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The Enigma of Perception

The Enigma of Perception

D.L.C. Maclachlan
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Enigma of Perception
    Book Description:

    How do we acquire knowledge through a sensory input from our environment? In The Enigma of Perception, D.L.C. Maclachlan revives the traditional causal representative theory of perception which dominated philosophical thinking for hundreds of years by revealing the important element of truth the theory contained. The traditional theory was not a complete explanation of perception, because it presupposed a causal system including both the physical objects and the subjective experiences. The pattern of inference from sensations to external objects, which lies at its heart, is nevertheless legitimate, because the assumptions on which it depends are generally recognized as true. The emerging enigma is how to explain this original knowledge of the world on which the traditional theory depends. The key idea is that sense experience is constructed as a response to sensory input - an act whose purpose is to represent a reality beyond the cognitive subject. The Enigma of Perception develops original ideas to explain this process in detail, with help from numerous philosophers from John Locke to David Chalmers.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8841-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    • 1 The Traditional Theory Demolished
      (pp. 3-15)

      Perception is the process by which somehow or other we acquire beliefs about the external world on the basis of an input from that external world, fed in through the senses. This is an account with which, I imagine, virtually everyone would be in essential agreement. The differences break out when we try to put clothes on the bare idea of “somehow or other.” Although the general theory of perception I have outlined is accepted by almost everyone who thinks about these matters today, it is not true that there is no alternative. There may be no reasonable alternative today,...

    • 2 The Traditional Theory Comes Back to Life
      (pp. 16-23)

      If the assumptions on which the traditional theory depends were thought to be false, this would be the end of the matter. The received wisdom, however, is that these assumptions are not false. Not even Hume the Sceptic wishes to abandon our belief in a causally organized system of physical objects. As he remarks in the Treatise: “it is in vain to ask, Whether there be body or not? That is a point which we must take for granted in all our reasonings.”¹ If the belief in a system of causally organized physical objects in space and time is not...

    • 3 Primary and Secondary Qualities
      (pp. 24-33)

      The downgrading of the traditional theory of perception at the end of the last chapter overlooks, however, a really major innovation associated with it. At the beginning of the seventeenth century a certain scientific picture of the world became dominant. This was the conception of the physical world as essentially matter in motion. Material objects had no more than certain special primary qualities, such as size, shape, motion, and number, which could be handled mathematically by the new science. What will happen, then, to the other properties we normally assign to physical things, such as tastes, smells, and colours? The...

    • 4 Primary Qualities and the Physical World
      (pp. 34-41)

      Locke’s distinction between the ideas of primary qualities and the ideas of secondary qualities is a fundamental component in his theory, but it has been a source of trouble for a very long time, at least since the time of Bishop Berkeley.¹ The primary qualities are those qualities that characterize the things that really exist in the physical world, and upon which the various powers of these objects depend. The secondary qualities are nothing but the powers of the objects to produce in us sensations of colour, taste, smell, etc.

      If we work with the framework, which explains visual perception...

    • 5 The Private Language Argument
      (pp. 42-59)

      Wittgenstein’s private language argument was originally introduced to counter a theory, developed by Bertrand Russell, which combined a certain logical doctrine with a sense-datum epistemology. The logical doctrine was designed to provide the values for the individual variables introduced in the predicate calculus of Principia Mathematica. This was the theory of singular thoughts and logically proper names. Singular thoughts were thoughts whose essence was the introduction of an individual object; they were what would be described in Kantian terms as the intuitions of particulars. If the object did not exist, then neither did the associated singular thoughts. Moving to the...

    • 6 Other Minds
      (pp. 60-70)

      Before we attack the central problem of Part Two, there is one more topic with which we must deal. This topic is the existence of other minds. I have been assuming without question that I share this world with other conscious beings like myself. Indeed, I would not even be writing this book unless I thought that there were other intelligent beings who might read and understand it. I have explained the problem of Part Two as the problem of how we originally acquire the empirical knowledge of an external world which is presupposed by the operation of the pattern...


