Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 2, Fall 2016

New Directions in the Philosophy of Perception

John Campbell
Pages 105-120

The Problem of Spatiality for a Relational View of Experience

It’s often said that relational view of experience can’t provide an explanation of mode of presentation phenomena: the idea is that if experience is characterized merely as a relation to an object, then we can’t make sense of the idea that one and the same object can be given in perception in many different ways. I show that we can address this problem by looking at the causal structure in relational experience. Experience of an object is caused by experience of particular properties it has, such as its color and location, and experience of the object is in turn a cause of experience of its properties as characteristics of that object. We can explain mode of presentation phenomena as a matter of there being different sets of properties that can cause perception of one and the same object. I discuss how experiments in vision science and computational models of vision can underwrite this way of finding the causal structure in experience, relationally conceived. I look at an alternative, internalist approach to mode of presentation phenomena, in terms of ‘mental paint’, and suggest that the internalist approach is simply incoherent. Finally, I point out that we have mode of presentation phenomena for the spatial aspects of vision, such as perception of spatial relations and spatial location, but that these phenomena resist analysis in any of the terms proposed so far. On a relational view, visual experience is a relation between the perceiver and the scene observed. It’s often said, quite wrongly, that relational views of experience cannot reckon with mode-of-presentation phenomena. I begin by explaining how a relational view of experience can make sense of the idea of the ‘way’ in which an object is given to the perceiver, in terms of the properties used to single out the object. I explain why relational views are to be preferred to approaches in terms of ‘mental paint’. I then sketch the problem posed by spatial perception. Spatial perception is peculiarly difficult to characterize on a relational view, because it’s difficult to characterize the way in which spatial locations and layouts are given to the subject.