Helmholtz's Physiological Psychology

In Sandra Lapointe (ed.), Philosophy of Mind in the Nineteenth Century: The History of the Philosophy of Mind, Volume 5. Routledge (forthcoming)
Abstract
Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894) contributed two major works to the theory of sensation and perception in the nineteenth century. The first edition of the The Doctrine of the Sensations of Tone was published in 1863, and the first edition of the Handbook of Physiological Optics was published in toto in 1867. These works established results both controversial and enduring: Helmholtz’s analysis of mixed colors and of combination tones, his arguments against nativism, and his commitment to analyzing sensation and perception using the techniques of natural science, especially physiology and physics. This study will focus on Helmholtz’s account of sensation, perception, and representation via physiological psychology. Helmholtz’s approach is an early version of the influential blend of externalism and representationalism advocated by Dretske, Tye, and Lycan. His defense of an epistemological theory of perceptual experience gives support to a response to sensorimotor theories proposed by O’Regan and Noë. On Helmholtz’s epistemological account, for visual experience to represent external objects requires inference and interpretation, which appears to rule out the sensorimotor theory. Helmholtz argues for an early, though limited, thesis of cognitive penetrability, defended recently by Siegel, and for an adverbial theory of color and of sensory qualities, related to a recent account by Chirimuuta. Helmholtz’s view is a synthesis of naturalism and of nomothetic apriorism in the philosophy of mind, the former informed by his early engagement with the physiological tradition, and the latter influenced by Kant and Fichte.
Keywords Helmholtz  psychology  nativism  naturalism  adverbialism  cognitive penetration  intentionality
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