ALP Project Abstract

Perception has a number of limits:

(I) The upper limit of perception: the boundary between perception and belief or other cognitive attitudes

(II) The lower limit of perception: that which fixes the minimal conditions on perception

(III) The outer limit of perception: the limit beyond which perceptual mediation—that is, perception of one thing via perception of another—cannot occur

Philosophers of perception are concerned with the limits of perception when they ask, for example, whether the property of being a pine tree can figure in the content of visual perceptual experience, or only in a belief arrived at on the basis of a visual perceptual experience of just, say, colours and shapes. (Siegel 2006) This question, about the ‘admissible contents of experience’, is a question about (I), the upper limit of perception. One candidate minimal condition on perception is the differentiation condition: if this condition is met, a perceived object is distinguished in experience from a background. (See, for example, French forthcoming) Whether or not perception requires that the differentiation condition be met is one thing at stake in exploring (II), the lower limit of perception. Questions about perceptual mediation occur most naturally with respect to non-visual modalities. For example, when we hear sounds, do we thereby hear the sources of those sounds? (For example, Nudds 2014) And is tactile perception necessarily mediated by awareness of our bodies? (For example, Martin 1992) These questions are about (III), the outer limit of perception.

It seems likely that thinking about art will help us to understand the limits of perception in part (but not exclusively) by shedding new light on these questions. For example, reflection on the representational powers of different kinds of art works (as well as their representational shortcomings) may help us to understand what is, can and could never be represented in perceptual experience as well as the minimal conditions required for perception. Thinking about how photographs and sound recordings do (or do not) afford access to other items, such as the subjects of photographs, original sounds or their sources, may help us to understand both the current outer limits of perception and how they might, in principle or in practice, be extended. And reflection on rhythm or certain forms of dance or video art might throw further light on other kinds of ‘limits’ involved in perception, such as the temporal limits that bound the specious present, or the spatial limits of the visual field. (For discussion of these limits see Soteriou 2011)

We aim to bring together philosophers of perception, aestheticians and arts practitioners to consider whether (and if so, how) art can help us to understand or illuminate the limits of perception. Whilst this may in part take the form of considering the impact of art on these questions about perception which philosophers of perception are interested in, it should not be thought that the direction of influence will be all one way. For one, aestheticians can also benefit from considering work in the philosophy of perception on its limits. For example, aestheticians who argue that some artworks are abstract objects (see Mag Uidhir 2013 for discussion), or that rhythm is intentional (Hamilton 2011), commit themselves to a certain view of the upper limits of perception. And aestheticians who argue that in perceiving an artwork we perceive features of the person who created it commit to a view of perception’s outer limits. Learning from work in the philosophy of perception on these limits is necessary for determining the plausibility of these views in aesthetics.

We are especially keen to identify issues of mutual interest to all parties (philosophers of perception, aestheticians and arts practitioners and professionals) that fall under the ‘limits of perception’ umbrella, and a shared vocabulary with which to discuss them.