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Chapter One Perception and Experience

Naïve realism is at once a claim about the structure of perception and the nature of perceptual experience. It takes perceptual experience, thought of as the sensory experience that one enjoys when perceiving, to be, in its nature, the presentation of the objects of perception to the mind of the perceiving subject. It takes perception to be psychologically unmediated, in that perceptual contact with the world is achieved through a psychological state that is, in itself, perceptual. These two claims are related. In conceiving of perceptual experience as having such a nature, the naïve realist thereby adopts a conception of perception that takes it to be psychologically direct. In the first part of this chapter I set out the theoretical and terminological landscape within which the claims of the naïve realist are made. In the second part I will return to the claims themselves, clarify them and present the salient alternatives.[1]

1. The landscape

1.1 Seeing: perceptual and experiential aspects

A distinction can be made between a subject’s seeing something and the visual experience the subject enjoys when seeing. The visual experience is an episode in the subject’s conscious life, while the seeing is a relation that obtains between subject and thing seen. To talk about the visual experience of something, is to talk about how that thing visually appears, or looks, to the subject of the experience. To talk about the visual perception of something, on the other hand, is to talk about the relation that obtains between perceiver and thing perceived, such that that thing, however it is described, however it looks to the perceiver, is available to the perceiver.

We can justify this intuitive distinction by drawing attention to different senses of ‘seeing.’ Warnock (1965), for example, makes a distinction between seeing things, events and qualities on the one hand, and seeing relations, states or facts on the other. Contexts involving the former allow for substitution of co-referring terms salva veritate while those involving the latter do not. So, for example, if ‘John sees the tree’ is true, and the tree is the oldest tree in the garden, then ‘John sees the oldest tree in the garden’ is true. On the other hand, if ‘John sees that the tree is in leaf’ is true, and ‘the tree is the oldest tree in the garden’ is true, it does not follow that ‘John sees that the oldest tree in the garden is in leaf’ is true.

We can also discern a distinction between a sense of ‘see’ which entails that that which is seen exists, and a sense of ‘see’ which does not. For example our intuitions regarding the truth or falsity of the sentence ‘Macbeth saw a dagger in front of him,’ when Macbeth hallucinates a bloody dagger before him, will depend upon which sense of ‘see’ we are operating with.

We can say that we take the claim to be true when we regard the object of Macbeth’s seeing as an intentional object and false when we take it to be a material object. The intentional object of a perceptual statement is just what it is that the statement says is seen. The material object of a perceptual statement is what it is that is seen, no matter how described. In answer to the question ‘What did Macbeth see?’ we can either give the intentional object, which is ‘a dagger before him’ or the material object, which is ‘nothing.’[2] Whether or not ‘Macbeth saw a dagger’ is true will depend on whether we take the expression ‘a dagger’ to give a material object, or an intentional object.

When we say ‘Macbeth saw a dagger’ in the latter sense, which does not imply the existence of that which is seen, we are saying something about Macbeth’s conscious life. We are saying something about the sensory experience that he enjoys. We are focusing on the experiential aspect of his seeing. When we say ‘Macbeth saw a dagger’ in the former sense, which does imply the existence of that which is seen, we are conveying something about how Macbeth is related to the world around him. We are focusing on the perceptual aspect of his seeing.

These differences between senses of ‘see’ have led some philosophers to think that there are two kinds of seeing, so called simple seeing, and seeing as/seeing facts/epistemic seeing, and that it is then a substantial question as to whether one is more fundamental than the other.[3]

However, rather than thinking that we have here a reason to support two different kinds of seeing, we could say we can look at seeing in two different ways, or as having two different aspects. A statement about what a subject sees that identifies a particular thing supports the substitution of co-referring terms. There are, however, perceptual statements that make reference, in part, to the subjective character of the perceptual episode, and as such are sensitive to how the thing seen is described.

What attention is being drawn to is not, then, a different kind of seeing, but that seeing has two aspects to it. These aspects are different in so much as one is subjective, involving the conscious life of the subject, and the other relational, involving a relation between subject and object. In relation to seeing, I shall also refer to these as, respectively, the experiential and the perceptual aspects of seeing. It is this that is the source of the differing senses of ‘seeing.’ The ‘perceptual’ sense of seeing draws attention to the thing that is seen, the thing that is available for thought and action, while the ‘experiential’ sense of seeing draws attention to the way in which that thing is available, to how it appears to the subject.

