Sense-Data | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
which materialism in the preferred sense cannot accommodate. I propose . physical sciences requires us to ascribe the phenomenal . relation between the awareness and its object is that of 'know- .. interpreting neutral data which remain. In the philosophy of perception, the theory of sense data was a popular view held in the early 20th century by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, C. D. Broad, H. H. Price, A. J. Ayer, and G. E. Moore. Sense data are taken to be mind- dependent objects whose existence and sense data are key to understanding abstract art's relationship with the. These objects interact in the sort of way that stones do: by impact and possibly also Such a materialist allows the concept of material thing to be extended so as to . A person is a materialist in this sense if he is interested mainly in sensuous . of the causal roles that they play in relation to observational phenomena—e.g.
My immediate experience, when in the normal case I look around me, consists in the awareness of "full-bodied physical objects" Merleau-Ponty, ; Firth, ; see also the discussion in Austin, First-person perceptual judgments are not mediated; I am not aware of making inferences from a subjective awareness of sense-data to the objective judgments I form about physical objects.
Coherence Objections Perceptual experience is indeterminate. If I briefly see a speckled hen, I see that it has some speckles, but I am not aware of it as having a definite number of speckles. According to the sense-data view, the sense-datum of the hen I am aware of necessarily has the properties it appears to have.
Hence the sense-datum of the hen has an indeterminate number of speckles. Yet if what I am aware of when I see the hen is a visual shape, an actual existing speckled sense-datum, then surely it must have a determinate number of speckles; this seems to lead to the contradiction in the properties that we attribute to the sense-datum Barnes, ; but compare Jackson, There are no clear-cut identity conditions for sense-data, and hence no principled grounds for answering such questions as, how many visual sense-data are present in my visual field?
How long do they last? To this objection the sense-data theorist might well reply that in this respect sense-data are not logically worse off than many other kinds of entity; the identity conditions of ordinary physical objects are similarly not clear-cut Jackson, A further problem consists in saying where sense-data exist.
Are they in some private space of which only the subject can be aware? Or do they exist in physical space? If the former, we need to explain how private subjective spaces are related to a common public space. If the latter, then we need to provide some account of how the properties of sense-data relate to those of the physical objects which are situated at the same location Barnes, He was prepared to accept the existence of inner states and processes, provided they were connected with outer criteria Wittgenstein,remarkand footnote to Crucially, the nature of this relation is left unexplained.
Attempts to explain the relation, it is claimed, lead to a regress Ryle,ch. This objection is discussed more fully below, in section 5c. Epistemological Objections There is a general worry, originating in the work of Descartes and Locke, that the acceptance of entities equivalent to sense-data, when these are interpreted as distinct from physical objects, leads to problems in the theory of knowledge.
If we are only aware of sense-data, and not of the physical objects themselves, how can we be sure that the properties of physical objects resemble those that appear to us? How can we even be sure that physical objects do exist? Isn't the sense-data theorist saddled with a serious and insoluble sceptical problem about the external world? The acceptance of sense-data, it is argued, leads inevitably to idealism or scepticism.
Such criticisms have been widely advanced, but it is not at all clear how cogent they are. On any theory of perception problems about the relation between appearance and reality can be raised; they do not attach only to the sense-data view for some discussion, see: Armstrong, ; Jackson, ; Robinson, ; M.
The Underlying Tensions in the Idea Advocates of sense-data have produced many responses to these specific objections to sense-data. But no adequate assessment is possible without a proper examination of the underlying features of the original sense-datum theory, which give rise to the various difficulties listed.
All the objections above trace back to deeper tensions arising from three central claims that form part of the original conception of sense-data. These are first summarized, before being subjected to a closer examination: Sense-data form a homogenous class of entities, whose members can in principle exist independently of acts of awareness: The awareness of a sense-datum is a sui generis act of awareness, involving a two-term real relation between an act of mind and a particular existent: The awareness of a sense-datum is a form of sensory experience that somehow provides the subject directly with knowledge of facts about the sense-datum: These three features of the sense-datum theory will be examined in turn.
The Class of Sense-Data Do all sense-data, defined merely as the objects of immediate awareness in veridical, illusory and hallucinatory experiences, belong to the same ontological category? This question leads to a number of further questions: How are sense-data related to physical objects?
