Epistemology Revision Notes: Perception

These are my personal revision notes on Perception for AQA AS level Philosophy. (They are set out using speech bubbles, pictures and a great deal of colour-coding because I find this helps me remember stuff). I've made them by directly following the specification for exams from 2015 onwards.

These notes cover direct realism and problems with it (e.g. perceptual variation), indirect realism and how it can lead to scepticism and idealism. 

I hope they are helpful for people! (I'll upload notes for other units once I've made them.)

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  • Created by: BethD
  • Created on: 18-03-15 20:22
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How do we perceive things? What is it that we perceive and how does it relate to the real world?
What are the immediate objects of perception?
How can we define knowledge?
What is the ultimate source of knowledge- reason or experience?
Criticism 1: But what about
perceptual variation
? If we directly perceive objects exactly as they
are, why is it that our perception of an object can vary without the object itself changing? For
example, when I look at a shiny `brown' table,…read more

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How could our perception of objects be altered if there was no intermediate substance to be
altered? If we perceive an object itself, it seems unlikely that this perception could differ from the
object in any way.
In the `pencil in a glass of water' illusion, what we perceive directly contradicts the object's true
physical properties . A pencil cannot be both crooked and straight.…read more

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What with the illusion, hallucination, perceptual variation and time lag arguments, I'm not so sure
about direct realism now... Could you tell me more about what
indirect realismis?
Indirect realism is the theory that the immediate objects of our perception are mind-dependent
objects that are caused by and represent mind-independent objects in the external world. This
means that we don't experience physical objects directly, but indirectly, through the mental
mind-dependent objects that indirect realists call
sense-data.…read more

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Response 1: There is a lack of perceptual choice surrounding our experiences. For example, when
I look up at a cloudy sky, I have no control over what I see. I may will myself to see a purple sky,
but this does not alter the grey colour that I perceive. Our sense-data must therefore come from a
source external to our minds .
According to indirect realism, all we ever perceive is sense-data .…read more

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Besides, even if there is a mind-independent physical world, seeing as we never perceive it, how
can I determine to what extent the real world resembles what I perceive (my sense-data)? We
have no way to externally compare our sensations to real physical objects and so we cannot see
how accurate our representations are.
Our sense experiences may not resemble the physical world.…read more

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Wow! That seems like a very radical theory! How on earth can youjustifythe belief that the real
world doesn't exist independent of minds?
Ok, so when you take a sceptical approach , indirect realism seems a bit shaky. But what other
theories are there about
I came up with the theory of idealism . I believe that the immediate objects of perception are
mind-independent objects called
ideas . Together these ideas comprise the `physical' objects that
we perceive.…read more

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But a thought is not the same as its contents. The thought of an unperceived tree may not exist,
but this has no bearing on whether an actual physical unperceived tree can exist.
It is impossibleto think of an object existing as mind-independent and unperceived by anyone.
You may, for example, try to think of an unperceived tree by imagining it in an isolated area.
However, by picturing such a tree, you are conceiving of it.…read more

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The ideas in God's mind exist as a part of his understanding, rather than as perceptions. God
understands the concept of pain , so he can put it into our minds without feeling it Himself.
Issue 3 with Idealism: It cannot secure objective space and time. For there to be objective space
and time, there must be something mind-independent . In addition, it appears that, according to
idealism, no two people ever perceive one and same object (for example, one and the same
tree).…read more

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but hallucinations do not. This is a difference in kind.
But both of these criteria mark a difference in degree , whilst the difference between
hallucinations and perception is a difference in kind .
There are two ways we can distinguish between perception and hallucinations:
Hallucinations are usually dim, irregular and confused , unlike ordinary perception.
Even when hallucinations are vivid and clear, they are not coherently connected with the
rest of our perceptions.…read more


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