The Particularity of Perception Workshop

15-16 September 2017
Organizers: Dr Derek H. Brown (Glasgow) and Professor Susanna Schellenberg (Rutgers)
Open to the public

two near identical animalsThe aim of the workshop is to bring together philosophers of perception, metaphysicians, and epistemologists to debate issues surrounding the particularity of perception. Particularity refers to instances of properties, or specific objects or events (e.g., a sample of blue, my favourite watch, and today’s sunrise in Glasgow, respectively). It is most directly contrasted with generalities, notably including kinds of properties, objects and events (e.g., blue, Bulova watches, and sunrises, respectively). Although some mental states seem entirely general (e.g., the thought ‘Blue is a colour’), various mental states involve a complex interplay between particularities and generalities (e.g., the thought ‘this watch is blue’). Understanding the extent and sources of these particularities and generalities is a fundamental issue in philosophy, and perception is especially critical to our access to particularities. Perception grounds demonstrative reference, yields singular thoughts, and fixes the reference of singular terms. Moreover, perception provides us with knowledge of particulars in our environment and justifies singular thoughts about particulars. How does perception play these cognitive and epistemic roles in our lives? When we perceive our environment, we are perceptually related to particulars such as objects, events, and property-instances in that environment. What kind of mental state are we in when we are perceptually related to a particular?

To motivate these questions, consider Kim, who has three distinct, consecutive experiences. First, she sees a watch. Then, unbeknownst to her, the watch is replaced by a numerically distinct but qualitatively identical watch. Thus, in the second experience she sees a different watch. In the third experience, she hallucinates a watch and so is not perceptually related to any watch. All three experiences are subjectively indistinguishable: from Kim’s perspective, it seems as if she saw just one watch. Kim’s case brings into focus two central questions that structure the debate on perceptual particularity. Are perceptual states individuated only by particular elements, only by general elements, or both? Assuming that perceptual states can be individuated by particulars, when this occurs is perceptual particularity a matter of the epistemic relation between the perceiver and her environment, the sensory character of the perceptual state, ontological features of the perceptual state, the content of experience, or a combination of the above? The workshop aims to address these and related questions.



Friday, 15 September

12:00–13:30    Welcome lunch

13:30–15:00    Jessie Munton (NYU)

                        "Inverting the Speckled Hen"

15:00–15:30    Coffee/Tea

15:30–17:00    Michelle Montague (Austin) 

                        "Phenomenological particularity and the concept object"

17:00–19:00    Break

19:00                Dinner, Left Bank, 33-35 Gibson St.


Saturday, 16 September

   8:30–9:00      Coffee/Tea & biscuits

  9:00–10:30     Craig French (Nottingham)                          

                          "How Naïve Realism can Explain Both the Particularity and Generality of Experience"

10:30–10:45     Coffee/Tea

10:45–12:15     Ori Beck(Cambridge)

                         “A Defense of Phenomenal Particularity

12:15–13:45     Lunch

13:45–15:15     Pär Sundström (Umeå)

                         "On representationalism, common-factorism, & whether consciousness is here & now"

15:15–15:30     Coffee/Tea

15:30–17:00     Discussion panel: Jack Lyons (Arkansas/Cambridge), Keith Wilson (Edinburgh/Glasgow), Derek Brown (Glasgow)

17:00–18:30     Break

18:30                 Dinner, Ubiquitous Chip Brasserie, 12 Ashton Lane

To register to attend the conference, please go to the Particularity of Perception's EventBrite page.

Sponsors: Royal Institute of Philosophy, Scots Philosophical Association, Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience at the University of Glasgow, Rutgers University



shining twinsOri Beck "A Defense of Phenomenal Particularity"

The phenomenal particularity thesis states that conscious perceptions of mind-independent particulars have phenomenologies that are (partly) constituted by the perceived particulars. Though this thesis is well motivated, it has recently been attacked by Mehta and Schellenberg. In this short paper I provide the thesis with some necessary defense by developing a few themes from Martin's work.

Craig French "How Naïve Realism can Explain Both the Particularity and Generality of Experience"

We develop a version of naïve realism which accounts for phenomenological particularity: naïve realist particularism. We develop and consider an argument against this position which is suggested in some recent critical literature. We call this the self-knowledge argument. The crux of the argument is: (1) the naïve realist particularist is committed, in their account of phenomenological particularity, to there being subjectively inaccessible aspects of perceptual phenomenology, and (2) that this is a problem. We try to defend naïve realist particularism from this argument. We do so not by arguing against (2), as some naïve realists might be inclined to, but by arguing against (1).

Michelle Montague "Phenomenological particularity and the concept object"

It is part of the phenomenology of many of our perceptual experiences that they are experiences of individual particular objects. This is part of experiential what it’s likeness of many of our perceptual experiences, whether or not they are in fact veridical experiences of individual particular objects in the world. I call this phenomenon ‘phenomenological particularity’. In this paper I argue that the feature of perceptual experience that accounts for the phenomenology of particularity is what I will call object-positing. Object-positing is a fundamental feature of much ordinary perceptual experience, a basic structural element of perceptions and perceptual experiences in general, and it is best seen as a matter of cognitive phenomenology. I’ll conclude with a brief discussion of the relationship between objectivity and spatiality.

Jessie Munton "Inverting the Speckled Hen"

The puzzle of the speckled hen was originally posed as a problem for sense data theorists. Though few philosophers continue to endorse sense data, the puzzle of the hen lives on. I argue that the supposed puzzle rests on a mistaken understanding of visual experience and the way in which it provides information. Its survival reveals an underlying commitment to a homuncular view of visual experience as akin to examining a pictorial representation of the external world. Once we let that picture go, and instead understand visual experience as akin to a guess about the external world, the problem of the speckled hen is no problem at all.

Pär Sundström "On representationalism, common-factorism, and whether consciousness is here and now"

A strong form of representationalisms claim that every conscious property of every mental state can be identified with some part of the state’s representational properties. A more modest representationalism claims that some conscious property of some mental state can be identified with some part of the state’s representational properties. David Papineau (2014) argues that all such theories are incorrect since (a) they construe consciousness as consisting (partly or wholly) in “relations to propositions or other abstract objects outside space and time”, whereas (b) “my conscious feelings are concrete, here-and-now, replete with causes and effects”. Papineau defends instead a kind of “qualia theory” according to which all conscious properties are intrinsic non-relational properties of subjects. He thinks such a theory avoids his objections to representationalist theories. (Similar worries about representationalism, and similar ideas to the effect that some qualia theory, adverbial theory, or sense-datum has an advantage over representationalist views can be found in Kriegel 2011, Thompson 2008, and Robinson 1994, but I shall here focus only on Papineau). I shall argue that Papineau’s theory does not avoid the objections that he raises for representationalist theories: even on this qualia theory, my consciousness is an important sense not “here and now”. The root of these problems (if they are problems) is not representationalism but common-factorism, the idea that matching hallucinations, illusions, and veridical perceptions are the same in what they are like.