Helmholtz on Perceptual Properties

Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 6 (3) (2018)
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Hermann von Helmholtz’s work on perceptual science had a fundamental impact on Neo-Kantian movements in the late nineteenth century, and his influence continues to be felt in psychology and analytic philosophy of perception. As is widely acknowledged, Helmholtz denied that we can perceive mind-independent properties of external objects, a view I label Ignorance. Given his commitment to Ignorance, Helmholtz might seem to be committed to a subjectivism according to which we only perceive properties of our own representations. Against this, I argue that for Helmholtz, the properties we perceive are not monadic properties of either the subject or the object. Rather, Helmholtz endorsed a relationalism about the properties we perceive: the properties of objects we perceive are all relational properties. I then suggest that once we take into account oft-neglected terminological distinctions in Helmholtz’s corpus, we are better able to make sense of his commitment to relationalism.

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R. Brian Tracz
University of Pennsylvania


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