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Setting Things before the Mind

  • M. G. F. Martin


Listening to someone from some distance in a crowded room you may experience the following phenomenon: when looking at them speak, you may both hear and see where the source of the sounds is; but when your eyes are turned elsewhere, you may no longer be able to detect exactly where the voice must be coming from. With your eyes again fixed on the speaker, and the movement of her lips a clear sense of the source of the sound will return. This ‘ventriloquist’ effect reflects the ways in which visual cognition can dominate auditory perception. And this phenomenological observation is one what you can verify or disconfirm in your own case just by the slightest reflection on what it is like for you to listen to someone with or without visual contact with them.



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1 Chalmers, D., The Conscious Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 4.

2 Dennett, D., ‘Quining Qualia’, in Consciousness and Contemporary Science, ed. Marcel, A. and Bisiach, E. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 42.

3 Dretske, F., Naturalizing the Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), p. xiii.

4 Ibid., p. 65: ‘represents’ is Dretske's term for sensory or phenomenal representation as opposed to conceptual representation - the details of the distinction he draws has no import for the point made in the text.

5 Price, H. H., Perception (London: Methuen, 1932), p. 3.

6 Moore's opinion can be found in Moore, G., ‘The Refutation of Idealism’, in Philosophical Studies (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1922); Price commits himself to the view in Perception, p. 5.

7 Ducasse, C., ‘Moore's “Refutation of Idealism”’, The Philosophy of G. E. Moore, ed. Schilpp, P.A. (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1942), pp. 232–3.

8 Ducasse's main concern, it must be said, is with Moore's contention that the object of consciousness in sensing is independent of the mind - and the dispute between Moore and Ducasse involves much talking past each other. For a further development of adverbialism which takes on the elements described in the text, see Chisholm, R., Theory of Knowledge (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1966), pp. 91–8 and Tye, M., ‘The Adverbial Approach to Visual Experience’, Philosophical Review 93 (04 1984), 195225. This approach has its roots in Thomas Reid, see Reid, T.,‘Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man’, in Inquiry and Essays, ed. Beanblossom, R. and Lehrer, K. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1983). Note that not all philosophers whose views on sensation have been classified as adverbialist have made the assumption about our knowledge of experience mentioned in the text. The most notable exception is Wilfrid Sellars: see ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind’, in Science, Perception and Reality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), and Science and Metaphysics (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968).

9 Paul Boghossian suggested to me that one could define a perfectly good notion of qualia without this threat of equivocation: qualia just are the non-representational properties of the mind which make a difference to what it is like to be one. We can determine whether there are any qualia, simply by asking whether two individuals could differ with respect to what it is like to be them without differing in their representational properties. However, the problem with this suggestion concerns how we are to apply the test: for in order to use the test within a thought experiment we need to determine when two individuals are to be considered as sharing all the same representational properties. This we cannot do without attending to the properties which things appear to them to have. This, somewhat indirect, test for the existence of qualia implicitly exploits the kind of direct test discussed in the text: we are either meant to recognize those aspects of consciousness which are purely representational or those which are not. So the problem of what one is to direct a subject's attention to, when their attention is directed to the qualitative aspects of sensory experience remains.

10 Baxandall, M., Shadows and Enlightenment (London: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 125–6.

11 Ibid., p. 128.

12 One can see Nagel's famous discussion of consciousness and physicalism, Nagel, T., ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ in Mortal Questions, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), as principally employing the second conception of experience - it is the role of a subject's point of view within experience which explains why one must adopt a subject's point of view to understand what his experience is like; cf. pp. 166, 172, 173–4. In contrast, much of the discussion of the so-called ‘Knowledge Argument’ against physicalism tends to focus on the adverbialist conception of experience, where the focus on a subject's own perspective comes in only at the level of thinking about one's experience, and not in having the experience itself.

13 And in doing so, the theorist may claim to show how physical objects can be the direct objects of perception.

14 Of course, one might think that the existence of illusions and hallucinations are enough to show that there cannot actually be any experiences with such phenomenal properties. Whether such arguments from illusion really establish that conclusion turns in part on how one assesses so-called disjunctive theories of perception as presented in Snowdon, P. F., ‘Perception, Vision and Causation’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (19801981), McDowell, J., ‘Criteria, Defeasibility and Knowledge’,Proceedings of the British Academy (1982), Putnam, H., ‘The Dewey Lectures’, Journal of Philosophy (1994).

15 Cf. Peacocke, C., Sense and Content (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), chapter 1, particularly the definition of sensational properties on p. 5; Harman, G., ‘The Intrinsic Quality of Experience’, in Philosophical Perspectives 4, ed.Tomberlin, J. (Arascadero: Ridgeview Publishing Co., 1990); Shoemaker, S., ‘Self-Knowledge and “Inner Sense”’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 64, (1994), 249314.

16 Note that the possession of any one phenomenal property does not exclude the possibility of having any of the others: so this generates fifteen possible accounts of perception. The discussion in the literature tends to focus solely on two or three of these: those which appeal purely to intentional phenomenal properties, cf. Harman, ‘The Intrinsic Quality of Experience’, and those who think that there must be a mixture of phenomenal and subjective properties, cf. Peacocke, Sense and Content, chapters 1 and 2; there are a few defenders of purely subjective accounts of experience, for example, Jackson, F., Perception: A Representative Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
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