A Contextualistic Theory of Perception

A Contextualistic Theory of Perception

A Contextualistic Theory of Perception

A Contextualistic Theory of Perception

Excerpt

THE TRADITIONAL problem of perception was formulated in terms of a metaphysical theory which set up, on the one hand, a world of physical particles moving with reference to each other in a spatiotemporal field of location and, on the other, an "inner" domain of mind or consciousness which contained the rest of the world. What was immediately given in sense perception, it was agreed, was a part of this second realm. The problem was that of passing beyond the "inner" data to the "outer" physical world of moving particles--making sure that these inner subjective entities corresponded to the real external things. Or, as the problem is now frequently stated, how can we be sure that the object perceived presents the thing as it exists unperceived? Critics of the theory have pointed out that we cannot be sure. Deciding whether or not an inner reality accurately corresponds to a never given external object seems impossible. But this is the problem with which mechanistic naturalists have wrestled since Descartes. This is the problem with which most theorists of perception have deemed it necessary to begin their account, whether or not they have shared the metaphysical presuppositions which gave rise to it.

Were we primarily interested in developing another theory within the framework of mechanistic naturalism, we might trace in some detail the development of the many attempted solutions for this problem. This is not our primary concern, however, and I shall be very brief on this point. Perhaps the main solution is to say that the entities immediately given in sense perception are not identical with the physical thing, but that they may somehow correspond with it. When they do so correspond, we have veridical perception. When they do not, we have perceptual error.

The difficulties of determining, on the basis of the dualistic presuppositions mentioned above, whether or not they correspond, however, have led mechanistic theorists to offer a large number of other attempted solutions, which they have had great difficulty in defending from the critical onslaughts of their dualistic brethren. These solutions range all the way from wiping out the outer objective world and retaining only the inner subjective realm, wid-

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