Transparency in perceptual experience [dissertation]

I am now looking at my computer and so am having a visual experience of it. When I try to introspect and focus on my visual experience itself I am only able to fix on my laptop. My visual experience is thus ‘transparent’ to me. Many philosophers think that this shows us something interesting about the nature of visual experience. I disagree. Instead, I argue that the significance of transparency is epistemic in that it forces us to ask how we are able to think and know about our own visual experiences given that we cannot introspect them. My answer to this question is that our visual experiences are postulates that we introduce in order to explain certain epistemic and behavioral phenomena that we observe in ourselves and others. Visual experience, then, is not something introspectively evident to us; rather, our understanding of it is, even in our own case, theoretical. [Available by request. Full dissertation abstract here.]


Acquiring a concept of visual experience [forthcoming, The Philosophical Quarterly]

The transparency of visual experience (transparency) is a widely held and important thesis in the philosophy of perception. Critical discussion of transparency focuses largely, if not exclusively, on examples of visual experiences, such as visual blur, which are taken to be counter examples to transparency. Here I consider a novel objection to transparency that does not depend on intuitions about cases. The objection is that if transparency is true then we cannot explain our ability to think about our own visual experiences. In response to this objection I develop an account of how we are able to think about our own visual experiences that is compatible with transparency.


Title redacted for blind review [under review]

The thought that illusions somehow threaten our direct perceptual access to the environment continues to tempt philosophers of perception. Contemporary writers like Antony, Brewer, Genone and Travis hold that illusion poses no such threat because, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as illusion. These authors conceive of the way an object looks, or otherwise appears, as a mind-independent feature of that object. Thus, when a white object looks pink in red light, our experience is not illusory because the object possesses the property we experience it as having: the mind-independent property of looking pink. Against this, I argue that there are aspects of certain perceptual phenomena, like the Hermann Grid illusion and chromatic adaptational effects, that are endogenously produced and so cannot be understood in terms of the awareness of mind-independent features of the relevant stimuli.


Title redacted for Blind Review [under review]

Many claims about the phenomenology of visual experience involve the idea that in vision we experience items as mind-independent. While I agree that it is natural to describe what we see as mind-independent, it is difficult to make sense of the idea that things look mind-independent. Instead, I locate mind-independence in the content of a certain propositional attitude type, which I call seeming, that is very closely tied to visual phenomenology. In particular I argue that it is the spatial character of visual phenomenology that makes the visible world seem mind-independent to us. I argue for this thesis on the basis of the role of occlusion in visual experience.


Most philosophers writing today hold that if there are sense-data they must be non-physical and mind-dependent objects of perceptual awareness. Consequently, most philosophers writing today hold that there are no sense-data. However, as G.E. Moore introduced the term ‘sense-data’, sense-data are simply ‘things given or presented to the senses’. If we accept that there are sense-data in Moore’s sense must we accept that they are non-physical and mind-dependent? I argue that this question turns on how we think about the role of the argument of illusion vis-a-vis Moore’s sense-data. More concretely, I will argue that we can find justification for a belief in the Moorean sense-data even if we reject the traditional argument from illusion. [Draft available by request.]

sense-data and visual phenomenology.


The transparency of experience has been appealed to in the course of arguments for and against nearly every philosophical theory of the nature of perceptual experience. Here I show that these arguments rely on a false conception of transparency and so fail. I then show that when transparency is formulated properly it can only play an indirect role in deciding between metaphysical theories of perception. [Draft available by request.]

Transparency and
the metaphysics of
experience