• Banno
    23.6k
    I find myself re-reading Austin's lecture notes as reconstructed by G. J Warnock. The result of a slow wet day and recent threads hereabouts.

    The book is an extended and detailed remonstration against the view, so common as to be almost ubiquitous in these fora, that
    ...we never see or otherwise perceive (or 'sense*), or anyhow we never directly perceive or sense, material objects (or material things), but only sense-data (or our own ideas, impressions, sensa, sense-perceptions, percepts, &c.). — p.2

    Several ongoing threads advocate this view, in various denominations.

    Austin, of course, has been the butt of many jokes, the quintessential irrelevant Oxford Don, putting the anal back into analytic, and so on. He's also a decorated war hero, and given the period in which he worked, a probable misogynist. A quick look at his book ngram shows continuous, perhaps even exponential, growth. Anecdotally there has been recent interest in sorting out Austin's own views from those of his student, John Searle

    Anyway, it promises to be a wet week, and this thread might ease the tedium.

    I wasn't able to find a free PDF. If you have access to one, you might link it here.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    I.
    The first lecture is introductory, of course. Austin notes the tendency to back down on stronger versions of the doctrine - "Theres the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back".

    Austin calls the doctrine "Scholastic", ironic language coming from a man who obsessed over detail and dictionaries. But here we have the first of the critical tools of which he makes use; part of my plan for this thread is to draw explicit attention to these. Austin points out that philosophers are incline to consider only a limited number of cases in their musings, to "oversimplification, schematization, and constant obsessive repetition of jejune 'examples'. ...our ordinary words are much subtler in their uses, and mark many more distinctions, than philosophers have realized".

    Yes, I am aware that I am guilty of this. The tool being advocated is the broad consideration of the full range of uses for the terms at hand. Ruminating on limited cases will lead to limited rumination...

    Austin makes clear that his intent is not a defence of realism. In the terminology he uses, he is not advocating a preference for material things over sense-data; in the terminology used more recently, he is not defending realism against antirealism, but rejecting the very distinction between these two.

    The reason is simple: "There is no one kind of thing that we perceive, but many different kinds" (p. 4, emphasis in original).

    So there's the argument of the text in outline.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    II.
    There's a copy of Ayer's Foundations at https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.46395/ . In the section quoted Ayer is introducing the Argument from Illusion,

    Some mirth has been found in Austin's use of "the ordinary man" - as if such as he would have any idea... But notice that the contrast between philosophers and ordinary folk is borrowed from Ayer. Austin uses it to draw out the idea of ordinary language which is central to his approach. I'll adopt "folk" by way of avoiding issues of gender.

    The points against Ayer here are:
    1. It's not the case that ordinary folk see themselves as always perceiving material objects they see shadows and rainbows and such, and understand that these are different to pens and cigarets; further, it is far form clear what a "material thing" might be, outside of a discussion of the sort being had here.
    2. it is not true that not seeing a material thing is equivalent to being deceived by one's senses.
    3. There's more than a hint that common folk are naïve in not being critical of the objects of their everyday perception.
    4. That there is not a place for doubt here, or at the very least, that if there is to be a place for doubt, it is not obvious.
    5. We don't attribute truth and falsity to what we see, but to what we make of what we see. Further, and importantly, talk of deception only makes sense against a background in which we understand what it is like not to be deceive.

    All these come together to show that seeing things is a far more complicated and indeed complex process than is supposed in Ayer's text, and indeed in fairly simple accounts given elsewhere. Seeing a cup is not the same as seeing a rainbow or as seeing a shadow or a headless magician's assistant on stage.

    The use of "directly" in "seeing directly" takes its meaning in contrast to the meaning of "indirectly" in each case. Do you see the ship directly or through a periscope? Do you see the door directly or via a mirror? This is a standard critical tool for Austin, used elsewhere and later to show philosophical abuse of "real".

    In the spirit of taking on as wide a field of examples as possible, Austin draws attention to the examples being dominated by sight. What might it mean to hear something indirect? What sort of thing is an indirect smell? "For this reason alone there seems to be something badly wrong with the question, 'do we perceive things indirectly or not?'"(p. 17)

    Other examples follow. In the other direction, are we to say that we saw the guns indirectly if we see the flash of their firing? The cloud chamber example is perhaps dated, a more recent equivalent might be to ask it we saw the Higgs boson, or did we see signs of it's passing? The cloud chamber is more direct... :wink:

    Whatever our philosopher is doing in talking of "direct perception" is very different to what the rest of us might be doing. So much the worse when the philosopher is going to claim that the something could never be perceived directly.
  • Richard B
    388


    To give myself a different challenge, I like to take on Austin's linguistic philosophy. More specifically, with an attack developed by Ernest Gellner. In his book, Word and Things, he defines the Four Pillars of Linguistic Philosophy as follows:

    1. The Argument from the Paradigm case - This is the argument from the actual use of words to the answer to philosophical problems, or from the conflict between the actual use of words to the falsity of a philosophical theory.

