Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Representational vs. the Relational View of Visual Experience

  • Brian P. McLaughlin (a1)


In Reference and Consciousness,1 John Campbell attempts to a make a case that what he calls ‘the Relational View’ of visual experience, a view that he champions, is superior to what he calls ‘the Representational View’.2 I argue that his attempt fails. In section 1, I spell out the two views. In section 2, I outline Campbell's case that the Relational View is superior to the Representational View and offer a diagnosis of where Campbell goes wrong. In section 3, I examine the case in detail and argue that it fails. Finally, in section 4, I mention two very well-known problems for the Relational View that are unresolved in the book.



Hide All

1 Campbell, John, Reference and Consciousness (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002).

2 Ibid., chs. 6–7.

3 Hereafter, just to try to avoid prolixity, I'll sometimes drop ‘or is constituted by’.

4 See, e.g., Harman, G., ‘The Intrinsic Quality of Experience’ in Tomberlin, J. (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives (Northridge, Calif.: Ridgeview, 1990); Dretske, F., Naturalizing the Mind (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995); Lycan, W., Consciousness and Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), and Tye, M., Consciousnes, Color, and Content (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000). Campbell cites the Dretske book and the Tye book (146).

5 See the references in note 4.

6 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 116.

7 Ibid., 120.

8 Ibid., 146.

9 Ibid., 117.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 121.

12 Ibid., 117.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid, 147.

16 The locus classicus of this notion of generation is Goldman, A., A Theory of Human Action (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970).

17 Bennett, J., Events and Their Names (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988).

18 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 118.

19 A similar point is made in Johnston, M., ‘The Obscure Object of Hallucination’, Philosophical Studies 120:1–3 (2004), 113–83.

20 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 156.

21 Ibid., 118.

23 I should note that Campbell maintains that some of his objections to Representationalism are objections as well to the disjunctive theories in McDowell, J., ‘Singular Thought and the Boundaries of Inner Space’ in McDowell, J. and Pettit, P. (eds), Subject, Thought, and Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 137–68; and in Child, W., Causality, Interpretation, and the Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

24 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 120.

25 This is a state. In contrast, focusing one's attention on an object is a mental action. We're concerned with the state, not the action.

26 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 138. It may well seem redundant to speak of ‘conscious attention’. But Campbell speaks of ‘conscious’ attention, rather than simply of attention, to distinguish ‘attention as a phenomenon of consciousness’ from ‘attention as an information-processing phenomenon’ of the sort described in vision science (3). In this paper, I am trying to employ his terminology as often as I can.

27 Ibid., 10.

28 Ibid., 121.

29 Ibid., 114.

30 Ibid., 115 and 149.

31 Ibid., 129.

32 Ibid., 147.

33 Ibid., 128.

34 Ibid., 121.

35 Ibid.

36 I use ‘object’ in a broad sense here, so that the facing physical surface of an object counts as an object.

37 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 121.

39 See the references in note 4.

40 See the references in note 4.

41 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 114.

42 Ibid., 122.

43 Burge, T., ‘Vision and Intentional Content’ in Lepore, E. and van Gulick, R. (eds), John Searle and his Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).

44 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 125.

47 Ibid., 114.

48 Ibid., 115 and 149.

49 Ibid., 114.

50 Ibid., 115.

51 I discuss these matters further, however, in an unpublished manuscript entitled ‘Attention and Object’. I am not the only reader of Campbell to be puzzled by what he means by ‘knowledge of the reference of a demonstrative’. See Kelly, S.D., ‘Reference and Attention: A Difficult Connection’, Philosophical Studies 120 (2004), 277–86.

52 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 129.

53 Ibid. This is not the happiest of examples, since it cannot be the case that the woman is running and jumping at the same time, even though she may, say, be moving her legs in a running fashion will in flight from a jump. (Think of long distance jumpers.) But we could recast the example in terms of walking and chewing gum.

54 Ibid., 130.

55 Ibid., 156.

56 Matthen, M., ‘Biological Functions and Perceptual Content’, Journal of Philosophy 85:1 (1988), 527.

57 J. Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, op. cit., 156 (italicizes are mine.)

58 Ibid., 119. It should be mentioned that things do not look yellowish to a person with jaundice; rather a jaundiced person takes on a yellowish cast due to the excess of bile pigments in the person's blood.

61 I wish to thank Christopher Hill and Susanna Siegel for comments.

Brian P. McLaughlin is Professor II in the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University and a member of the Executive Council of the Rutgers University Cognitive Science Center. He has published numerous articles in a wide range of fields in philosophy. Recently, he was a co-editor of Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Mind (2007) and a co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind (2009).


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed