I'm a pessimist about the accuracy of introspective judgments -- even introspective judgments about currently ongoing conscious experience (e.g., visual experience, imagery experience, inner speech; see here). But I'm not an utter skeptic. If you're looking directly at a large, red object in canonical conditions and you judge that you are having a visual experience of redness, I think the odds are very good that you're right. So then the question arises: Under what conditions do I think judgments about conscious experience are reliable?
I think there are two conditions. (In my Fullerton talk last week, I said three, but I'm giving up on one.)
First, I believe our judgments about conscious experience ("phenomenology") are reliable when we can lean upon our knowledge of the outside world to prop them up. For example, in the redness case, I know that I'm looking at a red thing in canonical conditions. I can use this fact to support and confirm my introspective judgment that I'm having a visual experience of redness. Or suppose that I know that my wife just insulted me. This knowledge of an outward fact can help support my introspective judgment that the rising arousal I'm feeling is anger.
Second, I believe that our judgments about phenomenology are reliable when they pertain to features of our phenomenology about which it's important to our survival or functioning to get it right. It's important that we be right about the approximate locations of our pains, so that we can avoid or repair tissue damage. It's important that we recognize hunger as hunger and thirst as thist. It's important that we know what objects and properties we're perceiving and in what sensory modality. It's also important, I think, that we be able to keep track of the general gist of our thoughts and imagery so that we can develop chains of reasoning over time.
However, about all other aspects of our phenomenology not falling under these two heads we are, I think, highly prone to error. This includes:
* the general structural morphology of our emotions (e.g., the extent to which they are experienced as bodily or located in space, their physiological phenomenology)About such matters, I think, when we're asked to report, we're prone simply to fly by the seat of our pants and make crap up. If we exude a blustery confidence in doing so, that's simply because we know no one else can prove us wrong.
* whether our thoughts are in inner speech or are instead experienced in a less articulate way (except when we deliberately form thoughts inner speech, in which case it is part of the general gist of our thoughts that we're forming the kind of auditory imagery associated with inner speech)
* the exact location of our pains (as you'll know if you've ever tried to locate a toothache for a dentist) and their character (shooting, throbbing, etc.)
* the structural features of our imagery (how richly detailed, whether experienced as in a subjective location such as inside the head, how stable, etc.)
* non-objectual features of sensory experience such as its stability or gappiness or extension beyond the range of attention
* virtually everything about our hunger and thirst apart from their very presence or absence.