July 19, 2014
Comments/feedback on the following much appreciated. You can reach me at: Todd.Ganson@oberlin.edu
This paper is probably my best and most accessible overall:
Sensory Capacities (w/Ben Bronner) new draft 7/20/14
Scientists attribute sensory powers to a wide variety of entities including microorganisms, robots, and even plants. Meanwhile, recent philosophical approaches to the sensory have the consequence that attributions in the cases mentioned are systematically false. Our goal is to develop an alternative account that makes sense of attributions of sensory powers in various disciplines, including sensory biology, machine vision, and plant science. Our framework allows us to distinguish a broader, more inclusive type of sensory capacity investigated by the disciplines just mentioned from a narrower, less inclusive type studied by branches of psychology.
Visual Indeterminacy, currently working on revisions
In this paper I discuss a source of error distinct from visual illusion and visual hallucination. Sometimes viewing conditions bring about a loss of acuity which negatively impacts performance on visual tasks relative to some baseline of performance. We might say that the visual states arising in these viewing conditions leave open a range of options. Historically philosophers have suggested that this sort of visual indeterminacy presents a problem for the sense-datum theory of perception, a problem easily avoided if we instead think of perception as a matter of representation. I argue that this gets things exactly backward: visual indeterminacy phenomena make trouble for standard representational views of perception, not the sense-datum theory.
Skepticism about Meaning in Life (w/Ben Bronner) new draft 7/20/2014
Traditional worries about whether life can be meaningful typically depend on the assumption that the sort of value required for meaning is objective value. We argue that skepticism about meaning can arise even if meaning does not require engaging in objectively worthwhile activities.
The following is a paper I wrote for an upcoming conference in Sweden organized by the research programme Representation and Reality: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Aristotelian Tradition:
Was Aristotle a naive realist?, new draft 7/2/2014
I raise some doubts about Mark Eli Kalderon’s claim that Aristotle’s theory of color perception is a version of naive realism and defend an alternative interpretation.
Are Color Experiences Representational?, Philosophical Studies 166 (2013), 1-20
The dominant view among philosophers of perception is that color experiences, like color judgments, are essentially representational: as part of their very nature color experiences possess representational contents which are either accurate or inaccurate. My starting point in assessing this view is Sydney Shoemaker’s familiar account of color perception. After providing a sympathetic reconstruction of his account, I show how plausible assumptions at the heart of Shoemaker’s theory make trouble for his claim that color experiences represent the colors of things. I consider various ways of trying to avoid the objection, and find all of the responses wanting. My conclusion is that we have reason to be skeptical of the orthodox view that color experiences are constitutively representational.
Burge’s Defense of Perceptual Content, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research 88 (2014), 556-573 (w/Ben Bronner and Alex Kerr)
A central question, if not the central question, of philosophy of perception is whether sensory states have a nature similar to thoughts about the world, whether they are essentially representational. According to the content view, at least some of our sensory states are, at their core, representations with contents that are either accurate or inaccurate. Tyler Burge’s Origins of Objectivity is the most sustained and sophisticated defense of the content view to date. His defense of the view is problematic in several ways. The most significant problem is that his approach does not sit well with mainstream perceptual psychology.
Visual Prominence and Representationalism, Philosophical Studies 164 (2013), 405-418 (w/Ben Bronner)
A common objection to representationalism is that a representationalist view of phenomenal character cannot accommodate the effects that shifts in covert attention have on visual phenomenology: covert attention can make items more visually prominent than they would otherwise be without altering the content of visual experience. Recent empirical work on attention casts doubt on previous attempts to advance this type of objection to representationalism and it also points the way to an alternative development of the objection.
Everyday Thinking about Bodily Sensations, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (2010), 523-34 (w/Dorit Ganson)
In the opening section of this paper we spell out an account of our naïve view of bodily sensations that is of historical and philosophical significance. This account of our shared view of bodily sensations captures common ground between Descartes, who endorses an error theory regarding our everyday thinking about bodily sensations, and Berkeley, who is more sympathetic with commonsense. In the second part of the paper we develop an alternative to this account and discuss what is at stake in deciding between these two ways of understanding our everyday view. In the third and final part of the paper we offer an argument in favor of our alternative.
The rational/non-rational distinction in Plato’s Republic, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy XXXVI (2009), 179-197
My attempt to show that Plato has a unified approach to the rationality of belief and the rationality of action, and that his defense of this approach is a powerful one.
Reid’s Rejection of Intentionalism, Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy IV (2008), 245-263
The result of my efforts over a number of years to understand what Reid’s distinction between sensation and perception amounts to. In the final section I argue that Reid has a coherent view on the nature of color, but an incoherent view of perception.
Finding Freedom through Complexity, Review of Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?, in Science 319, 22 Feb 2008, 1045
The Platonic Approach to Sense-Perception, History of Philosophy Quarterly 22 (2005), 1-15
This paper isn’t so much an attempt to defend a thesis as an attempt to outline what I take to be a distinctive approach to sense-perception that is shared by Platonists as different from one another as Plato, Plotinus, and Schopenhauer.
Third-Century Peripatetics on Vision, in Lyco of Troas and Hieronymus of Rhodes, RUSCH vol. XII (2004), edd. WW. Fortenbaugh and S. White, 355-362
Later Peripatetics routinely invoke emanations from sense-objects in spite of Aristotle’s insistence that visible objects as such do not release anything into the medium of vision. However, we need not suppose that these later Peripatetics are drawing on the effluence theories of the Atomists or Empedocleans. I suggest that they are developing their own account, which has its roots in Aristotle’s remarks on vision.
Alexander of Aphrodisias on the Role of Color Appearances, Ancient Philosophy XXIII (2003), 383-393
Alexander of Aphrodisias posits differences in color appearance that do not reduce to differences in what color is perceived, and appeals to these color appearances in his account of how we perceive certain spatial properties of objects.
Reid on Colour, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 10 (2002), 231-242
For a more up-to-date statement of my reading of Reid on color, see “Reid’s Rejection of Intentionalism” above.
A Puzzle concerning the Aristotelian Notion of a Medium of Sense-Perception, Die Phil. der Antike Bd. 14 (2002), 65-73
Once upon a time I attempted to find a coherent notion of a medium of sense-perception in Peripatetic writings. I failed.
Appetitive Desire in Later Plato, History of Philosophy Quarterly 18 (2001), 227-237
In his later works Plato alters his characterization of appetitive desires in order to secure the conclusion that there is a genuine unity to the class of appetitive desires. This alternative to the view in the Republic is pretty cool.
Berkeley, Reid, and Thomas Brown on the Origins of our Spatial Concepts, Reid Studies 3 (1999), 49-62
I argue that Reid successfully undermines Berkeley’s suggestion that the acquisition of our spatial concepts is an intelligible response to our bodily sensations. Thomas Brown’s attempt to respond to Reid by appeal to sensations of the overlooked “muscle sense” fails.
Democritus against Reducing Sensible Qualities, Ancient Philosophy XIX (1999), 201-215
There is evidence that Democritus produced a number of reductive definitions of sensible qualities, accounts of colors, flavors, and the like that identify these properties with microphysical properties of objects. There is also evidence that Democritus resisted a reductive approach to such qualities. This paper is an attempt to reconstruct Democritus’ worries about the reductive approach.
What’s Wrong with the Aristotelian Theory of Sensible Qualities?, Phronesis XLII (1997), 263-282
An attempt to show that Aristotle’s view of sensible qualities isn’t so bad after all.