Paul Snowdon

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception

Published in print July 2015 | ISBN: 9780199600472
Published online May 2014 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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‘Sense-data’ is a modern term for a long-standing idea, earlier expressed in the language of ‘ideas’ and ‘impressions’. On the dominant use of ‘sense-data’ it stands for an entity present in perceptual (and other) experiences which fundamentally has a mental nature and possesses certain qualitative properties which the subject apprehends. The term ‘sense-data’ was also used by Moore and his followers to stand simply for the objects present in experience, the issue for them being what nature did sense-data have. It was also employed by Ayer as an expression in a language the use of which was somehow helpful for describing experiences without however standing for postulated objects. The evolution of the term is described and discussed. The dominant theory that the term is attached to thinks of experience as an act relating to an object, the sense-datum. It is claimed that this structure means it is misleading to call it a theory of perception at all. The major flaw in arguments for the theory is that this assumption is lacking in any justification. When followed through this act/object analysis of experience faces considerable problems. Its popularity reflects an obsession by philosophers with visual perception. If the theory is rejected there still remain many different approaches to the analysis of perception.

Keywords: sense-data; ideas; argument from illusion; argument from hallucination; act/object analysis; content; vehicle; indeterminacy of experience; Locke; Berkeley; Moore; Austin; Ayer

Article.  10988 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Mind

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