Suppose I am conscious of an object in the mode of visual perception: I see a bobcat in the backyard. Does it make sense to try to analyze this perceptual situation by saying that 'in my mind' there is an image or picture that represents something 'outside my mind'?
In the Fifth of his Logical Investigations, Edmund Husserl refutes this type of theory. One point he makes (Logical Investigations, vol. II, 593) is that there is a phenomenological difference between a genuine case of image-consciousness (Bildbewusstsein) and ordinary perceptual awareness. Suppose I am looking at a picture of a mountain. The picture appears, but it refers beyond itself to that of which it is a picture, the mountain itself. In a case like this, it is clear that my awareness of the object depicted is mediated by a picture or image. Here it makes clear sense to speak of one thing (the picture) re-presenting another (the mountain). But when I look at the mountain itself, I find no evidence of any picture or image that mediates my perceptual awareness of the mountain. Phenomenologically, there is no evidence of any epistemic intermediary or epistemic deputy. So on phenomenological grounds alone, it would seem to be a mistake to assimilate perceptual consciousness to image-consciousness. The two are phenomenologically quite different.
A second consideration is that consciousness of a thing via a picture or image presupposes ordinary perceptual consciousness inasmuch as the picture or painting must itself be perceived as a precondition of its functioning as an image. How then can ordinary perceptual consciousness be explained as involving internal images or pictures?
Husserl also points out that, no matter how carefully I examine the picture, I will discover no intrinsic feature of it that is its "representative character." (593) That is, there is no intrinsic property of the picture that confers upon it its reference to something beyond itself. So Husserl asks:
What therefore allows us to go beyond the image which alone is
present in consciousness, and to refer the latter as an image to a
certain extraconscious object? To point to the resemblance between
image and thing will not help. (593, Findlay trans. slightly
Why won't resemblance help? If picture and thing depicted both exist, then of course there will be resemblance. But it cannot be in virtue of X's resemblance to Y that X pictures or images Y. "Only a
presenting ego's power to use a similar as an image-representative of a similar . . . makes the image be an image." (594) Husserl's point is subtle. I'll explain it in my own way. A picture considered by itself is just a physical thing with physical properties. What makes it be an image? Its physical properties cannot account for its being an image. And the fact that it shares physical properties with some other thing cannot make it an image either. A painting of a mountain can be a painting of a mountain even if there is no mountain of which it is the painting. Pictures of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas are pictures of said hotel even though it has been demolished. The intentionality of a photograph can survive the destruction of its 'subject.' A depiction of Cerberus is what it is despite the dog's nonexistence.
But even if there exists something that a picture resembles, that does not suffice to make the picture a picture of a thing it resembles. Suppose I have two qualitatively identical ball bearings. In an Andy Warholish mood, I take a picture of one of them, the one closer to my computer. Gazing fondly at the photo, I say, "This ball bearing is the one that is closer to my computer." Since the photo resembles the other ball bearing as well, but is not of that ball bearing, it cannot be resemblance that confers upon the photo its intentionality.
What Husserl is saying in effect is that pictures, paintings, movie images, and the like possess no intrinsic intentionality: what intentionality they have is derived from conscious beings who possess
intrinsic intentionality. For Husserl, and for me, the project of trying to account for intrinsic intentionality in terms of internal pictures that resemble outer objects is a complete nonstarter. For one thing, it leads to a vicious infinite regress: "Since the interpretation of anything as an image presupposes an object intentionally given to consciousness, we should plainly have a regressus in infinitum were we again to let this latter object be itself constituted through an image . . . ." (594)
There are both phenomenological and dialectical reasons for rejecting the image-theory (Bilder-theorie) of consciousness. Phenomenologically, there is no evidence that ordinary perception is mediated by internal images. In addition,
1. The image-theory interprets intentionality in terms of resemblance,
but resemblance cannot explain the intentionality of pictures that (i)
never had an object, or (ii) lost their object.
2. The image-theory interprets intentionality in terms of resemblance,
but resemblance cannot account for a picture's being of the very
object it is of as opposed to some other one that it merely resembles.
3. The image-theory is involved in a vicious infinite regress.
4. Since image-consciousness presupposes ordinary perceptual
consiousness, it is impossible to explain the latter in terms of the
5. The image-theory tries to locate the intentionality of
consciousness in the intentionality of a picture when it is clear that
there is nothing intrinsic to any picture that could account for its