Consciousness and the World

By Brian O'Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

19 Secondary Qualities

If sense-data exist, which is to say perceptual sensations that attentively mediate the perception of phenomena in the environment, their qualities must be perceived in a way that is not in competition with the latter. That property is guaranteed by the Transitivity of the Attention. It enables qualities of the sensation to have an identical value to those of objects situated at a later point down the line of the attention. Now in the case of monocular seeing what we attribute to the sense-datum is a complex of colour-bright qualities set in a two-dimensional ordering system, such that the parts of the sensation complex are given as both standing in ordered spatial relations to one another and in ordered directions out from the body in body-relative physical space. These few properties manage to accomplish much, leading the attention out onto the World at large. For example, through the circularity of a red sensation one becomes aware of the round profile from a given direction of the setting sun, and through the redness of the sensation one becomes aware of the redness of the latter. However, whereas profiles exist purely objectively and independently of consciousness, redness surely does not. This asymmetry raises problems concerning the status of the property one attributes to an object when one describes it as (say) red. It is this question which I want now to investigate. More exactly, the character of the property of which we become aware in being aware at one and the same instant of the redness of sensation, of light, and of the setting sun. In short, the nature of secondary qualities.

What is a secondary quality? It is a quality that necessarily is perceived by only one sense, and through only one genus of sensation. Indeed, a catalogue of the secondary qualities rigorously matches one of perceptual sensations: taste and smell corresponding to sensations of taste and smell, sound to auditory sensation, and colour to visual sensations. Being an appearance-quality, namely a quality whose character is wholly determined by our experience of it, the secondary quality is almost always relative: relative in the first place to which beings it appears to, and generally relative also to the conditions under which it does so. Thus, to say of some publicly perceptible item that it has secondary quality S, must be to say: 'it is S to perceivers P in conditions C.' Here we have one firm principle. This is the general form of all of our familiar secondary quality attributions. Whenever we encounter a statement to the effect that some material object or physical stuff or light (etc.) possesses a particular secondary quality, we must understand there to be an

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Consciousness and the World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Consciousness and the World iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I Consciousness 35
  • 1: The Experience 37
  • 2: The Anatomy of Consciousness 68
  • 3: Self-Consciousness and Self-Knowledge 102
  • 4: 'Translucence' 164
  • 5: Consciousness and the Mental Will 200
  • 6: Interiority and Thinking 233
  • Part II the Attention and Perception 265
  • 7: The Attention 275
  • 8: The Attention and Perception (1) 291
  • 9: The Attention and Perception (2) 302
  • 10: Perception and Truth 318
  • 11: The Imagination (1) 339
  • 12: The Imagination (2) 362
  • 13: Imagination and Perception 371
  • 14: Active Attending or a Theory of Mental Action 379
  • Part III Seeing 407
  • 15: 'Blindsight' and the Essence of Seeing 415
  • 16: Seeing the Light 439
  • 17: Sense-Data (1) or the Ways of the Attention 465
  • 18: Sense-Data (2) 502
  • 19: Secondary Qualities 515
  • 20: The 'Perceptual Given' and 'Perceptual Mediators' or the Formation of the Visual Experience 538
  • 21: Appearances 570
  • 22: Perceptually Constituting the Material Object 592
  • Part IV Perception and the Body 621
  • 23: Proprioception and the Body Image 628
  • 24: The Sense of Touch 656
  • Conclusion 681
  • Index 697
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