    • 7 The Origin of Empirical Belief
      (pp. 73-92)

      It now appears that in Part One we have re-instated the traditional causal representative theory of perception apart from one thing – albeit one big thing. We can now understand its attraction and the ways in which the theory of the learned is superior to the theory of the vulgar, to use the language of Hume. We can acknowledge sensations, or impressions, or experiences produced in us by external causes, which they represent but do not necessarily resemble. What we do not have is an explanation of how empirical beliefs about the external world are originally acquired, since these beliefs must...

    • 8 The Search for the Missing Link
      (pp. 93-107)

      The problem of perception is to explain how we reach the empirical beliefs that we entertain about the world around us on the basis of the sensory input fed in through the senses. The source of the difficulty is that the outcome of the process is expressed in a discourse using concepts such as belief, truth, reference, and inference, whereas the origination of the process is described in a different discourse using the concepts of natural science, including neurophysiology. In the last chapter we were quite unable to close this gap, whether we began from the bottom up or from...

    • 9 The Nature of Sense Experience
      (pp. 108-116)

      In the effort to connect the physiological processes that convey information from the external world with the state of mind that constitutes knowledge of that external world, the notion of sense experience is the key idea. In order to perform this linking function sense experience must have two faces. It must face up to serve as the ground for the empirical knowledge that is based upon it. It must face down in order to receive the input from the physiological states immediately responsible for its content. The problem is to understand how the same thing can have two faces. Janus,...

    • 10 The Representation of Reality
      (pp. 117-125)

      The representation of reality is, of course, only one among the many projects of the subject or agent, and its fundamental purpose is to help us achieve our other goals. For example, one important objective is the acquisition of food, and the visual representation of the environment helps us to locate and lay hold of sources of food. That is, our visual experience will map out our route to the food source. To do this successfully, it is not necessary and not even convenient for our visual representation to be a replication of the actual state of affairs, even if...

    • 11 The Presupposition of Reality
      (pp. 126-137)

      In the previous chapter, I tried to explain how it is possible to represent a reality to which access is denied. This explanation will be successful only if one concedes the legitimacy of the presupposition of reality built into the response of the subject. I shall begin by facing an objection from the side of the sceptic. Even if it is true that anyone whose purpose is the representation of reality must have some a priori conception of reality and must believe in a reality transcending experience, how can we be sure that this belief is correct? After all, anyone...

    • 12 The Detailed Knowledge of the World
      (pp. 138-156)

      If the a priori representation of reality is the representation of a spatiotemporal reality, then we do have an element of structure built into what is represented, which will make possible a detailed account of a system of objects. But the purely formal concept of reality built into our response to the sensory input leaves completely indeterminate the reality that is the object of cognition. Even if supplemented by the structures provided by space and time, our representation of reality remains completely formal. So how do we acquire a detailed knowledge of the reality that we originally conceive in these...

    • 13 The Perception of the Future
      (pp. 157-165)

      I have argued that sense experience has been constructed by the subject as a representation of a reality structured in accordance with the forms of space and time. Since the sensory input is arriving from various quarters, the representation of reality will conform to this and the sensory map constructed will represent the different characters of different regions in space. We learn to build up a sensory representation of our world, normally with more detail for things that are close by.

      Our world, however, is evolving all the time. What stage in its history do we represent in our perception?...

    • 14 Additional Ideas
      (pp. 166-182)

      BY THE END OF THE LAST CHAPTER, my explanation of the acquisition of perceptual knowledge is essentially complete. There are, however, a number of topics well worth exploring that emerge from my account, which I shall collect together in this final chapter. In the various sections, I examine the function of perceptual systems investigated by James J. Gibson; attempt to clarify the robust conception of the subject, self, or ego, which is a central presupposition of this work; show how my position can illuminate the fight between internalism and externalism; and discuss a recent theory put forward by David Chalmers....

  6. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-186)
  7. Index
    (pp. 187-190)