    2. The habit of inferring the answer to normative, evaluative problems from the actual use of words.

    3. The contrast theory of meaning, to the effect that any term to be meaningful must allow at least for the possibility of something not being covered by it.

    4. The doctrine I shall call Polymorphism. This doctrine stresses that there is very great variety in the kinds of use that words have, and that with regards to any given word, there can be great variety in its particular use.

    To start, I would ask, would you characterize Austin's philiosophical approach as Gellner does?
  • Banno
    23.6k
    To give myself a different challenge...Richard B
    If it's a challenge for you, you should provide the answer. I've set my own task here.
  • javi2541997
    5.2k
    5. We don't attribute truth and falsity to what we see, but to what we make of what we see. Further, and importantly, talk of deception only makes sense against a background in which we understand what it is like not to be deceive.Banno

    Interesting.

    It reminds me of this: §9. Hallucination and Truth

    Basically, Richard Fumerton argues that 'the possibility of hallucination' proves that naive realism is wrong, meaning that, 'we are never directly acquainted with the fact that a physical object exists'. Furthermore, we are still left without clear criteria to distinguish between veridical perception and hallucinatory perception. Note that when I say 'hallucination', I am referring to 'what we make of what we see', and how this can lead us to hallucinatory perceptions.

    On the other hand, I think @Richard B raised a good point on whether we can see this subject from a linguistic view as well.
  • Corvus
    3k
    "For this reason alone there seems to be something badly wrong with the question, 'do we perceive things indirectly or not?'"(p. 17)Banno

    There are cases where the objects are not visible at all by bare eye sight. Consider a far away star too dim to be seen with bare eyes in the night sky.

    But when you use a telescope (good quality), and see it, it becomes visible. There is a medium (a good quality telescope) between your eyes and the object (the faint star). So, we could say that we don't perceive things directly always?

    And when one gets old, hearing gets poor. The folk would use a hearing aid. All the sounds the folk hears would come via the hearing aid. Does the folk then hear the sound directly or indirectly?
  • creativesoul
    11.6k
    So much the worse when the philosopher is going to claim that the something could never be perceived directly.Banno

    The idea of rejecting the distinction between direct and indirect perception interests me, but then again, I don't use "indirect perception" in such a limited fashion. For me, whether or not something is directly perceptible or not is partly determined by what it consists of. So, it's not just about a tool using perceiver. It's also about the elemental constituency of what's being perceived.

    We sometimes indirectly perceive both causes and effects. Worldviews are efficacious. They cause certain things to happen. Worldviews cannot be directly perceived, but their inevitable affect/effect on the world can.

    Worldviews are - in large part at least - adopted during common language acquisition. They are in that sense, an affect/effect of societal norms.
  • Mww
    4.7k
    “…. The general doctrine….goes like this: (…) we never directly perceive or sense, material objects…. but only sense-data…”

    I am on whomever’s side that denies this. We always directly perceive material objects. I do so not from a “…. deeply ingrained worship of tidy-looking dichotomies….”, but because it should never be an issue that I don’t, insofar as every perception is direct, re: unmediated. I perceive a shadow as equally direct as B flat minor.

    Nahhhh…..the tidy-looking dichotomies lay elsewhere, direct perception/sense data need add no more to them.
  • J
    226
    Glad to see this thread starting up. Austin is always worth rereading.

    This talk of “not directly perceiving objects” makes me wonder, not for the first time, who Austin believed he was arguing against. Did he think that Idealism in general, or versions of Kantianism in particular, entailed such a view? I don’t think that’s a very charitable interpretation of what I take Kant and others to be saying.
  • Jamal
    9.3k
    This talk of “not directly perceiving objects” makes me wonder, not for the first time, who Austin believed he was arguing against.J

    Stuff like this, perhaps:

    We are all in the habit of judging as to the ‘real’ shapes of things, and we do this so unreflectingly that we come to think we actually see the real shapes. But, in fact, as we all have to learn if we try to draw, a given thing looks different in shape from every different point of view. If our table is ‘really’ rectangular, it will look, from almost all points of view, as if it had two acute angles and two obtuse angles. If opposite sides are parallel, they will look as if they converged to a point away from the spectator; if they are of equal length, they will look as if the nearer side were longer. All these things are not commonly noticed in looking at a table, because experience has taught us to construct the ‘real’ shape from the apparent shape, and the ‘real’ shape is what interests us as practical men. But the ‘real’ shape is not what we see; it is something inferred from what we see. And what we see is constantly changing in shape as we move about the room; so that here again the senses seem not to give us the truth about the table itself, but only about the appearance of the table.

