Sensory Knowledge and Art

Cambridge, England: Open Angle Books (2017)
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The primary intention of this book is to elucidate the relations between sensory perception and art as a form of knowledge. This enables us to understand how different kinds of art are given their meaning not only from observation, resemblance and reason but also from an artist’s sensitivity to the inner form of sensory experience as it is realized in perception, reflection, memory and imagination. By assuming a number of different points of view, Part 1 shows how the physical object and the act of sensory perception are logically interdependent, and I give my elaboration of this argument two kinds of emphasis. In the first place, it opposes all arguments that support a merging of the mental and physical, as in idealism, materialism, neutral monism and panpsychism. A conceptual distinction is observed because sensory perception gives the physical object its identity. This idea also implies that the physical object is only realized by sentient life - self-aware inner life and a world become possible simultaneously. The second emphasis concerns the mind-body problem, and towards the end of Part 1 I offer an argument which places this problem in a certain light by representing the brain not as a physical counterpart to inner experience but as essentially instrumental to perception and self-awareness, and related experience. The argument in Part 2 is distinguished by a sense of continuity between the nature of sensory perception and the formal resources of artists in both physical and literary media. Hence, in a discussion of Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, I indicate ways in which the painter conveys the inner experience and character of the figures in the painting by means of compositional design, light and colour, and thereby uses these and other sensuous resources to portray human life and experience. This is followed by a discussion of two sonnets by Shakespeare, in which the same general aim is pursued by using the literary resources of figurative language. Finally, a discussion of Hamlet shows how, in this work, the augmentation of figurative language by dramatic form strengthens the view that art can provide a form of knowledge that is based as completely upon intuition about our sensory experience as it is upon reason and observation. Just as my (true) perception of a cup as a vessel for drinking tea or coffee arises immediately from past experience, so the dramatist can see immediately from his or her past experience how a character might perceive things and behave.


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