Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

THE GIVEN AND PERCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE

Charles A. Baylis*

Philosophers in the United States, like their colleagues elsewhere, are very much interested in that whole aspect of epistemology which is concerned with the philosophical problems of perception. That there is in some sense both perceptual knowledge and perceptual error is commonly agreed but the analyses offered of their nature are numerous and varied. Underlying these diverse theories, however, is widespread agreement about the facts to be interpreted. It is generally accepted, for example, that some perceptual experiences are veridical, some illusory, and some hallucinatory. There is even considerable agreement in practice as to which are which. The empirically verifiable facts of the relativity of perception and of the "mechanism" of perception are commonly accepted as something of which any adequate theory must take account.

As long as the statement is made in general terms, there might also be agreement that in veridical perception the perceiver is immediately aware of something, the given, which through its relationship to perceptual objects such as tables, trees, and turkeys, gives him knowledge about those objects. At this point, however, uniformity gives way to diversity. There is wide disagreement as to the nature of the given, as to the nature of its relation to perceptual objects, and as to the nature of those objects.

Though in part this variety is indigenous, philosophical discussion in the United States of the problems of perception has been much influenced by the works on the topic of such English writers as Russell, Moore, Broad, and Price. It is impossible to give anything like an adequate account of American thought in this field without reference to English developments.

One characteristic division of opinion that dates back to the realist

____________________
*
Born in 1902. PhD., Harvard, 1926. Formerly a member of the department of philosophy at Brown University. Professor of philosophy and chairman of the department at the University of Maryland. Author, in collaboration with A. A. Bennett, of Formal Logic ( 1939), and contributor of numerous articles in philosophical journals.

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