What is the problem of perception?

Synthesis Philosophica 2 (40):237-264 (2005)
Abstract
It will be obvious to anyone with a slight knowledge of twentieth-century analytic philosophy that one of the central themes of this kind of philosophy is the nature of perception: the awareness of the world through the five senses of sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. Yet it can seem puzzling, from our twenty-first-century perspective, why there is a distinctively philosophical problem of perception at all. For when philosophers ask ‘what is the nature of perception?’, the question can be confused with other, purely empirical, questions. For example: how do our sense-organs actually work? What are the mechanisms of smell and taste? How do vision and touch actually provide us with information about the world around us? There is much general agreement, in its broad outlines, about how to answer such questions empirically; but it is not clear what role, if any, philosophy has to play in answering these empirical questions. So if these were the only questions about the nature of perception, then it would not be clear exactly what the philosophy of perception is supposed to be about. Some philosophers (e.g. Brewer 2000) have argued that there is a distinctively philosophical question here, but it is epistemological, viz. how does perception provide 1 reason for our beliefs about the empirical world? This, it seems, is a question which remains to be answered even after the empirical world is done. This is because the question about reasons is normative rather than scientific or descriptive. Even once the psychological theory of vision, for example, has done its job in describing fully the mechanisms of vision, the normative question still can be asked: what makes this process result in something which gives a reason, something which justifies a belief? Suppose I see a bottle before me, and come to believe on the basis of this that there is a bottle before me. My reason for believing that this is a bottle is that I can see it. But what makes seeing the bottle a reason for this belief? It can be argued that the need to give a satisfactory answer to this question constrains our choice of theory of perception..
Keywords Epistemology  Experience  Hallucination  Perception  World
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