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Three mistakes about the senses


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Vender, D 2010 , 'Three mistakes about the senses', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Three widespread assumptions about the human senses are challenged. These
are that we have five senses, that they function independently, and, for the
purposes of theorising perception, that vision can serve as a typical sense.
These assumptions underlie most philosophical treatments of the senses in
epistemology and the philosophy of perception, but they are mistaken.
Contemporary attempts to count senses generally use some combination
of four criteria based on sensations, organs, stimulus and behaviour. I examine
these criteria and show them to be separately insufficient and jointly
incoherent. In particular, the pluralism of physical theory and difficulties with
dividing primary from secondary qualities complicate counting according to
stimulus, while the other criteria advise large but indefinite counts.
I consider recent proposals defending the traditional count of five based
on language use, proprioceptive awareness, and pragmatic utility, and reject
them all. The traditional count is best explained on the basis of differences
in sensory experience, coupled with easily identified organs, together with a
mistaken tendency to separate the perceiver from the world.
Rather than attempting a more critically informed count, I argue that attempts
to count the senses are currently based on false presuppositions regarding
the individuation of the senses. I show that the traditional sense modalities
are complex and do not function separately. This is achieved by considering
the sense of balance, whereby the perceiver participates in dynamical relations.
Balance is implicit in all perceiving.
Assumptions that cause difficulties in counting the senses are traced to
a preoccupation with vision, which is usually treated as a single sense only
instrumentally controlled by the perceiver. I point out that understanding
seeing has historically been a misguided effort to explain what is seen on the
basis of two-dimensional retinal images and a separation of perception from
By noting the dependence of seeing on looking, I argue that seeing has been
misrepresented in philosophical accounts of perception. What follows is that
some of the important problems of epistemology have arisen from attempts
to base theories of perception on a false picture of seeing. The philosophical
views of Thomas Reid are used throughout to evaluate the modern debates
and place them in a wider historical context.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Vender, D
Keywords: epistemology, perception,cognition,senses,vision
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