Philosophy of perception

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The philosophy of perception is concerned with the nature of sensory and perceptual experience, the status of what is given in such experience, and in particular with how beliefs or knowledge about the (physical) world can be accounted for and justified on that basis.[1]

Systematically, internalist and externalist accounts can be distinguished. Internalism assumes the objects or basis of perceptual knowledge or justified belief to be aspects of an individual's mind, e.g. mental states, which in principle the individual can have access to. In contrast, externalism states that this basis must not entail mental states or experience at all, but is constituted by aspects of the world external to the individual.[2]

A central question to the philosophy of perception concerns what constitutes the immediate objects of perception. Contrary to the position of naïve realism—which can be identified with the 'everyday' impression of physical objects constituting what is perceived—certain observations are put forward which suggest otherwise. The latter comprise perceptual illusions, hallucinations,[3] and the relativity of perceptual experience,[4] but also insights from the field of science.[5]

Depending on the kind of immediate objects and mechanism admitted to account for questions concerning perception, several internalist positions can be distinguished. Realist conceptions comprise phenomenalism, representationalism (also called representative or indirect realism) and direct realism (which has certain similarities with naïve realism, yet constitutes a thorough philosophical conception and must therefore be treated separately). Anti-realist conceptions, on the other hand, comprise idealism and skepticism.[6]


Philosophical accounts of perception

Historically, the most important philosophical problems posed by perception concerned the epistemology of perception—the question of how we can gain knowledge via perception. However, the problems raised by perception also touch on other fields of philosophy—the nature of qualia is an important topic in the philosophy of mind[7] Moreover, any fully explicit account of perception requires a commitment to one of a variety of ontological (metaphysical) viewpoints on a spectrum of direct realism, indirect realism, and idealism.

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