Fragmented and conflicted: folk beliefs about vision

Synthese 201 (3):1-33 (2023)
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Abstract

Many philosophical debates take for granted that there is such a thing as ‘the’ common-sense conception of the phenomenon of interest. Debates about the nature of perception tend to take for granted that there is a single, coherent common-sense conception of vision, consistent with Direct Realism. This conception is often accorded an epistemic default status. We draw on philosophical and psychological literature on naïve theories and belief fragmentation to motivate the hypothesis that untutored common sense encompasses conflicting Direct Realist and Indirect Realist conceptions: there is no such thing as ‘the’ common-sense conception of vision that could enjoy epistemic default status. To examine this hypothesis, a survey administered an agreement rating task with verbal and pictorial stimuli to lay participants. We found many laypeople simultaneously hold conflicting Direct Realist and Indirect Realist beliefs about vision. Against common assumptions, Direct Realist beliefs are not clearly dominant, and consistent adherence to Direct Realism is not the norm, but the exception. These findings are consistent with recent accounts of belief fragmentation. They forcefully challenge common methodology in philosophical debates about the nature of perception and beyond.

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