Hearing Waves: A Philosophy of Sound and Auditory Perception

Dissertation, The University of Hong Kong (2020)
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This dissertation aims to revive wave theory in the philosophy of sound. Wave theory identifies sounds with compression waves. Despite its wide acceptance in the scientific community as the default position, many philosophers have rejected wave theory and opted for different versions of distal theory instead. According to this current majority view, a sound has its stationary location at its source. I argue against this and other alternative philosophical theories of sound and develop wave theory into a more defensible form. Philosophers of sound tend to emphasise how sounds are experienced to be in their arguments. Most often, it is assumed that that which appears to be a distally located bearer of auditory properties in an auditory experience is a sound. Chapter 1 argues that if this distal entity is the sound source instead, many of the existing theories of sound will be severely affected. Chapter 2 discusses auditory perception and criticises the common assumption that we hear non-sound entities in virtue of hearing sounds. I show that this assumption begs the question against certain theories of sound and that the contrary view that sound sources can be directly heard is more plausible. If sound sources can be directly heard, then features commonly attributed to sounds based on auditory experiences might rather be features of sound sources. I examine eight of such features in Chapter 3. Only four of them survive. Chapters 4 and 5 review the existing theories of sound. After a taxonomy of existing theories of sound, each theory is criticised one-by-one. Some of them are problematic precisely because they rely on the implausible assumption that that which appears to be distally located in an auditory experience is a sound rather than a sound source. Lastly, Chapter 6 focuses on wave theory. It begins with two positive arguments for wave theory in general, followed by my replies to two common objections in the literature. I then move on to develop my version of wave theory. There are two core aspects of my view. The first one is a metaphysics of compression waves; the second is an account of what it is to hear compression waves. After comparing my view with a similar theory, I demonstrate the explanatory power of my view in two steps. First, the eight commonly accepted features of sounds examined in Chapter 3 are revisited. It turns out that my view can accommodate all of them. Second, explanations for four special sound-related phenomena are offered at the end of the chapter. I conclude in the last chapter with the suggestion that, as a philosopher, the best way to defend wave theory is to offer a better understanding of auditory perception which explains how compression waves are experienced.



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Calvin K. W. Kwok
University of Hong Kong

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On what grounds what.Jonathan Schaffer - 2009 - In David Manley, David J. Chalmers & Ryan Wasserman (eds.), Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press. pp. 347-383.
A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1958 - Philosophical Quarterly 8 (33):379-380.

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