Olfactory Objects

In S. Biggs, D. Stokes & M. Matthen (eds.), Perception and its Modalities. Oxford University Press. pp. 222-245 (2014)
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Much of the philosophical work on perception has focused on vision. Recently, however, philosophers have begun to correct this ‘tunnel vision’ by considering other modalities. Nevertheless, relatively little has been written about the chemical senses—olfaction and gustation. The focus of this paper is olfaction. In light of new physiological and psychophysical research on olfaction, I consider whether olfactory experience is object-based. In particular, I explore the claim that “odor objects” constitute sensory individuals. It isn’t obvious—at least at the outset—whether they meet the widely accepted principles of object individuation and recognition at work in the visual and auditory cases. Among the general issues I consider, then, is whether these traditional principles form necessary, or simply sufficient, conditions on object perception. As we see, at the very least, considering the object-recognition model of olfaction challenges us to look more closely at well-entrenched models of object perception. But the payoff of doing so is high. We not only learn something about a modality that philosophers have historically neglected; by asking new questions and challenging old assumptions, we also further our understanding of perception in general.
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