Are some of the sense-data that occur in ordinary veridical perception identical with the ordinary physical objects we perceive, or are they in all cases distinct from them? Can sense-data have properties of which the subject is not aware?
Assuming that we can make sense of the idea of acts of awareness, and that the formal notion of sense-data as the objects of such acts can be given a clear meaning, the precise ontological status of sense-data is a further issue, a matter of some debate.
It should not be assumed without further argument that they constitute a homogenous class, and that, for example, the type of sense-datum present in a hallucination is of the same type as that present in the veridical experience of an external physical object. As we have noted, in the original formulations of the concept, sense-data are initially introduced in a neutral way — the idea being that their exact ontological status is a matter to be investigated.
To the extent that a sense-datum is present to experience, and the subject is aware of that sense-datum as having a property F, it follows that the sense-datum must have that property F; but arguably it is possible that the sense-datum also has some other property G of which the subject is not aware Moore, ; Ayer ; and Jackson, It is therefore possible that, in veridical perception, what the subject is immediately aware of is a sense-datum that is in fact identical with a physical object, whereas in hallucinations the sense-data present are non-physical items Bermudez, Awareness as a Real Relation How can the nature of the relation involved between the act of awareness and the sense-datum be further characterized?
Should the sense-datum present in experience be understood as a particular entity, distinct from the act of awareness or acquaintanceor should it be analyzed as an aspect of the character of the act? If the relation is modeled upon perceiving, then the view leads to an infinite regress.
For suppose we try to analyze the situation where S sees some physical object X by the postulation of an additional entity, a sense-datum Y, such that in seeing X, S is directly aware of the sense-datum Y; suppose further, that the relation of direct awareness of a sense-datum is explained as similar to the relation of seeing an object; then by a like argument, in order to explain how S can be aware of the sense-datum Y, it seems that we must postulate a third entity Z, in order to account for the relation of S to Y, and so on ad infinitum.
The problem here is exacerbated by the fact that such acts of awareness also have a peculiar metaphysical character that distinguishes them in general from other kinds of acts. But it is hard to make sense of the claim that act and object are distinct entities. It is not clear how any relation could play this role.
Moore himself drew attention to the fact that when I try to focus upon my act of awareness, all that I am aware of is the object of that act; I am not in any direct way conscious of the act itself. Introspection is of no help here, for even when I introspect I cannot discern anything other than the object I am aware of in having an act, the sense-datum. For example, when I see the oval petal of a blue flower, I am, supposedly, directly aware of a blue, oval shaped sense-datum.
All that closer introspection of my consciousness reveals is just the very same blue oval shape that was there in the first place. So what grounds are there for saying that acts take place, acts that are distinct from their objects?
The act-object conception of the awareness of sense-data is also connected with a fundamental tension in the notion, concerning the extent to which the subject becomes aware of all and only the properties of the sense-datum. The tension is between the idea that the sense-datum has just those properties of which the subject is immediately aware of in being aware of the sense-datum, and the idea that there are further properties that belong to the sense-datum independently of whether the subject is aware of them.
This tension leads to contradictory claims about the status of sense-data. Thus Russell held that sense-data are private to the subject ; more consistently, Moore held that it was an open question whether sense-data were private — this was not a feature of sense-data that followed automatically from the definition of the notion One attempt to avoid these various difficulties is the adverbial analysis of experience, discussed below in section 6b.
Awareness as Both Sensing and Knowing In what way does an act of awareness, whereby a sense-datum entity is experienced, involve knowledge of the particular sense-datum that is present?
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How is the phenomenal or sensory aspect of experience related to the employment of concepts when the subject attends to the sense-datum and is aware of it as belonging to a certain kind? Arguably the most fundamental difficulty arising from the notion of sense-data is the extent, and manner, in which concepts are involved in the awareness of a sense-datum.
As Sellars pointed out, in many writings on sense-data there was an equivocation between treating the awareness of sense-data as, i an extensional non-epistemic relation between the mind and an independent existing entity, or alternatively, ii as a form of knowing see, in particular, Sellars, On the former view, being aware of a sense-datum is an extensional relation; the subject is related by awareness to a real entity that has concrete as opposed to abstract existence.
