Nonsense and Visual Evanescence

In Clare Mac Cumhaill & Thomas Crowther (eds.), Perceptual Ephemera. Oxford, UK: pp. 289-311 (2018)
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I introduce a perceptual phenomenon so far overlooked in the philosophical literature: ‘visual evanescence’. ‘Evanescent’ objects are those that due to their structured visible appearances have a tendency to vanish or evanesce from sight at certain places and for certain ‘biologically apt’ perceivers. Paradigmatically evanescent objects are those associated with certain forms of animal camouflage. I show that reflection on visual evanescence helps create conceptual room for a treatment of looks statements not explicit in the contemporary literature, one which takes its cue from the relatively neglected philosophy of perception of G.E.M. Anscombe. In sensory contexts in which evanescence is known to have occurred, the use of ‘looks invisible’ seems to be intelligible, a fact that sensationalist and objectivist treatments of the nature of looks, as I call them, cannot obviously accommodate - at least, as I explain, when coupled with what Cora Diamond (1981) describes as a ‘natural’ understanding of nonsense. Focusing on a number of imaginative scenarios in which the statement ‘looks invisible’ is permissible, I oppose these ontological treatments with the grammatical approach I draw from Anscombe and in doing so I uncover a degree of unity across the cases I consider: something can intelligibly be said to ‘look invisible’ if one can see or appears to see the entirety of the region that the ‘invisible’ thing occupies. The region ‘looks empty’ but is full.
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Archival date: 2018-07-15
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