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A Defence of Direct Surface Realism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

Roderick Millar
Affiliation:
Cults Academy, Aberdeen

Extract

It is commonly believed that there are, in the world, large numbers of objects which occupy three-dimensional space. It is also commonly believed that at least a large part of people's experience is of the surfaces of these material objects. Nevertheless, arguments have been adduced in favour of the view that we are never aware of such surfaces but only of distinct items called ‘sense-data’. It has also been suggested that if we couple the view that experience is limited to sense-data with an empiricist thesis to the effect that knowledge is limited by experience then we are forced to the conclusion that we cannot have any knowledge of material objects. There have been many attempts to reconcile the sense-data thesis with common beliefs about material objects. Among them have been representative realism and phenomenalism. However, a view which may have found favour recently is the Quinean one that ‘the myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience’.1

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Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1982

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References

1 W. V. O. Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, in From a Logical Point of View (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 44.

2 R. J. Hirst, ‘Realism’, in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, P. Edwards (ed.) (London: Macmillan Company and The Free Press, 1967), 78.

3 Ibid.

4 B. Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 2.

5 My italics.

6 A. J. Ayer, The Central Questions of Philosophy (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1976), 77.

7 Ibid., 75.

8 R. M. Chisholm, ‘The Theory of Appearing’, in Philosophical Analysis, Black, M. (ed.). (Cornell University Press, 1950), 102.

9 R. M. Chisholm, Theory of Knowledge (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1977). 30.

10 10 R. M. Chisholm, Perceiving; A Philosophical Study (Cornell University Press, 1957), 153.

11 A. J. Ayer, ‘Has Austin Refuted Sense-Data?’, in Symposium on J. L. Austin, K. T. Fann (ed.) (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), 296.

12 J. J. C. Smart, Philosophy and Scientific Realism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), 34.

13 Ibid., 44.

14 Ibid., 46.

15 It occurs to me, as an afterthought, that, although our original notion of the subject was simply deduced from that of an experience, if one were prepared to accept the notion of a subject enduring in the absence of any experience then such a subject could link the discrete spatio-temporal locations mentioned. In this way my objection to the spatio-temporal identification of the subject itself would fail and the identification of the subject with the nervous system would appear a more promising line.

16 I am pleased to acknowledge helpful remarks made on an early draft of this paper by Dr M. T. Dalgarno and very many such remarks made on a number of drafts by Mr H. E. Matthews.

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