Berkeley and the spatiality of vision

Journal of the History of Philosophy 45 (3):413-442 (2007)

Abstract

: Berkeley's Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision presents a theory of various aspects of the spatial content of visual experience that attempts to undercut not only the optico-geometric accounts of e.g., Descartes and Malebranche, but also elements of the empiricist account of Locke. My task in this paper is to shed light on some features of Berkeley's account that have not been adequately appreciated. After rehearsing a more detailed Lockean critique of the notion that depth is a proper object of vision, Berkeley directs arguments he takes to be entirely parallel against the notion that vision has two-dimensional planar contents as proper objects. I show that this argument fails due to an illicit slide unnoticed by both Berkeley and his commentators—a slide present but innocuously so in the case of depth. Berkeley's positive account, according to which the apparent spatial content of vision is a matter of associations between, on the one hand, tactile and motor contents, and on the other hand non-spatial visual contents, also fails because of an illicit slide—again, unnoticed by Berkeley and his commentators. I close by discerning the salvageable and correct core of Berkeley's theory of the spatiality of vision

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Rick Grush
University of California, San Diego

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