Volume 47, Issue 4, Winter 2009
What’s That Smell?
In philosophical discussions of the secondary qualities, color has taken center stage. Smells, tastes, sounds, and feels have been
treated, by and large, as mere accessories to colors. We are, as it is said, visual creatures. This, at least, has been the working
assumption in the philosophy of perception and in those metaphysical discussions about the nature of the secondary qualities. The
result has been a scarcity of work on the “other” secondary qualities. In this paper, I take smells and place them front and center. I ask:
What are smells? For many philosophers, the view that colors can be explained in purely physicalistic terms has seemed very appealing. In the case of smells, this kind of nonrelational view has seemed much less appealing. Philosophers have been drawn to versions of relationalism—the view that the nature of smells must be explained (at least in part) in terms of the effects they have on perceivers. In this paper, I consider a contemporary argument for this view. I argue that nonrelationalist views of smell have little to fear from this argument.