1.2 The perceptual aspect

When we say that a subject sees something, and are intending to draw attention to the perceptual aspect of this state of affairs, we are saying that the subject stands in a relation to that thing, such that it is available for them in thought and action. When we talk about perception making things ‘available’ for the subject, what exactly do we mean? Perception provides us with practical knowledge of things in the world, propositional knowledge of things in the world, and provides us with justifications for beliefs, and reasons for action.

In perceiving things, those things are available for us to focus upon and to demonstratively refer to. We can pick things out as ‘that person,’ ‘that car,’ ‘this pencil’ and make judgements about those specific things, that ‘that person is riding in that car.’ In perceiving an object a subject is in a position to demonstratively refer to that object and to make demonstrative judgements about that thing.

The object is available for the subject to think about in the numerous ways in which we can think about the world. In perceiving an object a subject can fear that thing, desire that thing, love that thing, believe that that thing is his and so on.

Furthermore, the object is available in a way that provides justification for judgements, and reasons for actions. When a subject judges of something that it is such and such a way, he can appeal to his perception of that thing to justify that judgement. And the objects that subjects see and their being in this relation to them can justify actions, and explain behaviour.

At least, the sense of ‘perception’ that we are concerned with describes a relation that holds between subject and object such that the object is available in these ways. When a plant moves towards the light it may be fair to say that it perceives the light, in the sense that it moves in response to it, or is sensitive to it. But neither the light nor its sensitivity to the light can, for example, be a reason for which it moved, although they may be reasons why it so moved in the sense of featuring in an explanation of its movement. Plants do not do things for reasons, but there are explanations for why they do things. Nor do plants think, make judgements, focus upon things and so on.

Or again we may want to interpret blindsight patients as perceiving the objects that they can identify with greater than chance reliability, but deny that their perceptions provide reasons for which they act or think. We may want to deny that the object that they are in some sense connected to is available for them in any important sense.[4]

We can say that the sort of perception that we are interested in is one in which, if a subject, S, perceives an object, x, then x is available for S to think about, act towards, focus upon, and so on. I shall refer to this relation that obtains between subject and object, such that the object is available to the subject in these ways, as perceptual contact. I will also sometimes use the expression cognitive contact to refer in general to the relation that a subject is in with some object such that it is available to the subject in these ways. This expression is neutral as to whether the relation should be thought of as a perceptual relation.

Finally, I should say something about what the things are that perception makes available to us. I am assuming that realism about perception is our default position, and that realism should be rejected only if no plausible picture of perception and perceptual experience can be provided against the background of this assumption. Realism about perception is the claim that what we perceive, the objects of perception, have an existence independent of our perception of them

1.3 The experiential aspect

If the perceptual aspect of a subject’s seeing something is the subject’s standing in a relation to that thing such that it is available to the subject in the ways described above, the experiential aspect is that in virtue of which this relation holds.

It is a feature of the subjective, experiential aspect of seeing that when a subject (consciously) sees some normal object, then that thing appears a certain way to them.

The language of appearing is complex. It is customary to distinguish at least three senses of ‘appears’: the comparative, the epistemic and the phenomenal.[5] In distinguishing these senses it will be helpful to make use of David Smith’s notion of a ‘focal’ object or state of affairs. The focal state of affairs, or object, of some appearance statement is the state of affairs that appears to obtain, or the object that is said to appear (Smith 2002: 37). So, for example, if it appears to someone that the man in the dock is guilty then the focal object of this appearance statement is the man in the dock, and the focal state of affairs is his being guilty.

Examples of the comparative use of ‘appears’ are appearance statements such as ‘French Bulldogs look like Gremlins,’ ‘Edward Burns looks like Ben Affleck,’ or ‘that thing on the horizon looks like a sailing ship.’

In statements such as these, a comparison is being made between the focal object and how something else appears to be. This comparison is relative to both the circumstances and the subject to which things so appear. In order to understand the comparisons made above these must be made explicit. So what we are presumably meaning to say by ‘French Bulldogs look like Gremlins’ is something like ‘French Bulldogs look like Gremlins look to normal observers in normal viewing conditions,’ where a ‘normal observer’ is an average human being with a visual system operating as a normal human being’s visual system should operate, and ‘normal viewing conditions’ are some standard specification of illumination conditions, angle of viewing, and the distance from which something is viewed.

