‘Let us imagine that God has made a miniature earth and sky’: Malebranche on the Body-Relativity of Visual Size

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Malebranche holds that visual experience represents the size of objects relative to the perceiver’s body and does not represent objects as having intrinsic or non-relational spatial magnitudes. I argue that Malebranche’s case for this body-relative thesis is more sophisticated than other commentators—most notably, Atherton (1990) and Simmons (2003)—have depicted it. Malebranche’s central argument relies on the possibility of perceptual variation with respect to size. He uses two thought experiments to show that different sized perceivers—namely, miniature people, giants, and typical human beings—can experience the very same objects as having radically different sizes. Malebranche argues that there is no principled reason to privilege one of these ways of experiencing size over the others, and, more specifically, that all three kinds of perceivers experience size veridically. From the possibility of this kind of veridical perceptual variation, Malebranche infers that visual experience represents only body-relative size.
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