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Project: Sense-Data: Phenomenology and Metaphysics

Sense-Data: Phenomenology and Metaphysics

A common-sense view is that when we perceive physical objects—tables and chairs—we simply become aware of those things and their properties. We become aware of a table and its squareness, a chair and its brownness. However, illusions and hallucinations have led some philosophers to doubt this. In illusion you misperceive an object. For example, you might perceive a table but experience it to be round when it is actually square. Or you might experience a chair as being red when it is really brown. In hallucination it seems to you as if you are perceiving an object, but you are not. For example, you might hallucinate that there is a table in front of you, when there is not.

Sense-data theory is rejected by many philosophers because it posits mental entities—entities that are usually taken to be non-physical. Such a view contradicts physicalism, understood as the view that everything about the mind can be explained in terms of broadly physical entities. However, we believe that this is not sufficient motivation to abandon sense-data theory. One reason is that it is not evident that physicalism is true. We shouldn’t reject sense-data theory if it turns out to be a good theory of perceptual experience, given that good theories of it are hard to find, but consider questioning physicalism instead. Moreover, it has not been demonstrated that sense-data theory is incompatible with physicalism. That an entity is mental does not alone entail that it is not also physical. If the mind is dependent on the brain, and the brain is physical, then might not sense-data be physical too? One main aim of this project is to understand the metaphysical commitments of sense-data theory utilising recent developments in metaphysics about what dependence and fundamentality are.

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