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Sensing Strange Things

Research Project: Epistemology: Current Themes

4th June 2016 - 6th June 2016

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Workshop Theme: What can (allegedly) strange cases of perception and misperception tell us about the nature of ordinary perception and indeed about the nature of objects perceived?


Saturday 4th June

  • 13.00-14.30 Fiona Macpherson Redefining Illusion and Hallucination in Light of New Cases
  • 14.30-14.45 Break
  • 14.45-16.15 Jennifer Corns Hedonic qualities, independence, and heterogeneity
  • 16.15-16.30 Break
  • 16.30-18.00 Zoe Drayson Action-oriented perception
  • 18:00-19:30 Workshop Reception
  • 19:45 Workshop dinner

Sunday 5th June

  • 09.30-11.00. Ema Sullivan-Bissett and Paul Noordhof Delusional Experience and Relationist Accounts of Perception
  • 11.00-11.15 Break
  • 11.15-12.45 Anya Farrenikova Invisible Art
  • 12.45-13.45 Lunch
  • 13.45-15.15 Simon Prosser Sensing Motion
  • 15.15-16.45 Mathew McGrath The metaphysics of looks
  • 16.45-17.00 Break
  • 17.00-18.00: Roundtable: Fiona Macpherson, Jennifer Corns, Anya Farrenikova

This event is open to all philosophers in Scotland and beyond and is made possible by the generous support of the Scots Philosophical Association and The Mind Association.

The Workshop organiser is Patrick Greenough. For more information, please send an email to Patrick at pmg2@st-andrews.ac.uk

To register for this event, please send an email to arche@st-andrews.ac.uk


Jennifer Corns

Hedonic qualities, independence, and heterogeneity

Abstract: Hedonics are plausibly qualitative. The most common objection to hedonic qualities is the heterogeneity problem: pleasant and unpleasant mental episodes are, it is alleged, qualitatively heterogeneous. I first argue that the heterogeneity problem can be solved by recognizing the independence of hedonic and sensory qualities. Next, I defend hedonic qualities from seeming problems of hedonic variation. It should be granted that there is considerable hedonic variation across persons, creatures, and times despite interaction with physical stimuli of the otherwise same type. I argue, however, that this hedonic variation is not different in kind from sensory variation. Moreover, while the limits on sensory variation are better explored, hedonic variation has underappreciated limits. Insofar as sensory qualities are not threatened by variation, neither are hedonic qualities. I conclude by discussing some implications of the foregoing discussion for our understanding of the nature of hedonic qualities specifically, and mental qualities more generally. In particular, the implication that a wide range of non-perceptual cognitve and conative states may be qualitative

Zoe Drayson

Action-oriented perception

Abstract: It is increasingly common to find perception described as ‘action-oriented’ in philosophy and the mind-sciences: sometimes as a claim about the contents of perception, and sometimes as a claim about the underlying mechanisms of perception. ‘Embodied’ approaches to perception and cognition sometimes combine these two claims into a third: the claim that the contents of perception are action-oriented because the mechanisms that carry the content are action-oriented (see e.g. Clark, Wheeler, Millikan, Mandik). I will argue that this seemingly straightforward claim is problematic once we start considering its commitments in terms of approaches to perceptual content (Fregean versus Russellian), accounts of content acquisition (causal, teleological, functional), breadth of content (wide, narrow, or two-factor) and the conditions for individuating the bearers or vehicles of content

Anna Farennikova

Invisible Art

Abstract: Can absence of art be art? Is art of absence a form of conceptual art? I discuss experiences of absence elicited by present and absent artworks, and present a model of how we aesthetically appreciate absences.

Fiona Macpherson

Redefining Illusion and Hallucination in Light of New Cases

Abstract: We present new cases of illusion and hallucination that have not heretofore been identified. We argue that such cases show that the traditional accounts of illusion and hallucination are incorrect because they do not identify all of the cases of non-veridical experience that they need to and they elide important differences between cases. In light of this, we present new and exhaustive definitions of illusion and hallucination. Identifying new instances of illusion and hallucination provides much needed, important data for testing theories of experience and perception—theories that are frequently motivated, and should be judged, by their ability to account for cases of illusion and hallucination.

Drawing on the ideas uncovered by considering pure property experience – an account which some might find to be plausible of olfactory experience – we bring to light many new cases of illusion and hallucination within ordinary experience as of objects having properties. In order to accept that these new cases of illusion and hallucination exist one does not need to accept the idea that there is pure property experience, or that olfactory experience is an instance of it. Such a conception of experience is simply a tool—a ladder to gain a good vantage point from which one can appreciate that there are these further cases. But this is a ladder that, as Wittgenstein might say, can be thrown away once it is used.

