Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 42, 2008

Philosophy of Mind

Caleb Liang
Pages 103-148

Perceptual Phenomenology and Direct Realism

I discuss the so-called “problem of perception” in relation to the Argument from Illusion: Can we directly perceive the external world? According to Direct Realism, at least sometimes perception provides direct and immediate awareness of reality. But the Argument from Illusion threatens to undermine the possibility of genuine perception. In The Problem of Perception (2002), A. D. Smith proposes a novel defense of Direct Realism based on a careful study of perceptual phenomenology. According to his theory, the intentionality of perception is explained in terms of three phenomenological features of perception: phenomenal three-dimensional spatiality, movement, and the Anstoss. He argues that this account of perceptual intentionality can resist a central premise of the Argument from Illusion, i.e. the “sense-datum inference.” After presenting Smith’s theory, I argue that he fails to distinguish two independent tasks for the direct realist, and that he underestimates the threat of the so-called “sense-datum infection.” My contention is that even if Smith’s theory of perceptual intentionality is correct, Direct Realism has not been saved from the Argument from Illusion. To resist the Argument from Illusion, it is not enough to merely consider how to block the sense-datum inference. The direct realist must also find a way to undermine the sense-datum infection. If so, I suggest, Direct Realism cannot be defended by perceptual phenomenology alone.