Perception and the Physical World

Perception and the Physical World

Perception and the Physical World

Perception and the Physical World

Excerpt

There is a triad of 'theories of perception' which compete for the allegiance of philosophers: Direct Realism, Representationalism and Phenomenalism. Each may be conceived of as an answer to the question 'What is the direct or immediate object of awareness when we perceive?' Direct Realism answers that the immediate object of awareness is never anything but a physical existent, which exists independently of the awareness of it. In opposition to this, Representationalism and Phenomenalism hold that the immediate object of awareness is a sense-impression or sense-datum, and such an object, it is usually assumed, cannot exist independently of the awareness of it. But Representationalism and Phenomenalism themselves divide over the question 'What is a physical object?' The Representationalist holds that physical objects are not to be identified with the immediate objects of awareness, but are quite distinct from, and capable of existing independently of, these immediate objects. The Phenomenalist, on the other hand, holds that physical objects are nothing more than constructions out of the immediate objects of awareness, and so holds that physical objects do not exist independently of perception.

These theories may be held in many different forms, and in some cases the lines of distinction may be blurred. But, for good or for ill, this question 'What is the direct or immediate object of awareness when we perceive?' has been the main question asked about perception in modern Western philosophy, and the answers to the question have taken one of these three general forms.

This means that any large-scale philosophical discussion of perception has an obligation to discuss this question. We must either accept one of the traditional answers, propose a new one, or else give reasons for thinking that the question itself is meaningless or confused, and so to be dissolved.

However, some modern philosophers seem to assume that the issue between Direct Realism, on the one hand, and Representationalism and Phenomenalism, on the other, is simply the question . . .

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