Direct Realism and the Phenomenology of Perceptual Consciousness

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1982)

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The objective of this dissertation is to defend a direct realist theory of perception which provides a proper role for the phenomenological features of perceptual experience. Fundamentally, direct realism maintains that we are able to perceive physical objects without this being mediated by consciousness of mental representations, and that in accordance with common sense, there is a broad range of physical properties we are able to perceive objects to have. ;I am concerned to show that direct realism is consistent with what we already know about perception: with various scientific accounts of perceiving, and with our introspection of perceptual experience. Especially the latter, for we must include an account of subjectivity if it is to become intelligible to us that there is "something it is like" to be human. ;In Part I, my strategy is first to separate the phenomenology from the ontology of consciousness. With Descartes we find the beginning of a tradition which has obscured this distinction. Members of this tradition summon the introspective evidence to great effect, and conclude that the objects we directly perceive must be mental. Their arguments rely on an implicit assumption about the ontological implications of such evidence; namely, that consciousness guarantees its object. I argue that the phenomenological evidence is unable to justify this assumption, and outline an alternative which is fully as faithful to this evidence from the point of view of the introspecting subject, and supports direct realism. This undermines one of the greatest holds the Cartesian tradition has had upon us: its alleged introspective self-evidence. ;In Part II, I attend to ontological problems surrounding the perceptible properties of physical objects. Historically, it has been of great interest to philosophers to assess the damage the physical sciences have done to our ordinary conception of the world. From Locke's distinction between the primary and secondary qualities, to Wilfrid Sellars' comparison of the scientific and manifest images, the assessment has been that perception fails in some rather fundamental ways to provide us with knowledge of the actual properties of the objects in our environment. My contention is that we have no good philosophical reasons for believing there to be such a conflict between science and perception. Direct realism provides a framework which promises to reconcile phenomenology, our ordinary conception of the perceptible world, and the empirical data provided by the various physical sciences
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