The comparative sense of ‘appears’ clearly depends upon another sense of ‘appears’ that is non-comparative. If x comparatively looks like y, then x non-comparatively looks the way y non-comparatively looks when viewed in certain conditions by certain observers.

If something epistemically appears some way to a subject then it appears to be some way that is expressible by a proposition. Epistemic appearances have propositional content in that it appears that such and such is the case. In the case of the epistemic sense a distinction can be made between a purely epistemic sense and a perceptual-epistemic sense of ‘appears.’ In the purely epistemic cases the focal object/state of affairs is not perceived, and expresses the content of a judgement that the perceiver would be willing, or inclined, to make on the basis of some evidence. So for example it may pure-epistemically appear, from what a reliable source tells you, that the house market is collapsing. The focal state of affairs in this case, the house market collapsing, is not something that is perceived. In the perceptual-epistemic case, on the other hand, the focal object/state of affairs is perceived. So, to use an example from David Smith, someone to whom an island appears inhabited in virtue of perceiving smoke in the distance and footprints in the sand is perceiving the focal object of the appearance statement, the island. When that person says that the island perceptual-epistemically appears inhabited to them, they may be expressing a belief that is based upon perceptual reasons, or, as Jackson puts it, ‘visually acquired evidence’ (Jackson 1977: 30). However, it need not be the case, for something to appear a certain way to someone in this perceptual-epistemic sense, that they believe, even tentatively, that things are that way. An island may appear inhabited to someone, in this sense, even though they know that it is uninhabited (perhaps because a reliable source has informed them so). It is best to think that what is meant, then, by the appearance statement is that there is visual evidence to support the claim that the island is inhabited, rather than that they believe the island is inhabited upon the basis of visual evidence (Jackson 1977: 31). Of course, it is often the case that if something perceptual-epistemically appears a certain way, then the subject which is appeared to in this way in some sense believes that things are that way.

The perceptual-epistemic sense of ‘appears’ assumes a non-perceptual-epistemic sense of ‘appears.’ To say that it perceptual-epistemically appears as if it will rain is to say that something non-perceptual-epistemically appears in such a way that this appearance supports the perceptual-epistemic appearance statement.

As well as the comparative and the epistemic (perceptual and non-perceptual) senses of ‘appears,’ we can identify a phenomenal sense. This phenomenal sense of ‘appears’ is more fundamental than the perceptual-epistemic or comparative senses, in that something’s perceptual-epistemically or comparatively appearing a certain way depends upon it phenomenally appearing some way. That something perceptual-epistemically appears to be a certain way depends upon the focal object or state of affairs phenomenally appearing some way as the support for things being that way. Something’s comparatively appearing some way depends upon the focal object or state of affairs phenomenally appearing the same way as what it is being compared to.

It is this phenomenal sense of ‘appears’ that someone has in mind when they describe the phenomenal character of their experience in terms of things appearing such and such a way. The phenomenal character of experience is ‘what it is like’ to enjoy an experience.[6] Because of this connection with phenomenal character, phenomenal appearance statements are ambiguous between saying something about the way an object appears, that it appears to have a certain property, and saying something about the way in which a subject is appeared to, that the character of one’s experience is a certain way.

On the one hand there are phenomenal properties of experience, properties of being appeared to in such and such a way. On the other hand there are the properties that objects appear to have. When we say ‘x looks F to S’ and ‘looks’ has its phenomenal sense, we can take ‘x’s looking F’ to characterise the way in which S is appeared to, as characterising the phenomenal character of their experience. But we can also take we take ‘x’s looking F’ to characterise the thing that appears to S, as being F.

I shall use the expression phenomenal appearance to refer to the way in which someone is appeared to when they enjoy a perceptual experience. We must be careful not to confuse the way in which a subject is appeared to in experience, the phenomenal appearance of something, and the properties that appear to a subject in experience (the ways in which things can appear to him).[7]

Within the range of phenomenal appearances we can make a distinction between those in which the sensible qualities of an object phenomenally appear to a subject and those in which non-sensible qualities of an object phenomenally appear to a subject. Following Smith (2002), we can say that sensible qualities are those qualities which, if an object appears one of those ways to a subject and their experience is veridical (things do not appear to them other than they are), then the thing that appears to them has that quality. While it may be the case that objects phenomenally appear to have other qualities, they will do so in virtue of phenomenally appearing to have sensible qualities of some sort.

