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Transparency in Perceptual Experience

  • Author(s): Andrews, Austin
  • Advisor(s): Lee, Geoffrey;
  • Campbell, John
  • et al.

Perceptual experience, and visual experience in particular, is often held to be 'transparent' in that when you try to focus on your experience you find that you can only focus on the subject matter of your experience. For example, when you look at your hand and try to focus on your visual experience of it, it is natural to admit that the only thing you find yourself able to focus on is your hand. But, of course, hands and visual experiences are two quite different things. In this way your experience, but not your hand, is transparent to you. In the dissertation I discuss the so- called transparency of experience at length.

The first half of the book aims to make the idea of transparency of philosophically precise. The results of this section of the book generate an understanding of transparency which differs in important ways from how transparency is typically understood in the literature. The second half of the book utilizes this understanding of transparency to query the philosophical significance of transparency. In this portion of the book I argue that transparency is not very illuminating when it comes to questions concerning the nature of perceptual experience. Most philosophers who write about transparency disagree with this and the reason for this is that most philosophers have a mistaken understanding of transparency. When one understands transparency properly, it is clear that the truth of transparency would have no direct impact on what we should say about the metaphysics of perceptual experience. I then argue that transparency is significant from an epistemological point of view. The basic thought I elaborate on is that if our perceptual experiences are transparent then they are first-personally elusive in the sense that when we, the subjects of experience, go to look for our perceptual experiences they are nowhere to be found. Thus transparency raises a number of puzzles concerning our ability to think and know about our own perceptual experiences given their elusiveness. After raising these puzzles I propose a solution to them which treats our understanding of visual experience as theoretical, rather than as something which is given to us introspectively.

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