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What is interesting about perception for philosophers (distinct from biologists/neuroscientists)? - Perception has necessary role within analysis of certain concepts

Philophers need not come up with a theory of perception

  • Empirical facts about perception may be useful, and the physical theories of perception need not be challenged
    • E.g. gestalt psychology could be important to phenomonology
    • Notion of ‘perceptual features’. Empirical question:
    • Is it that to perceive is, essentially, to perceive objects? Every perception is a perception of something?
      • alternatively, we could also perceive ‘features’, too
      • More generally, is perception uniform or is there a richness/complexity of kind in the types of perception? This could influence philosophers who need to discuss the uses of perception.
    • In some sense, this is just a boring/trivial question about the grammar of perception.
    • Interesting empirical question: what is the privileged form of perceputal sensations - how far are we (always) breaking down sense data into objects? What physical mechanism does this?

What should philosophers do

  • Philosophy should disentangle confusions that arise out of the natural usage of the term.
    • An enduring example confusion:
      • Tendancy to approach problems in perception from a theory of knowledge.
        • How much do we know given our perceptions?
        • How does the knowledge from perceptions interact with other sources of knowledge?
      • This is often a confusion
        • (though may make sense in certain contexts, e.g. wondering if I’ve seen you before in the street)
      • It makes us wrongly think of the essence of perception as being in contact / direct relation with the world, as a means of getting knowledge.
      • This is a category error
      • Epistemologists are not actually dealing with perception, rather something derived from perception

Local error

  • Seeing something far away might be misleading
  • Two people could perceive the same phenomenon differently for various reasons
  • It’s a mistake of philosophers to lift this to questioning perception in general, questioning whether we ever could be in contact with the real world.

5 Contact with the outside world

  • Raw data (waves/beams) impinge upon us, our minds make sense of this
    • Optics / biology outside domain of philosophy.
    • Then philosophy asks the trancendental question “how is it possible for us to access the outside world?”
      • From what point of view is this question being asked?
      • “Contact” is a better word than “access” because the fact that we (in the world) are in contact with the world is obvious and nullifies the philosophical question.
      • This question is a symptom of philosophy since Descartes, implies one has already gone astray from understanding what perception is.
        • Benoist would respond to a Cartesian skeptic differently; rather, would reject the question as ill-founded because the fact we are in contact with the world is presupposed before asking more abstract/higher order questions.
        • The fact that Descartes creates this artificial question leads him to the artificial separation of the physical and spiritual world. Both artificialities are related.
      • It’s fundamental to perception that it’s not possible to ‘take distance’ from perception
        • (yes, epistemlogically, but that is really treating the uses of perceptions).
        • It’s legitimate inquiry into the role of perception among other aspects of reasoning, but it is not about perception itself.

Making sense of disagreement

  • How does belief in raw contact with the world explain different observers observing the same thing differently?
    • E.g. “jaundiced eye” seeing the world with yellow tint
    • Benoist: perception is clearly dependent on where you are
    • The fact it is perspectival does not take away from the fact we are in direct contact
    • However we also have different faculties which cause differences beyond geometry (diseases, enhancements).
      • The yellow of jaundiced eye is just as much a reality and fact of perception as seeing a stick broken in the water.
        • There is a temptation to think when our perspective has dramatically affected the experience of some aspect of reality (stick), that it’s no longer the stick which we are perceiving
        • (even though it is the stick, even if it looks different than how we’re used to it - it’s just the reality of optics that viewed a certain way the experience of a stick is broken)
        • JL Austin: does anyone expect a stick, if it’s actually straight, has to appear to be straight under all circumstances?
      • It is wrong of philosophers to conclude from examples like this that our subjectivity is in between us and contact with reality.
        • Our subjectivity is just us being ourselves as we are in relation to the reality.
        • Subjectivity just captures the factors of perception which are dependent on the perceiver’s location/faculties
        • Subjectivity is just one aspect of the reality of perception (direct contact with the world).