Sensation and the Grammar of Life: Anscombe’s Procedure and her Purpose

In Heather Logue and Louise Richardson (ed.), Purpose and Procedure in Philosophy of Perception (forthcoming)
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Anscombe’s published writings, lectures and notes on sensation point toward a sophisticated critique of sense-data, representationalist and direct realist theories of perception (in both their historical and contemporary forms), and a novel analysis of the concept of sensation. Her philosophy of perception begins with the traditional question, ‘What are the objects of sensation?’, but the response is a grammatical rather than ontological enquiry. What, she asks, are the characteristics of the grammatical object of sensation verbs? Anscombe’s answer is: sensation verbs take ‘intentional objects’, where an ‘intentional object’ is a description which has the characteristics of the concept of intention—characteristics elucidated in great detail in her Intention. This simple manoeuvre allows Anscombe to reject two opposing positions in the philosophy of perception - that the objects of sensation are sense-data and that the objects of sensation are tables and chairs (etc). Both views, she argues, fail to recognise the grammatical fact that the verbs of sensation take intentional objects. This chapter outlines the case for a grammatical methodology in philosophy of perception, by framing an analysis of the ways in which the sense-data and direct-realist theories of perception arise out of the theoretical demands that are generated when the grammar of the concept of sensation is left unexplored. Along the way, it will be shown that Anscombe’s philosophy of perception should not be read as fore-running contemporary representationalism, and that reading it as such in fact runs counter not only to the letter but the spirit of Ancombe’s proposal.
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