Visual sensible qualities include, plausibly, shape and colour. Examples of phenomenal appearances in which non-sensible qualities phenomenally appear might be those such as a face appearing sad, a coin appearing metallic, or a toy appearing new. In each of these cases it might be thought that there is a distinctive phenomenal appearance to the appearing of the object, and that they are genuine cases of phenomenal appearing. But in each of these cases there is clearly a sense in which one may perceive the focal object veridically, yet it not be the case that the focal object has the property in question. We want to say that things might look exactly the same to one, even if the person is not sad, the coin is not metallic, or the toy is not new. Furthermore, these objects phenomenally appearing as they do depends upon them phenomenally appearing to have sensible qualities. If, for example, the face did not appear a certain shape and a certain colour it is plausible that the subject would not be aware of the face at all, let alone be aware of it as sad. But the converse of this is not true. If the face does not appear sad, or appear in any emotional way at all, the subject could still be aware of the face.

I shall call the way in which someone is phenomenally appeared to in experience, where this is the basis of other forms of appearing, the core phenomenal character of the subject’s experience. Phenomenal appearances, understood as the way in which sensible qualities appear to us, should be taken to form the core phenomenal character of perceptual experience. But this should not be taken to obscure the fact that there are other ways in which objects can appear to us and that go toward making up the complete phenomenal character of a perceptual episode.

This acceptance of phenomenal appearances, and indeed of core phenomenal appearances, should not be objectionable to anybody. To say that there is a core phenomenal character of any perceptual experience, which is the character of the phenomenal appearing of the sensible qualities of some object to a subject, is not, for example, to say that there is a sensuous, non-conceptual, non-representational component to perceptual experience as well as a representational component. Nor is it to say that there are intrinsic subjective qualities to experience. It is only when we try and understand the nature of phenomenal appearances that such claims may arise. For all we have said so far, phenomenal appearances could be understood as representational states, the immediate presentation of objects to a subject, or as modifications of a subject’s consciousness. To understand the experiential aspect of a subject’s seeing something we must be able to explain what it is for an object to phenomenally appear a certain way to a subject, for at the core of perceptual experience is phenomenal appearance. But we have not yet said anything to suggest one understanding of this appearance rather than another.

I have been talking so far only of the experiential aspect of seeing. We can call this experiential aspect, the myriad of ways in which the subject is appeared to when perceiving, the sensory experience that someone enjoys when seeing something. When a subject perceives some object then that object appears a certain way to a subject, and the subject enjoys a sensory experience of the object. We can mark out the role of this sensory experience in perception by referring to it as perceptual experience. But we cannot rest simply with the notion of the way in which one is appeared to when perceiving something.

We must recognise that experiences can be illusory, and that they can be hallucinatory. Things can appear to be other than they are, and it can be with a subject such that it is as if something appears to them when actually no normal object does. These possibilities require us to recognise a range of different kinds of sensory experience.

The possibility of illusion introduces us to the notion that perceptual experience can be veridical or non-veridical – things can appear to a subject as they are or other than they are. The possibility of hallucination introduces us to the idea that it can be with a subject as if something appears to them a certain way. We can combine these ideas together to produce four different but related categories of sensory experience.

There is veridical perceptual experience, where a normal object appears a certain way to a subject and is that way. There is non-veridical perceptual experience, where something appears a certain way to a subject but is not that way. These are illusions. There is veridical non-perceptual experience, in which no object in the world appears a certain way to a subject. It is for the subject as if an object in the world appears that way to them, and there is, in fact, such an object that has that property in the scene before the subject’s eyes. These are veridical hallucinations. An example would be an experience in which it appears to me as though there is a red apple on the table, though my optic nerve has been severed, and there is no chance that I am in fact having a veridical perceptual experience. However, coincidentally, there is a red apple on the table.[8] Finally, there is non-veridical non-perceptual experience, in which it is as if an object in the world appears a certain way to a subject, no object in the world does appear that way, and no object in the world is that way.

We need a way of referring to the phenomenal core of sensory experience that is neutral as to whether the experience is perceptual/non-perceptual or veridical/non-veridical. I shall use the following locution:

It is with S as if x phenomenally appears F to S.