On this view, being aware of a sense-datum is not a form of knowledge; it is more like a state of raw, unconceptualized sensation. The emphasis is simply upon the qualitative nature of phenomenal experience.
But, on the alternative interpretation, the awareness of sense-data as a treated as a cognitive state or process, in which the mind attends to and grasps what is immediately before it, in a manner that somehow involves a classification into kinds.
On this later epistemic view, the awareness of a sense-datum seems to require the exercise of concepts of at least a low-level kind. Russell was happy to classify the direct awareness relation of the mind to a particular existing object as knowledge. This form of knowledge was not considered by Russell to be propositional, although it did involve attention Russell, However, if the view is taken that all knowing involves classification, and hence the use of concepts, the issue is not so clear, as C.
Lewis pointed out in presenting an alternative to the sense-data account, a neo-Kantian dual-component view of experience Lewis, If the fact that something seems red to me is accounted for by my having knowledge by awareness of a red visual sense-datum, this suggests that I am aware of it as red, and this seems to require that I have the concept of redness.
Equally, for a subject to attend to a particular entity suggests that the subject is able to single out that entity out by virtue of being aware of certain of its properties, which seems again to require the use of sortal concepts, so that the subject can conceive of the object as a unity. In order to begin to clarify the distinct issues involved, Sellars holds that we need to distinguish more clearly between a the phenomenal or sensory aspects presented in experience, and b the concepts perhaps of a low-level sortinclinations to form beliefs, and other intentional aspects of experience.
These points about the distinction between the phenomenal and conceptual aspects of experience are connected with the interpretation of the awareness of a sense-datum as a two-place relation between act and object, albeit an act of a non-intentional kind connecting two existing relata.
In some manner knowledge originates in, and is intimately tied up with the conceptual aspects of perceptual experiences. Yet this fact does not necessarily imply that the phenomenal aspect of perceptual experience should itself be analyzed on the model of intentional acts, such as thoughts about states of affairs.
A related issue is the problem of how the term "immediately" is to be understood in attempts to explicate the notion of sense-data. The term is sometimes understood in a psychological sense, as connected with how things appear from a subjective point of view. But then it can be objected that the sense-data view is simply false to experience: It is the notion of there being an apple in front of me that springs immediately to my mind when I see it — my mind is occupied with concepts relating to the physical object framework.
Discerning the actual complex pattern of color and shape given to me in experience is something that requires special training and attention. Similar criticisms affect the closely related attempts to introduce the notion of sense-data by appeal to ideas such as certainty or indubitability Price, If the awareness of sense-data in itself is not a conceptual or propositional state, the question of inference or otherwise does not arise.
A perceptual belief about the kind of object experienced would simply be causally related to a prior state of phenomenal consciousness. So, for example, it might be claimed that the non-conceptual awareness of a sense-datum prompts the subject to form a thought about the kinds of properties they are experiencing.
If, alternatively, awareness is construed as propositional in nature, then this seems to undermine the original conception of sense-data as accounting for the distinctive phenomenal, or sensory, aspects of experience. Responses to the Underlying Tensions Many of the major subsequent developments in the philosophical treatment of perceptual experience can be seen as attempts to grapple with the tensions in the original notions of sense-data.
Different lines of thought have been developed, according to which particular problem has been considered most pressing. There are four important approaches to the question of how perceptual experience should be analyzed that are particularly worthy of note. Direct Realism and Disjunctivism In recent times a number of philosophers have rejected the homogeneity assumption.
They argue that there is no single common type of presented entity in veridical, illusory and hallucinatory experiences. A claim of the form: The objects that perceiving subjects are immediately acquainted with in normal veridical perception are just the very physical objects that common sense tells us exist. There are no other entities involved as perceptual intermediaries. In other kinds of case, such as hallucinations, and possibly also illusions, there may be non-physical entities present in consciousness that are in some sense qualitatively similar to physical objects, but this subjective fact does not mean that there is a deeper similarity at the ontological level.
