Objectification and vision: how images shape our early visual processes

Synthese 32 (1-2) (2021)
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Objectification involves treating someone as a thing. The role of images in perpetuating objectification has been discussed by feminist philosophers. However, the precise effect that images have on an individual's visual system is seldom explored. Kathleen Stock’s work is an exception—she describes certain images of women as causing viewers to develop an objectifying ‘gestalt’ which is then projected onto real-life women. However, she doesn’t specify the level of visual processing at which objectification occurs. In this paper, I propose that images can affect a viewer's early visual system. I will argue that if a viewer is exposed to a lot of images that depict women as sexual objects, this will bias their early visual selection mechanisms in a way that can result in an objectifying way of seeing. This is an important contribution to work on objectification as it incorporates empirical studies on vision and findings from philosophy of mind. It also examines some of the epistemic and moral consequences of objectification occurring at this early visual stage.

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Alice Roberts
CUNY Graduate Center


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