Individuating the Senses of ‘Smell’: Orthonasal versus Retronasal Olfaction

Synthese 199:4217-4242 (2021)
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The dual role of olfaction in both smelling and tasting, i.e. flavour perception, makes it an important test case for philosophical theories of sensory individuation. Indeed, the psychologist Paul Rozin claimed that olfaction is a “dual sense”, leading some scientists and philosophers to propose that we have not one, but two senses of smell: orthonasal and retronasal olfaction. In this paper I consider how best to understand Rozin’s claim, and upon what grounds one might judge there to be one or two distinct olfactory modalities. I conclude that while Rozin may be right that humans have dual occurrences of an olfactory ‘sense’, the concept of a sense-modality, and hence the ‘sense’ of smell, is ambiguous between two different notions: a physiological sensory channel and an experiential modality, along the lines suggested by J. J. Gibson. Furthermore, recognising that these are complementary rather than competing conceptions of a sense-modality enables the formulation of a powerful ‘dual-concept’ framework for posing and addressing questions concerning the complex architecture of human multisensory experience.

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Keith A. Wilson
University College Dublin


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