In refusing to allow any role for perceptual intermediaries in the normal case, this view amounts to the general theory of perception known as Direct Realism: Direct Realism involves a rejection of the Causal Theory of Perception, where the latter theory is understood as attempting to reductively analyze perceiving into separate components, involving an experience that is logically distinct from though causally related to the object perceived.
The Direct Realist view, however, still encounters the remaining two problems for the sense-datum theory highlighted above. In particular, clarification is required of nature of the non-causal simple relation of awareness that holds in the normal perceptual case. In the absence of a positive account, the simple perceiving relation remains obscure, and the grounds for introducing it are unclear Coates, and A further problem for this view is to make sense of the phenomenal or sensory similarity between the entities that occur in hallucinations and the objects that we are aware of in illusions and ordinary perception.
We need to account for the fact that the sense-data which occur in hallucinations have phenomenal qualities that resemble those which occur in the direct perception of the sensible properties of physical objects.
This problem becomes the more acute, to the extent that a scientific conception of objects and their properties is accepted. According to this view, it is more perspicuous to analyze certain types of statements, statements apparently about sense-datum particular entities and their properties, as implicit claims about the manner in which a subject experiences or senses.
The relational interpretation of appearances should be abandoned. According to this account, the awareness of an appearance of a certain kind should be modeled on the awareness of pains — pains are not distinct from experience, they are properties of experience.
So a claim such as: The idea is that b reveals more perspicuously the underlying logical form of the original claim a. As sketched out in this simple model, however, the proposed analysis is clearly defective. For we need to account for the way that more complex patterns of appearances are to be analyzed. For the sense-data theorist, there would be two sense-data involved, corresponding to the two objects apparently seen, with analogous properties; thus c would be analyzed along the lines of: The only analysis forthcoming is: So c now becomes analyzed as involving a state1 of sensing redly and roundly, and a distinct state 2 of sensing bluely and squarely.
However, in whatever precise form the adverbial view is developed, it still leaves unresolved the issue of the way in which concepts are involved in perceptual experience.
Objects of Perception
The Intentionalist Analysis of experience One other important development that took place towards the end of the twentieth century concerned what has become known variously as the representationalist view of experience, or as the intentional view or intentionalism.
This amounts to interpreting experience as a unitary representational state; seeing, hearing, etc, are fully intentional states whose structures in some way parallel that of thinking and desiring. The acts of awareness or sensing are interpreted no longer as involving relations to non-abstract existing entities, but are instead understood as involving special attitudes towards states of affairs that may or may not exist.
One extreme reductive version of this view was put forward by D. Armstrongwho tried to analyze perceiving purely in terms of the acquisition of beliefs and inclinations to believe. An alternative non-reductive version was advanced originally by Anscombeand has been taken up in various forms subsequently by a number of writers.
On this version, the phenomenal content of perceptual experience is distinguished from the intentional content of thoughts and beliefs, but is still understood to be intrinsically representational. For Anscombe, and others who adopt this view, experiences represent facts in a special sensory manner.
A question such as, "What did the subject see? So the descriptions involved give the intentional object of sensation, but need not refer to any actual existing item. The intentional object of sensation has no more reality than the fictional object of thought that is involved in my thought about "Zeus. A major problem for this view is to give a satisfactory account of the difference between the content of an experience such as: I can seem to see that there is something white in front of me, and I can think that there is something white in front of me; when I compare the two states, I am subjectively aware that there is a vivid difference in my consciousness, even though I am representing the same states of affairs.
If experiences and thoughts can have completely matching contents, there must be some further, independent feature of my consciousness in virtue of which they differ.
It is not clear whether the representational view really does justice to the way in which experiences involve phenomenal or sensory qualities actually present in consciousness. Some writers claim that the representational content of experience is non-conceptual, meaning that the subject need not exercise the concepts necessary to characterize the experiences they have Tye, and There is an important ambiguity here in the term "non-conceptual.
Alternatively, "non-conceptual" can be understood as relating to phenomenal consciousness, the feature that makes the difference between mere thought and experience. But then it is of no help simply to be told that this feature is representational in a nonconceptual sense — we are still stuck with the problem that the representational contents of experience and thought can in some cases match, and what has to be explained is the nature of the difference between them.
