence is a matter of Geltung. Objective reality, for Husserl, is an
intersubjective achievement (cf. e.g. Hua VI, p. 171; Hua XVII, pp. 280281). Thus,
for Husserl, real existence is not established by my (or anyones) experience of an
objects leibhaftig givenness in isolation. Existence/non-existence is not inseparably
tied to anyones actual experience (see Hua III/1, 48). A physical object can
count as existing, even when no perception [of it] is actualized,38 Husserl
maintains. In this sense every physical object exists an sich.39 Nor is it the actual
disconfirmation that makes an experience hallucinatory. Rather, what matters is that
the open intersubjective community, of which we are all part, would be able to
disconfirm the experience were we to investigate the matter thoroughly.40

References
Aristotle (1984). The complete works of Aristotle, Volume One. J. Barnes (Ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press.
Austin, J. L. (1962). Sense and sensibilia. G. J. Warnock (Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Berendzen, J. C. (2013). Disjunctivism and perceptual knowledge in Merleau-Ponty and McDowell. Res
Philosophica, 91(3), 126.
Brewer, B. (2011). Perception and its objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Drummond, J. J. (2012). Intentionality without representationalism. In D. Zahavi (Ed.), The Oxford
Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology (pp. 115133). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hopp, W. (2011). Perception and knowledge: A phenomenological account. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Hua III/1. Husserl, E. (1976). Ideen zu einer reinen Phanomenologie und phanomenologischen
Philosophie. Erstes Buch. K. Schuhmann (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff. Ideas pertaining to a pure

36
Here, too, I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer.
37
See Zahavi (2017) for a book-length treatment of the topic.
38
[] so wurde das transzendente Objekt [] als seiend gelten konnen, auch wenn gar keine
Wahrnehmung verwirklicht ware (Hua IX, p. 186).
39
So ist jedes raumdingliche Objekt gegenuber aller Wahrnehmung von ihm an sich und, wie
einzusehen, gegenuber jedem sonstigen Bewutsein von ihm (Hua IX, p. 186).
40
I am grateful to Corijn van Mazijk, Rasmus Thybo Jensen, Celeste Vecino, and an audience at the
2016 Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind, for helpful discussion. I
also thank Steven Crowell and an anonymous referee for constructive criticisms of the penultimate draft
of the paper.

123
Husserl Stud

phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy. First book. F. Kersten (Trans.). The Hague:
Nijhoff, 1983.
Hua VI. Husserl, E. (1976). Die Krisis der europaischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale
Phanomenologie. W. Biemel (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Hua VII. Husserl, E. (1956). Erste Philosophie (1923/24). Erster Teil: Kritische Ideengeschichte.
R. Boehm (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Hua VIII. Husserl, E. (1959). Erste Philosophie (1923/24). Zweiter Teil: Theorie der phanomenologis-
chen Reduktion. R. Boehm (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Hua IX. Husserl, E. (1962). Phanomenologische Psychologie: Vorlesungen Sommersemester 1925.
W. Biemel (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Hua XI. Husserl, E. (1966). Analysen zur passiven Synthesis. M. Fleischer (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff;
Analyses concerning passive and active synthesis. A. J. Steinbock (Trans.). Dordrecht: Kluwer,
2001.
Hua XVI. Husserl, E. (1973). Ding und Raum: Vorlesungen 1907. U. Claesges (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff;
Thing and space: Lectures of 1907. R. Rojcewicz (Trans.). Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1997.
Hua XVII. Husserl, E. (1974). Formale und transzendentale Logik. P. Janssen (Ed.). The Hague: Nijhoff.
Hua XIX/1. Husserl, E. (1984). Logische Untersuchungen. Zweiter Band. Erster Teil. U. Panzer (Ed.).
The Hague: Nijhoff; Logical investigations. Volume II. J. N. Findlay (Trans.). London: Routledge
2001.
Husserl, E. (1999). Erfahrung und Urteil: Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik. 7th Reprinting.
L. Landgrebe (Ed.). Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1999; Experience and judgment: Investigations
in a genealogy of logic. J. S. Churchill and K. Ameriks (Trans.). London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1973.
Jensen, R. T. (2013). Merleau-Ponty and McDowell on the transparency of the mind. International
Journal of Philosophical Studies, 21, 470492.
Johnston, M. (2006). Better than mere knowledge? The function of sensory awareness. In T. S. Gendler &
J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Perceptual experience (pp. 260290). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Martin, M. G. F. (2002). The transparency of experience. Mind and Language, 17, 376425.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2012). Phenomenology of perception. D. Landes (Trans.). London: Routledge.
Overgaard, S. (2012). Disjunctivism and the urgency of scepticism. In M. Willaschek (Ed.),
Disjunctivism: Disjunctive accounts in epistemology and in the philosophy of perception (pp.
86102). London: Routledge.
Overgaard, S. (2013). Motivating disjunctivism. Husserl Studies, 29, 5163.
Parnas, J., & Henriksen, M. G. (2016). Mysticism and schizophrenia: A phenomenological exploration of
the structure of consciousness in the schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Consciousness and
Cognition, 43, 7588.
Riccardi, M. (2016). Max Scheler, cousin of disjunctivism. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences,
15, 443454.
Robinson, H. (1994). Perception. London: Routledge.
Romano, C. (2011). Challenging the transcendental position: The holism of experience. Continental
Philosophy Review, 44, 121.
Romano, C. (2012). Must phenomenology remain Cartesian? Continental Philosophy Review, 45,
425445.
Russell, B. (1917). Knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. In Mysticism and logic
(pp. 209232). London: Allen & Unwin.
Sacks, O. (2012). Hallucinations. London: Picador.
Searle, J. R. (1983). Intentionality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, A. D. (2002). The problem of perception. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Smith, A. D. (2008). Husserl and externalism. Synthese, 160, 313333.
Smith, D. W. (2012). Perception, context, and direct realism. In D. Zahavi (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of
contemporary phenomenology (pp. 134157). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Soldati, G. (2012). Epistemology. In S. Luft & S. Overgaard (Eds.), The Routledge companion to
phenomenology (pp. 384393). London: Routledge.
Staiti, A. (2015). On Husserls alleged cartesianism and conjunctivism: A critical reply to Claude
Romano. Husserl Studies, 31, 123141.
Zahavi, D. (2017). Husserls legacy: Phenomenology, metaphysics, and transcendental philosophy.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

123