PUBLICATIONS AND WORKS IN PROGRESS
Comments/feedback on the following much appreciated. You can reach me at: Todd.Ganson@oberlin.edu
Sensory malfunctions, limitations, and trade-offs, forthcoming in Synthese
Teleological accounts of sensory normativity treat normal functioning for a species as a standard: sensory error involves departure from normal functioning for the species, i.e. sensory malfunction. Straightforward reflection on sensory trade-offs reveals that normal functioning for a species can exhibit failures of accuracy. Acknowledging these failures of accuracy is central to understanding the adaptations of a species. To make room for these errors we have to go beyond the teleological framework and invoke the notion of an ideal observer from vision science. The notion of an ideal observer also sheds light on the important distinction between sensory malfunction and sensory limitation.
What does possessing sensory powers amount to for a biological organism? My starting-point in addressing this issue is Dretske’s brief characterization of the sensory: “think of an organism’s sensory systems as channels for the receipt of information about their external environment.” Relying on central concepts of the mathematical theory of information and of game-theoretic treatments of signaling, I develop a novel account of biological sensory powers in line with Dretske’s characterization.
In this paper I present an argument against the familiar claim that we can successfully see something only if that thing make a causal contribution to our state of seeing. My argument centers on the case of seeing cast shadows. I propose a different constraint on successful seeing, one that is a better fit with this and other relevant cases.
Aristotle on Perception as Representation, forthcoming in a volume in the series Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind
Aristotle speaks of perception as having a content that is assessable in terms of truth and falsity. Why might Aristotle have been drawn to a view of perception as representational (as opposed to presentational) in nature? That is the question I aim to address in this paper. I am inclined to think that Aristotle takes perception to be representational rather than presentational because perception sometimes involves having in mind things which are not, strictly speaking, present.
On the Generality of Experience: A Reply to French and Gomes, Philosophical Studies 173 (2016), 3223-3229 (w/Neil Mehta)
According to phenomenal particularism, external particulars are sometimes part of the phenomenal character of experience. Mehta (J Philos 111:311–331, 2014) criticizes this view, and French and Gomes (Philos Stud 173(2):451–460, 2016) have attempted to show that phenomenal particularists have the resources to respond to Mehta’s criticisms. We argue that French and Gomes have failed to appreciate the force of Mehta’s original arguments. When properly interpreted, Mehta’s arguments provide a strong case in favor of phenomenal generalism, the view that external particulars are never part of phenomenal character.
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.
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.
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.