We require an account of the difference between the way that perceptual content represents and mere thought represents. It is arguable that the difference between them involves some intrinsic phenomenal aspect of consciousness, something actually present in experience that has more reality than a merely fictional object like "Zeus.
It is not clear that the parallel between perceptual experience and thought has been successfully made out on the intentionalist view compare also Martin Critical Realism A final possibility that has been canvassed is some form of dual-component analysis of perceptual consciousness, which attempts to do justice to both the phenomenal or sensory aspects, and also the conceptual aspects involved in experience.
Perceptual experience is analyzed as involving two quite different components: A dual component view can take many different forms. One leading exponent of this view was Wilfrid Sellars, who developed the Critical Realist view originally put forward by the group that included his father Roy Wood Sellars, G. A slight modification is to allow the void—or empty space—to exist also in its own right. These objects interact in the sort of way that stones do: The theory denies that immaterial or apparently immaterial things such as minds exist or else explains them away as being material things or motions of material things.
Types distinguished by departures from the paradigm In modern physics if interpreted realisticallyhowever, matter is conceived as made up of such things as electronsprotonsand mesonswhich are very unlike the hard, massy, stonelike particles of mechanical materialism. In it the distinction between matter and energy has also broken down. It is therefore natural to extend the word materialist beyond the above paradigm case of mechanical materialism to cover anyone who bases his theory on whatever it is that physics asserts ultimately to exist.
This sort may be called physicalistic materialism. Such a materialist allows the concept of material thing to be extended so as to include all of the elementary particles and other things that are postulated in fundamental physical theory—perhaps even continuous fields and points of space-time.
Inasmuch as some cosmologists even try to define the elementary particles themselves in terms of the curvature of space-time, there is no reason why a philosophy based on such a geometricized cosmology should not be counted as materialist, provided that it does not give an independent existence to nonphysical things such as minds. Still another departure from the paradigm is the theory that holds that everything is composed of material particles or physical entities generally but also holds that there are special laws applying to complexes of physical entities, such as living cells or brainsthat are not reducible to the laws that apply to the fundamental physical entities.
To avoid inconsistency, such a theory may have to allow that the ordinary laws of physics do not wholly apply within such complex entities. Another common relaxation of the paradigm is that which allows as compatible with materialism such a theory as epiphenomenalismaccording to which sensations and thoughts do exist in addition to material processes but are nonetheless wholly dependent on material processes and without causal efficacy of their own.
A form of double-aspect theory in which these properties were allowed to be causally effective would be a species of emergent materialism. Of course, more than one of these qualifications might be made at the same time.
Type distinguished by its view of history In the wider world, however, the word materialism may bring to mind dialectical materialismwhich was the orthodox philosophy of communist countries.
This is most importantly a theory of how changes arise in human historythough a general metaphysical theory lies in the background. They seem to hold merely that mental processes are dependent on or have evolved from material ones. Though they might be akin to emergent materialists, it is hard to be sure; their assertion that something new emerges at higher levels of organization might refer only to such things as that a computer is different from a mere heap of its components.
And if so, even an extreme physicalistic materialist could acquiesce in this view. The distinctive features of dialectical materialism would thus seem to lie as much in its being dialectical as in its being materialist.
Its dialectical side may be epitomized in three laws: Nondialectical philosophers find it hard, however, to interpret these laws in a way that does not make them into either platitudes or falsehoods. Perhaps because of the historical determinism implicit in dialectical materialism, and perhaps because of memories of the mechanical materialist theories of the 18th and 19th centuries, when physics was deterministic, it is popularly supposed that materialism and determinism must go together.
This is not so. As indicated below, even some ancient materialists were indeterministsand a modern physicalist materialism must be indeterministic because of the indeterminism that is built into modern physics.
Can Materialism Explain the Mind? - Article - Renovatio
Modern physics does imply, however, that macroscopic bodies behave in a way that is effectively deterministic, and, because even a single neuron nerve fibre is a macroscopic object by quantum-mechanical standards, a physicalistic materialist may still regard the human brain as coming near to being a mechanism that behaves in a deterministic way.
Types distinguished by their account of mind A rather different way of classifying materialist theories, which to some extent cuts across the classifications already made, emerges when the theories are divided according to the way in which a materialist accounts for minds. A central-state materialist identifies mental processes with processes in the brain.
