Perception

Perception

Perception

Perception

Synopsis

Questions about perception remain some of the most difficult and insoluble in both epistemology and in the philosophy of mind. This controversial but highly accessible introduction to the area explores the philosophical importance of those questions by re-examining what had until recent times been the most popular theory of perception - the sense-datum theory. Howard Robinson surveys the history of the arguments for and against the theory from Descartes to Husserl. He then shows that the objections to the theory, particularly Wittgenstein's attack on privacy and those of the physicalists, have been unsuccessful. He argues that we should return to the theory sense-data in order to understand perception. In doing so he seeks to overturn a consensus that has dominated the philosophy of perception for nearly half a century.

Excerpt

This book is a history and a defence of what, with some shorthand, I will call the sense-datum theory of perception. It is part of the rubric for books in the series The Problems of Philosophy that a section of the book should be historical and another section should tell the plain truth, unburdened by scholarship. I have followed this requirement, at least roughly, giving the history of the empiricist theory of sensory contents and the traditional arguments for it in Chapters I to III, and devising and defending somewhat more satisfactory arguments and investigating the nature of sense-data and their relation to the external world in Chapters VI to IX. Chapters IV and V, however, can either be regarded as the contemporary end of the history-the supposed final nails in the coffin of the sense-datum theory-or as current errors that must be dispatched before the truth can be properly defended. The upshot is meant to be the vindication of the sense-datum theory in a fairly traditional form, and, more tentatively, a preference for the phenomenalist rather than representationalist account of the data's relation to the physical world. This latter eccentricity is, however, quite inessential to the main conclusion in defence of sense-data.

My interest in the philosophy of perception began in a small discussion group at school, an offshoot of the main philosophy society (happily named the Berkeley Society), which was, like the Berkeley Society, guided and inspired by John Armstrong. Since then I owe a great deal to many with whom I have argued on this subject, including Christopher Taylor, Jonathan Barnes, Lesley Brown, Penelope Mackie, Paul Snowdon, Michael Martin; to many discussions presided over by Ralph Walker, and to years of argument with John Foster. Some of the work in the book was read to the interdisciplinary 'Liverpool Philosophy of Mind Group'. Part or all

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