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(2017/2018) I Semester: Nick Young (University of Milan): "Non-visual perceptions"  

Title:​ ​Non-Visual Perception
Teacher:​ Nick Young (nickyoung1@gmail.com)

Dates:​ ​6th – 10th November
Times:​ ​11.00 – 13.00

Course​ ​Summary 

You are walking in the woods. You see a muddy path framed by swaying trees stretching out ahead of you. Looking up, you see rays of sunlight shining through green leaves. Looking down, you see your shadow on the mottled brown earth. A philosopher of perception could find plenty to ask about this situation. Is our seeing a tree better characterised in terms of our perceptually representing that tree, or entering into a​ ​perceptual relation with it? Do we see the tree as a complex of colour and shape, or do we see it as having more sophisticated properties as well, such as the property of being a tree, or being in motion? Do we literally see the empty space between the trees, their shadows, or the sunlight shining between them?

Even if definitive answers to these questions could be found, we would still be a long way from a complete description of our perceptual experience. The reason for this is obvious: there is more to perception than simply seeing. There are (at least) four other senses: we hear leaves rustle and the chirping of birds, feel the soft ground beneath our feet, smell dampness, mud, and moss, taste bitterness on our tongue from the last cup of coffee. We can ask similar questions about auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory experiences as we can about visual ones. Do you, for example, hear the rustle as complex of timbre, pitch, and loudness, or do you hear it as the rustling of a tree? Do you olfactorily represent odours or stand in an olfactory relation to them? Do you feel the space between your fingers, as you see the space between the trees?

The traditional questions of philosophy of perception are rarely, however, put in non-visual terms, and hearing, feeling, etc. have received significantly less attention than seeing. One reason for this might be an assumption that non-visual modalities are, at root, so similar to vision that they do not warrant closer scrutiny: once we have a fuller account of seeing, perhaps we need only make a few superficial tweaks before it can be transposed to the other modalities?

It is not obvious, however,whether such a strategy is feasible. While it might be true to say that we can both see and touch material objects –you see and feel the path you are walking on– it is
obvious that touching and seeing are experientially very different: why is feeling the sticky mud so dissimilar from seeing it? Similarly, we might think that audition and vision have a similar structure inasmuch as both involve the attribution of properties to individuals: we see the tree trunk as having a particular texture and colour, we hear the rustling as having a certain timbre and loudness. However, there are still striking differences: seeing a tree is to see an object extending in space, as taking up a particular tree-shaped portion of the world; but while sounds can be heard as here or there, we do not hear them as extending through three-dimensional space. That is, we do not hear sounds as shaped.

Drawing on recent work in the philosophy of perception this course will investigate the nature of the non-visual senses. Specific areas of focus will include: how the modalities should be differentiated, the spatial and temporal structure of audition and touch, the degree to which tasting and smelling can be thought of as forms of object perception, and multimodal perceptual experiences. As well as bringing out the unique features and peculiarities of different senses we will seek to discover what unites them, and in doing so reflect on what is fundamental to all perceptual experience.

Summary​ ​of​ ​Classes​ ​and​ ​Readings 
For each class there is one primary (required) reading as well as various secondary (suggested) readings.
6th​ ​November:​ ​Introductions 

We will begin by considering some of the types of question that philosophers of perception are interested in, and some prima facie reasons for thinking that the non-visual senses might complicate matters. We will go on to consider ways in which sense modalities might be differentiated from one another.

Primary​ ​Reading:

Macpherson, F. (2011). Individuating the senses in The Senses: Classical and contemporary readings, 3-46.

Secondary​ ​Readings:

Gray, R. (2011). On the nature of the senses. The Senses. Classic and Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives, 243-260.

Selections from​ ​O’Callaghan, C. 2007: Sounds: A philosophical theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


7th​ ​November:​ ​Mediators​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Material  

It is natural to think that different perceptual modalities have different objects: we see material things, but hear sounds and smell odours. However, recent work on auditory and olfactory perception has put pressure on this view, with many arguing that though hearing sounds we hear the events which produce them, and through smelling odours we smell the objects which emit them. We will examine the various ways in which this idea of mediate perception might be worked out, and ask if we can make sense of idea of non-visual object perception.

Primary​ ​Reading: 

O'Callaghan, C. (2011, October). XIII—Hearing Properties, Effects or Parts?. In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Vol. 111, No. 3_pt_3, pp. 375-405). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Secondary​ ​Readings:

Batty, C. (2015). Olfactory objects. Perception and its modalities, 222-246.

Kulvicki, J. (2017). Auditory Perspectives. Current Controversies in Philosophy of Perception, 83.

Martin, M. G. F. 2012: Sounds and Images. The British Journal of Aesthetics. 52(4), 331–351.

O’Callaghan, C. (2008). Object perception: Vision and audition. Philosophy Compass, 3(4), 803–829. Chicago

8th​ ​November:​ ​Sensing​ ​Space​ ​and​ ​Experiencing​ ​Events  

Some philosophers have argued that we see not only material objects but also the empty space which surrounds them. In the first half of the class we will consider whether or not we might hear space, or feel space, and how this differs from vision. In the second half we turn to temporally extended perception and in particular, how we perceive events. In the previous class we saw that many philosophers think we hear events like collisions, rollings, scrapings, how does this type of event perception differ from seeing events?

Primary​ ​Reading:

Martin, M. G. F. 1992: Sight and touch. In Crane, T. (ed) The Contents of Experience: Essays on Perception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 196–215

Secondary​ ​Readings:

Nudds, M. 2009: Sounds and Space. In M. Nudds and C. O’Callaghan (eds), Sounds and perception: New philosophical essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 69–96.

Richardson, L. (2014). Space, Time and Molyneux's Question. Ratio, 27(4), 483-505.

Young, N. (Forthcoming) Hearing objects and events. Philosophical Studies, 1-20.


9th​ ​November:​ ​Transparency​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Chemical​ ​Senses 

The chemical senses –smell and taste– are sometimes considered to be ‘lower’, less sophisticated, senses than sight, audition, or touch. In this class we will examine whether such an assumption
is warranted, and whether, as some have argued, experiences in these modalities constitute counter-examples to the claim that perception is ‘transparent’.

Primary​ ​Reading:

Richardson, L. (2013). Sniffing and smelling. Philosophical Studies, 162(2), 401-419.

Secondary​ ​Readings

Batty, C. (2010). Scents and sensibilia. American Philosophical Quarterly, 47(2), 103-118.

Richardson, L. (2013). Sniffing and smelling. Philosophical Studies, 162(2), 401-419.

Smith, B. C. (2015). The chemical senses. in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception Chicago


10th​ ​November:​ ​Multimodality 

Historically, philosophers have had a tendency to study the different sense modalities in isolation. However, there is a growing body of empirical evidence showing that what is perceived in one modality can affect what is perceived in another (e.g. the McGurk effect, sound induced visual bounce). In this final class we will consider how these multimodal perceptual experiences should be understood, and whether some perceptual experiences should be considered amodal.

Primary​ ​Reading:

Matthen, M. (2017). Is Perceptual Experience Normally Multimodal?. Current Controversies in Philosophy of Perception, 121.

Secondary​ ​Readings

Briscoe, R. E. (2011). Mental imagery and the varieties of amodal perception. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 92(2), 153-173.

O’Callaghan, C. (2016). Objects for multisensory perception. Philosophical Studies, 173(5), 1269-1289.

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