    Thus it becomes evident that the real table, if there is one, is not the same as what we immediately experience by sight or touch or hearing. The real table, if there is one, is not immediately known to us at all, but must be an inference from what is immediately known. Hence, two very difficult questions at once arise; namely, (1) Is there a real table at all? (2) If so, what sort of object can it be?
    — Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

    Probably Ayer as well.

    (I agree with you about Kant. I think of him as a direct realist.)
  • Mww
    4.7k
    who Austin believed he was arguing against.J

    Not who. What.

    “…. What we have above all to do is, negatively, to rid ourselves of such illusions as 'the argument from illusion….”, and assorted other linguistic vagaries.

    And a caution, if I may: mention Kant at your own dialectical peril.
  • J
    226
    Thanks, and that'll teach me to review the material before posting! I'd forgotten that Ayer is his primary antagonist -- a worthy opponent back then, I guess.

    As for the Russell quote . . . I don't think he's being quite as villainous as Austin or some others might paint him. Most of what he says is unexceptionable, merely pointing out the difference between how an object may look to us, and what shape it may actually have. And it is certainly true that we construct the correct shape from a multiplicity of individual "takes." By the time Russell starts to make his point, "real" appears in quotes, meant to contrast with appearance, as in:
    experience has taught us to construct the ‘real’ shape from the apparent shape, and the ‘real’ shape is what interests us as practical men — Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

    But the ‘real’ shape is not what we see; it is something inferred from what we see. And what we see is constantly changing in shape as we move about the room — Russell, The Problems of Philosophy

    Again, I think this is uncontroversial. We may or may not see the "real" shape at any given moment, but Russell doesn't mean the object itself is somehow unreal, or that the object's true shape must permanently elude us. In Russell's sense of "real" -- a perception that corresponds fortuitously to an actual shape -- and in that sense alone, the object can be said to be "not immediately known to us at all, but must be an inference...."

    Notice, lastly, that this Russellian sense of "real" suggests the basis for distinguishing between veridical perceptions and familiar illusions.
  • Jamal
    9.3k


    Well, I've been composing a reply but now I realize I don't want to get into this topic at the moment.

    My parting shot is just to say that I think the following bit from the Russell quotation is indeed stating what you've implied it is not, namely that we are "not directly perceiving objects":

    The real table, if there is one, is not immediately known to us at all, but must be an inference from what is immediately known.

    If there are any directly perceived objects at all for Russell, they are sense data, not tables.
  • NOS4A2
    8.5k


    There are cases where the objects are not visible at all by bare eye sight. Consider a far away star too dim to be seen with bare eyes in the night sky.

    But when you use a telescope (good quality), and see it, it becomes visible. There is a medium (a good quality telescope) between your eyes and the object (the faint star). So, we could say that we don't perceive things directly always?

    And when one gets old, hearing gets poor. The folk would use a hearing aid. All the sounds the folk hears would come via the hearing aid. Does the folk then hear the sound directly or indirectly?

    I think Austin is wrong to quibble about the terms “direct” and “indirect”, because both succinctly describe the relationship between perceiver and perceived as it pertains to the arguments for and against realism.

    For example, we might contrast the man who saw the procession through a periscope with the man who didn’t, and rightly call the one “indirect” and the other “direct” when describing the perceptual relationship between those particular men and that particular procession.

    But in terms of realism, “directly” and “indirectly” describe the perceptual relationship between the man and everything he perceives, which includes the periscope, the air, the clouds, etc. It doesn’t describe the relationship between the man and the procession, the tea cup, or whatever the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence may be.
  • Corvus
    3k
    But in terms of realism, “directly” and “indirectly” describe the perceptual relationship between the man and everything he perceives, which includes the periscope, the air, the clouds, etc. It doesn’t describe the relationship between the man and the procession, the tea cup, or whatever the relationship between the subject and the object of a sentence may be.NOS4A2

    If we allow that, then I would be a bit concerned with a very likely possibility of the realist's claim that even illusions are real, because it is the object of their perception.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    , Austin is not claiming that we never perceive things indirectly. He gives examples of where it is appropriate to make such a claim.

