Sensory modalities and novel features of perceptual experiences

Synthese 198 (10):9841-9872 (2020)
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Is the flavor of mint reducible to the minty smell, the taste, and the menthol-like coolness on the roof of one’s mouth, or does it include something over and above these—something not properly associated with any one of the contributing senses? More generally, are there features of perceptual experiences—so-called novel features—that are not associated with any of our senses taken singly? This question has received a lot of attention of late. Yet surprisingly little attention has been paid to the question of what it means to say that a feature is associated with a sensory modality in the first place. Indeed, there is only one fully developed proposal in the literature, due to Casey O’Callaghan. I argue that this proposal is too permissive to inform the debate over novel features. I go on to argue that all attempts to formulate a better proposal along these lines fail. The corollary of my arguments is that the question of the existence of novel features is poorly formed. Furthermore, the problem generalizes, with the result that we should not rely on our pre-theoretical notions of the senses as the basis of theorizing about the features of perceptual experiences.

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Douglas Wadle
University of Kansas


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