Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 2, Fall 2016

New Directions in the Philosophy of Perception

Gary Hatfield
Pages 149-178

Perceiving as Having Subjectively Conditioned Appearances

This paper develops an appearance view of perception (focusing on vision). When we see an object, we see it by having it appear some way to us. We see the object, not the appearance; but we see the object via the appearance. The appearance is subjectively conditioned: aspects of it depend on attributes of the subject. We mentally have the appearance and can reflect on it as an appearance. But in the primary instance, of veridical perception, it is the object that we focus on and experience. I contrast this view with naive realism (sometimes called disjunctivism) (Brewer, Campbell, Noe) and with intentionalist or representationalist views, which I call the physical content view (Dretske, Tye, Crane, Hill, Burge). I agree with these views in rejecting sense-data intermediaries and in affirming direct perception, but I argue that direct perception occurs via appearances, making mine a critical direct realism. The other views attempt to explain the spatial content of perception (shape, size, distance) entirely through the physical properties of objects and their physical relation to the perceiver (viewing position). I argue instead that there are ineliminably subjective aspects of normal spatial perception, which are systematically manifested as a lack of full phenomenal constancy. This systematic underconstancy can’t be accounted for at all by a consistent naive realism; for the physical content view, it requires that most of our ordinary perception is classified as illusory, violating the spirit of that view. Accepting phenomenal underconstancy as pervasive, I suggest that our ability to perceive the mind-independent properties of objects depends on developed conceptual abilities. In the final section, I compare my appearance view with the adverbialism of Chisholm and the critical direct realism of Roy Wood Sellars.