Perception

Course description

In these lectures I will discuss different philosophical views of the nature of perceptual experience, and analyze central objections.

Where and when

Friday 3-4pm, Lecture Room 4 (Sidgwick Site Lecture Block)

Lecture 1: Naive realism and the argument from hallucination

Naive realism is the view that perceptual experience fundamentally is a presentation (to us) of familiar, mind-independent objects in our environment. It is motivated by the phenomenology of perception. Perception—the Naive Realist maintains—seems to be a presentation of those objects, and without a reason to think otherwise we can just take that appearance at face value. In this lecture I discuss Naive Realism, and look at some initial attempts to challenge it. I also compare a Naive Realist understanding of the phenomenology of perception with the more careful description offered by G.E. Moore in his work on sense data.

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Lecture 2: The Argument from Hallucination

In this lecture I will construct the best version of the argument from hallucination. This argument aims to show that the kind of experience we have when we look at a tomato does not for its existence depend on anything outside the mind. Some have taken its success to imply that the objects of perception are in fact mind-dependent. It is, however, not obvious that accepting this is the only way to respond to the argument.

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Lecture 3: Representationalism

In this lecture I will consider an alternative diagnosis of the argument from hallucination. What both sense datum theorists and naive realists accept is the idea that perceptual experience is fundamentally presentational. However, we need not assume this. What if perceptual experience is fundamentally representational? In that case, we need not postulate mind-dependent sense data, and instead say that we can be aware of familiar, mind-independent objects regardless of whether they exist or not. But what is a perceptual representation? And can we motivate this conception of experience independent of the argument from hallucination? I will end by discussing epistemological motivations for the view.

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Suggested further reading

  • Michael Tye (2002), ‘Visual Qualia and Visual Content Revisited’ (Defence of representationalism)
  • Charles Travis (2004), ‘The Silence of the Senses’ (Criticism of representationalism)
  • G.E.M. Anscombe (1965), ‘The Intentionality of Sensation: A Grammatical Feature’ (Defence of intentionalism; reprinted in Vision and Mind collection edited by Noë and Thompson)
  • M.G.F. Martin (2006), ‘On Being Alienated’ (Discussion of Common Kind Assumption, Experiential Naturalism, and Naive Realism)
  • Wilfrid Sellars (1956), Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind (http://www.ditext.com/sellars/epm.html)
  • John McDowell (1994), Mind and World
  • Susanna Siegel (2010), The Contents of Visual Experience (Defence of representationalism)
  • Graeme Forbes (2006), Attitude Problems An Essay On Linguistic Intensionality (See ch.3 for an advanced discussion of perceptual verbs)

Lecture 4: Disjunctivism

In this final lecture I will consider a way for the naive realist to resist each of the arguments we began with. The argument from hallucination can be defused if we accept disjunctivism about experience. The disjunctivist claims that the kind of experience we have when we look at a tomato is fundamentally different from a subjectively indistinguishable hallucination. I will look at two standard objections to disjunctivism about perception: that it conflicts with vision science, and that it cannot make sense of ‘what it is like’ to hallucinate. I will argue that both objections are ultimately misguided.

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Suggested Reading

Here’s a (progressively expanding) list of books and articles that I recommend if you are interested in following up on the topics I discuss in the lectures:

  • J.L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia (Argument from Illusion, Sense Data)
  • Matthew Soteriou, Disjunctivism (Naive Realism, Argument from hallucination, Disjunctivism)
  • G.E.M. Anscombe, ‘The Intentionality of Sensation: A Grammatical Feature’ (Representationalism, Sense Data, Naive Realism)