Matt McGrath

The metaphysics of looks

Abstract: Objects have looks. Distant mountains can sometimes have a bluish look. A file cabinet has a metallic look. Objects vary in their looks across viewpoints. For instance, a square surface in a plane orthogonal to the line of sight has a different look than the same surface titled relative to the line of sight. In this paper, I examine questions about what these looks are. It considers whether facts about objects having looks are perceiver independent or not. I give reasons for thinking the instantiation of viewpoint relative looks are perceiver independent, both in the sense that an object’s having such a look doesn’t modally depend on the existence of perceivers and in the more substantive sense of being irreducible to facts about perception. As for what looks are, the paper sympathetically explores the view that an object’s viewpoint-relative looks consist in features of the light, including relational features, coming from the object to the viewpoint. Problems for this proposal are discussed

Simon Prosser

Sensing Motion

Abstract: The perception of motion presents a number of puzzles that, until relatively recently, have been neglected due to a focus on the perception of objects and the properties they possess at a given time. I shall discuss two such puzzles. Firstly, I shall discuss the question of whether the perception of motion can be reconciled with the claim that experience presents us with the state of the world at an instant. Contrary to specious present theorists, I shall argue for a positive answer. Secondly, a question can be raised as to whether all creatures must experience the same phenomenological ‘speed’ when perceiving the same moving objects. I shall discuss the implications of this for the phenomenal content of motion and experience, and perhaps for experience in general.

Ema Sullivan-Bissett and Paul Noordhof

Delusional Experience and Relationist Accounts of Perception

Abstract: We relate theoretical approaches to monothematic delusion with currently fashionable approaches to the nature of experience. Certain kinds of anomalous experiences are plausibly central to the production of related monothematic delusions because they provide an immediate explanation of their monothematic character. One-factor approaches, most famously developed and defended by Brendan Maher, hold that monothematic delusions are a normal response to such anomalous experiences (Maher (1974), (1988), (1999), (2003), (2006)). Two-factor approaches identify a clinically abnormal pattern of reasoning in addition to the anomalous experience to explain the resultant delusion (e.g. Davies, Coltheart, Langdon, and Breen (2001); Stone and Young (1997)). In the first section of this paper, we argue that the case for two-factor theories has not been made. It has involved a misreading of Maher’s work and an underestimation of the resources available to the one-factor theory.

The plausibility of a one-factor theory is obviously related to the notion of experience to which it appeals. Our defence will, thus, turn to this issue and here we may join forces with two-factor theorists since the plausibility of their approach also depends upon the same understanding of experience. We shall argue that the relationist account of experience distinctive of naive realism is in conflict with these two so-called empiricist approaches to delusion for a certain class of cases: those involving experience with positive hallucinatory elements. Our target relationist cannot accept that the response of the subject with a delusion to such experiences is a normal response to anomalous experiences because they deny that there are experiences with the relevant phenomenal content.

We consider two lines of response to our argument. The first is that although some relationists deny that experiences with positive hallucinatory elements have the relevant phenomenal content, they make other claims which are sufficient to explain how to accommodate this class of delusions within the empiricist framework (that is, a framework which has an explanatory role for experience in an explanation of delusion formation). We explain why this is not so. The second line of response is that, even if we are right, all this shows is that delusions putatively based upon anomalous experience with positive hallucinatory elements should be dealt with in another fashion. The relationist can just go disjunctive about this class of monothematic delusions. We do not deny the possibility of such a manoeuvre but we claim that it involves a theoretical cost distinctively different from other disjunctivisms. There are no obvious disjunctive explananda for which a disjunctive account of monothematic delusions can play an explanatory role.

We conclude that our target relationist rules out the one-factor account in cases of positive delusion and this is a considerable cost: the relationist has to recognise a difference in kind in the class of monothematic delusions, a difference that there is no reason to recognise from the study of monothematic delusion alone.


4th June 2016
6th June 2016


School II
United College, St Salvator's Quad
St Andrews, KY169AL United Kingdom
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Other events in Epistemology: Current Themes

Sep 2019: Epistemology Seminar: Alex Worsnip (UNC)

Jul 2019: Group Agency and Belief Workshop

Dec 2015: Epistemic Incoherence

Jan 2016: Philosophical Progress

May 2016: Testimony and Context

May 2016: Complex Disagreement

Sep 2016: The Metaphysics of Knowledge I: Epistemic Indexing

Jun 2017: Blame and Norms

Dec 2017: Metaphysics of Knowledge Workshop II