In all of the four kinds of sensory experience described above if a subject enjoys such an experience then it will be true that it is with them as if something phenomenally appears a certain way to them.[9] ‘It is with S as if’ is meant to enable us to remain entirely neutral as to how it is that S is appeared to as they are. There will be a story to give as to the nature of this appearing, but this locution does not imply anything about it. It should also be noted that it is not an epistemic notion. The statement does not say that S cannot discriminate their state of mind from a perceptual experience. Rather, it says only that S is such a way, whatever way that might be, such that it would be natural for S to characterise their situation (if they were capable of such characterisation) as one in which there is an x that phenomenally appears F to them.

A question that this categorisation of sensory experiences raises is as to whether the state of affairs which comprises the neutral characterisation of all the different kinds of sensory experiences is to be understood in the same way for all these kinds. That is to say, must all the kinds of sensory experiences be understood as having the same fundamental nature?

When a subject consciously perceives an object that thing appears to the subject. There are many different senses in which an object can appear to a subject. I have distinguished the comparative and the epistemic (both perceptual and non-perceptual) senses in which an object can appear to a subject. These senses all presuppose a sense of appears which is fundamental to the subject having an experience of the object at all. This is the sense in which the object phenomenally appears to the subject, where this can be understood as characterising the way in which a subject is appeared to – the subjective character of their experience when having an experience of an object. The fundamental nature of perceptual experience is the core phenomenal appearance of such experience, which is that way of being appeared to by the sensible qualities of the object of perception. The critical question that we must ask ourselves is as to what entities and relations this phenomenal appearance involves. What is the nature of this phenomenal appearance?

1.4 Conclusion

When a subject see something, then that thing is available to them for thought and action. They can entertain beliefs about it, make judgements concerning it, focus on it, make demonstrative reference to it, put it to use, orientate themselves in regard to it, and so on. They are in perceptual contact with that thing. As well as this, the subject enjoys a visual sensory experience that explains this perceptual contact that obtains between them and the object. It is in virtue of the object’s appearing to them a certain way that the object is available to them in this myriad of ways. The sensory experience that a subject enjoys in virtue of which they are in perceptual contact with some object is a perceptual experience.

But how, exactly, does perceptual experience establish this relation? How does the sensory experience a subject enjoys fit together with the perceptual contact that this experience makes possible? Our explanation of this will reside in the account that we give of the nature of such experience. At the core of any perceptual experience is the object of perception phenomenally appearing to have certain sensible qualities. The way in which a subject is appeared to when something phenomenally appears to have certain sensible qualities comprise the core phenomenal character of that subject’s experience. The account that we give of these ‘ways’ in which a subject is appeared to, or the phenomenal properties of their experience, will be an account of the nature of such experience. We might hope that the answer to the question of the relation between perceptual contact and sensory experience lies in the details of what this nature consists in. Does the explanation of the connection between perceptual contact and sensory experience lie in the very nature of such experience?

But the story that we will ultimately give of this is complicated by the recognition that there are more kinds of sensory experience than perceptual experience. The possibility of illusion and hallucination reveals that sensory experiences can vary in their veridicality and whether or not they put someone in perceptual contact with something. How are these kinds of sensory experience related to one another? In particular, do they form a common kind in as much as they share the same fundamental nature, that is to say, the same phenomenal nature?

[1] My discussion is limited to visual experience and visual perception. It should not be assumed that what is true of vision will be true of the other sense modalities, but an attempt to provide an account of perception and experience in general is beyond the scope of this work. For better or for worse philosophers have tended to focus on vision when discussing perception and I will be no exception to this. [2] See Anscombe (2002) and Crane (2001). [3] For example Dretske (2000). [4] See Dretske (2006). [5] Numerous philosophers have made the distinction between different senses of ‘appears,’ with minor differences between each formulation. For examples see Chisholm (1957), Smith (2002), Maund (2003), Jackson (1977). [6] See Nagel (1974). [7] For the importance of keeping this distinction in mind, see Martin (1998). He does not discuss this using the terminology of different senses of ‘appear.’ [8] For the classic portrayal of this possibility see Grice (1988). [9] It may also be the case that something comparatively or perceptual-epistemically appears a certain way to them, but what is essential to them enjoying a sensory experience is that they are phenomenally appeared to a certain way. (It may, of course, turn out that one cannot be phenomenally appeared to a certain way without being appeared to in the other ways, but this would express further, as yet unargued for, commitments.)

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