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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 41, Issue Supplement, 2016

Selected Papers in Honor of William P. Alston

Matthew McGrath
Pages 53-70

Alston on the Epistemic Advantages of the Theory of Appearing

William Alston claimed that epistemic considerations are relevant to theorizing about the metaphysics of perceptual experience. There must be something about the intrinsic nature of a perceptual experience that explains why it is that it justifies one in believing what it does, rather than other propositions. A metaphysical theory of experience that provides the resources for such an explanation is to be preferred over ones that do not. Alston argued that the theory of appearing gains a leg up on its rivals, particularly sense-datum theory and adverbialism, precisely on this score. This paper examines these claims, along with the further question of whether the theory of appearing fares better epistemologically than the currently popular theory of intentionalism about perceptual experience. I conclude that while Alston is correct that the theory of appearing fares better than its traditional rivals (the sense datum theory and adverbialism), it does not clearly fare better than intentionalism. I further argue that Alston ignores a number of complexities in his account of how perceptual experience, construed as states of objects appearing certain ways to subjects, justifies perceptual beliefs.

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