Philosophy of Mind Seminar (Friday - Week 1, HT23)

Philosophy of mind

How far can a metaphysics of perception get us in responding to arguments for scepticism about the external world? The consensus among epistemologists and philosophers of perception seems to be: not very far at all. The reason is that, no matter what we say about the metaphysics of perception, there are “bad cases” that are subjectively indistinguishable from ordinary perception. These constitute sceptical scenarios that a veridically perceiving subject isn’t going to be able to rule out (e.g., the brain-in-a-vat scenario, perfectly realistic dreams).

However, the assumptions underpinning these scenarios—that one can be in a mental state with perceptual phenomenal character without perceiving anything in one’s environment, and that brain activity of a certain sort is sufficient for perceptual phenomenal character—are not beyond question. Yet they haven’t been subject to serious critical scrutiny, despite the fact that a certain metaphysics of perception leads naturally (if not inexorably) to their rejection. Naïve realism about perceptual phenomenal character holds that perceptual phenomenal character consists in the subject perceiving things in her environment. This kind of view is often regarded as untenable, as it cannot easily account for the phenomenal character of total hallucinations. Naïve realists usually concede that they owe such an account, and tie themselves up in knots in order to provide one. But this concession is not compulsory; the naïve realist can (and I think, should) deny that total hallucinations are possible, because the arguments for the possibility of total hallucinations beg the question against naïve realism.

In this talk, I will explore the epistemological payoff of this radical form of naive realism. Arguably, it rules the perennially pesky sceptical scenarios described above out of bounds—they would not be genuine possibilities after all.


Philosophy of Mind Seminar convenors: Mike Martin, Matthew Parrott, Will Davies and Anil Gomes