An analytical behaviouriston the other hand, argues that, in talking about the mind, one is not talking about an actual entity, whether material e. According to the analytical behaviourist, there is no more of a problem for the materialist in having to identify mind with something material than there is in identifying such an abstraction as the average plumber with some concrete entity.
Analytical behaviourism differs from psychological behaviourismwhich is merely a methodological program to base theories on behavioral evidence and to eschew introspective reports.
Epistemic materialism is a theory that can be developed either in the direction of central-state materialism or in that of analytical behaviourism and that rests on the contention that the only statements that are intersubjectively testable are either observation reports about macroscopic physical objects or statements that imply such observation reports or are otherwise logically related to them. Before leaving this survey of the family of materialistic theories, a quite different sense of the word materialism should be noted in which it denotes not a metaphysical theory but an ethical attitude.
A person is a materialist in this sense if he is interested mainly in sensuous pleasures and bodily comforts and hence in the material possessions that bring these about. A person might be a materialist in this ethical and pejorative sense without being a metaphysical materialist, and conversely. An extreme physicalistic materialist, for example, might prefer a Beethoven recording to a comfortable mattress for his bed; and a person who believes in immaterial spirits might opt for the mattress.
Leucippus is known only through his influence on Democritus. According to Democritus, the world consists of nothing but atoms indivisible chunks of matter in empty space which he seems to have thought of as an entity in its own right.
These atoms can be imperceptibly small, and they interact either by impact or by hooking together, depending on their shapes.
The great beauty of atomism was its ability to explain the changes in things as due to changes in the configurations of unchanging atoms.
Can Materialism Explain the Mind?
The view may be contrasted with that of the earlier philosopher Anaxagoraswho thought that when, for example, the bread that a person eats is transformed into human flesh, this must occur because bread itself already contains hidden within itself the characteristics of flesh. Democritus thought that the soul consists of smooth, round atoms and that perceptions consist of motions caused in the soul atoms by the atoms in the perceived thing.
He differed from Democritus in that he postulated an absolute up-down direction in space, so that all atoms fall in roughly parallel paths.
To explain their impacts with one another, he then held that the atoms are subject to chance swerves—a doctrine that was also used to explain free will.
His ethicshowever, was not materialistic in the pejorative sense of the word. Modern materialism Materialism languished throughout the medieval periodbut the Epicurean tradition was revived in the first half of the 17th century in the atomistic materialism of the French Roman Catholic philosopher Pierre Gassendi. In putting forward his system as a hypothesis to explain the facts of experience, Gassendi showed that he understood the method characteristic of modern science, and he may well have helped to pave the way for corpuscular hypotheses in physics.
Gassendi was not thoroughgoing in his materialism inasmuch as he accepted on faith the Christian doctrine that people have immortal souls. His contemporary, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbesalso propounded an atomistic materialism and was a pioneer in trying to work out a mechanistic and physiological psychology. He also propounded a hedonistic ethics as well as an uncompromising atheismwhich provoked a reply even from the Deist Voltaire.
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London The 18th-century French materialists had been reacting against orthodox Christianity. The latter is notorious for his assertion that the brain secretes thought just as the liver secretes bile. This metaphor of secretion, previously used by P. Cabanisa late 18th-century French materialist, is no longer taken seriously, because to most philosophers it does not make sense to think of thought as a stuff.
The synthesis of urea the chief nitrogenous end product of protein metabolismdiscovered inbroke down the discontinuity between the organic and the inorganic in chemistrywhich had been a mainstay of nonmaterialistic biology.
There still seemed to be a gap, however, between the living and the nonliving, though E. Haeckela 19th-century German zoologist, thought that certain simple organisms could have been generated from inorganic matter and, indeed, that a certain simple sea creature may well be in process of generation in this way even now.
Though Haeckel was wrong, 20th-century biologists proposed much more sophisticated and more plausible theories of the evolution of life from inorganic matter. Haeckel and his contemporary, the British zoologist T. Huxleydid much to popularize philosophical accounts of the world that were consonant with the scientific thought of their time, but neither could be regarded as an extreme materialist.