    His target is the idea that we only ever see things indirectly. In giving a wide range of examples he shows that such a proposal would be problematic.

    , yes, if someone were to maintain that we only ever see things indirectly, it cannot be in the sense that is being used in reference to telescopes, hearing aids and periscopes. The onus might be placed at their feet, to show the sense that they are using.

    There is a further point, that in cases in which we correctly say someone sees something indirectly, there is an implicit contrast to cases of direct seeing. We understand that seeing the door in the mirror is indirect, compared with turning and seeing it directly; that hearing the music on a recording is indirect, compared with hearing it live. In each case, what it means to perceive indirectly is clear in virtue of our understanding of what it means to perceive directly.

    And there remains the obscurity of smelling indirectly.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Supposing that we have them at all (see Davidson), do we perceive our word views or do we discover or construct them? At best the notion of their being perceived is a metaphor, and not in the scope of these notes.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    , I suspect we have common foes, if for different reasons. It is perhaps those who have poorly read Kant who are most apt to paint him as an antirealist. Kant is not in Austin's sights, except indirectly, and then only the sensible manifold and vorstellung, with great care. Austin has little to say about Kant, as do I.

    And yes, Ayer is very much Austin's mark here, but the arguments used have much broader application. , I linked above to the text that is Austin's target.

    , I understand that historically Ayer's approach derived from Russell's, and so Logical Positivism was an attempt at reinvigorating Logical Atomism, a continuation of British Empiricism.

    Ayer's reply to Austin is found in “Has Austin Refuted Sense-data Theory”, which I was unable to find free on line. (?) Needless to say, I don't think Ayer's rebuttal carries much weight.
  • Janus
    15.8k
    I wasn't able to find that one either.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Thanks for having a look. I suppose that tells us something of its effectiveness.
  • Janus
    15.8k
    I suppose that tells us something of its effectiveness.Banno
    Apparently the text it appears in is called Metaphysics and Commonsense but I couldn't find a PDF of that, so perhaps it is not considered all that citable these days.
  • J
    226
    I linked above to the text that is Austin's target.Banno

    Many thanks. I don't see Russell as arguing for the impossibility of direct perception, but maybe Ayer does; I'll read him and find out. Russell's "real" table is only the composite, and hopefully accurate, view we create after many sense impressions of the object. That table is not directly perceived, but that's not the table Austin or anyone else should be worried about. The key here is that "real" is a technical term Russell uses without defining it very clearly. Or so it seems to me.

    A lame question, but I'm fairly new to the forum: How do I make those arrow+name graphics that mean "view original post"?
  • Banno
    23.6k
    I probably have a photocopy (anyone remember those?) filed away.

    These?

    Bottom of each post is a secret, invisible "↩︎". Hover near the ellipsis.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    The key here is that "real" is a technical term Russell uses without defining it very clearly. Or so it seems to me.J

    This to me seems a big glaring missing part of any comprehensive metaphysics, eh? But as long as you can shrug it off with no qualms you can move on from there to less speculative things like that chair means chair.
  • J
    226
    I don't think Russell believed he was using "real" in a special or technical sense; he probably thought his use was obvious. Turns out, it requires a bit of interpretation. And of course he wasn't trying to provide a comprehensive metaphysics in the passage in question. (I always aim for the most charitable and sensible reading of any important philosopher's thought.)

    I guess the idea that a word like "chair" could be ambiguous doesn't sit too well with you, but is it really so arcane or "speculative"? "Chair" can refer to any given perception of a chair -- which, as Russell points out, may or may not give us a good sense of the chair's true shape -- or "chair" can refer to the composite, hopefully correct, idea of the chair which we put together based on those individual perceptions. We could certainly debate whether this ambiguity is a good thing, and perhaps recommend that one or the other sense of "chair" be changed to a different term, but the distinction being made really isn't all that speculative, is it?

    Thanks for the secret knowledge behind the ellipsis!
  • Antony Nickles
    1.1k
    I wasn't able to find a free PDF. If you have access to one, you might link it here.Banno

    Attached is a PDF of the book Sense and Sensibilia.
    Come on and get me Oxford. I got a sandwich and a gun.
    Attachment
    Sense and Sensibilia - Austin (5M)
  • javi2541997
    5.2k
    Hey, thank you so much for your kindness for sharing the paper with us. This thread is very interesting, and I am grateful to the users who share comments and attachments to understand it better. :up:
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Nice. They will probably go after @Jamal rather than you, but good luck finding him; he'll just retreat to his Moscow basement.
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