Are the senses silent? Travis’s argument from looks

Keith A. Wilson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Many philosophers and scientists take perceptual experience, whatever else it involves, to be representational. That is, to perceive an object via one or more of our senses is to represent it as being some particular way: that tomato is red, round, sweet, and so on. In ‘The Silence of the Senses’, Charles Travis (2004; 2013) argues that this view involves a kind of category mistake, and consequently that perceptual experiences are non-representational. However, the details of this argument are somewhat obscure, and have been widely misinterpreted or misunderstood by Travis’s representationalist opponents. In this paper, I offer an interpretation of one of Travis’s central arguments—the argument from looks—which appears to present a genuine and important challenge to representational views of perception. I argue that this challenge may be (pace Travis) surmountable, but does place a substantial burden upon the representationalist to explain how the alleged contents of perceptual experience come to feature in our conscious mental lives. Alternatively, if they do not so feature, then perceptual representation fails to play its alleged explanatory role, and so is superfluous.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Philosophy of Charles Travis
Subtitle of host publicationLanguage, Thought, and Perception
EditorsJohn Collins, Tamara Dobler
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9780198783916
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • philosophy
  • perceptual content
  • representationalism
  • intentionalism
  • naïve realism
  • Charles Travis


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