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Summary The causal theory of perception consists roughly of the claim that necessarily, if a subject S sees an object O, then O causes S to have a visual experience. Some have held that this claim is a conceptual truth. Thus, the idea is that in order to see an object, the object must be causally responsible for your visual experience. The causal theory of perception rules out certain problem cases as genuine instances of seeing: For instance, suppose that: (a) I seem to see a red ball at a certain distance and direction, (b) there is a red ball at precisely that distance and direction, but (c) unbeknownst to me, there is a mirror interposed between me and the red ball that reflects the image of a qualitative duplicate of the ball, and the reflection is what causes my visual experience. Here it seems wrong to say that I see the red ball behind the mirror. The causal theory of perception agrees with this judgment: Because the ball is not causally responsible for my experience, I do not see it.
Key works H.P. Grice originally propounded the main argument for the causal theory of perception in his 1961 paper (Grice 1961). Other proponents of the theory include Pears 1976 and Strawson 1974Snowdon 1981 argues against the claim that the causal requirement on perception is a conceptual truth. Others have raised counterexamples to the claim that a certain type of causal relation is both necessary and sufficient for perceiving (Lewis 1980McLaughlin 1984).
Introductions Grice 1961Pears 1976, Strawson 1974
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  1. An Alternative to the Causal Theory of Perception.Todd Ganson - forthcoming - Tandf: Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-13.
    Proponents of the causal theory of perception have applied the theory to questions about which particular objects or events are perceived, which parts are perceived, and which properties are perceived. In each case they insist that successful perception is causally dependent on what is perceived. The causal theory rests on an important insight regarding the information-carrying role of perception. In order to succeed in this role, perception cannot be grounded in spurious correlations. But we can respect this insight without embracing (...)
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  2. Material Objects as the Singular Subjects of External Perception.Mohan Matthen - forthcoming - In Aleksandra Mroczko-Wąsowicz & Rick Grush (eds.), Sensory individuals, properties, and perceptual objects: unimodal and multimodal perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Higher animals need to identify and track material objects because they depend on interactions with them for nutrition, reproduction, and social interaction. This paper investigates the perception of material objects. It argues, first, that material objects are tagged, in all five external senses, as bearers of the features detected by them. This happens through a perceptual process, here entitled Generalized Completion, which creates the appearance of objects that have properties that transcend the activation of sensory receptors. The paper shows, secondly, (...)
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  3. Perception as Controlled Hallucination.Justin Tiehen - forthcoming - Analytic Philosophy.
    “Perception is controlled hallucination,” according to proponents of predictive processing accounts of vision. I say they are right that something like this is a consequence of their view but wrong in how they have pursued the idea. The focus of my counterproposal is the causal theory of perception, which I develop in terms of a productive concept of causation. Cases of what otherwise seem like successful perception are instead mere veridical hallucination if predictive processing accounts are correct, I argue, because (...)
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  4. Defending Disjunctivism about Perception知覚についての選言説を擁護する.Tomohiro Yamashita - 2022 - Kagaku Tetsugaku 54 (2):71-91.
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  5. The Problem of Perception.Tim Crane & Craig French - 2021 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    The Problem of Perception is a pervasive and traditional problem about our ordinary conception of perceptual experience. The problem is created by the phenomena of perceptual illusion and hallucination: if these kinds of error are possible, how can perceptual experience be what we ordinarily understand it to be: something that enables direct perception of the world? These possibilities of error challenge the intelligibility of our ordinary conception of perceptual experience; the major theories of experience are responses to this challenge.
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  6. An Alternative to the Causal Theory of Perception.Todd Ganson - 2021 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 99 (4):683-695.
    ABSTRACT Proponents of the causal theory of perception have applied the theory to questions about which particular objects or events are perceived, which parts are perceived, and which properties are perceived. In each case, they insist that successful perception is causally dependent on what is perceived. The causal theory rests on an important insight regarding the information-carrying role of perception. In order to succeed in this role, perception cannot be grounded in spurious correlations. But we can respect this insight without (...)
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  7. Dispositionalism at Work: A Causal Theory of Perception.Christian Kanzian - 2021 - Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 77 (4):1297-1314.
    This paper seeks to show how a proper version of dispositionalism, taking powers as basic elements of reality, may figure as a causal theory of perception. On the basis of this argument, the paper draws some further conclusions, which may indicate the explanatory competence of such a disposition-affine theory of causality, for example in terms of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, as well as an ontological account of mere potentialities of active capacities to perceive and of “privations,” respectively.
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  8. Seeing and Visual Reference.Kevin J. Lande - 2021 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    Perception is a central means by which we come to represent and be aware of particulars in the world. I argue that an adequate account of perception must distinguish between what one perceives and what one's perceptual experience is of or about. Through capacities for visual completion, one can be visually aware of particular parts of a scene that one nevertheless does not see. Seeing corresponds to a basic, but not exhaustive, way in which one can be visually aware of (...)
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  9. Reflective Intuitions About the Causal Theory of Perception Across Sensory Modalities.R. Roberts, K. Allen & Kelly Schmidtke - 2021 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 12.
    Many philosophers believe that there is a causal condition on perception, and that this condition is a conceptual truth about perception. A highly influential argument for this claim is based on intuitive responses to Gricean style thought experiments. Do the folk share the intuitions of philosophers? Roberts et al. presented participants with two kinds of cases: Blocker cases and Non-Blocker cases. They found that a substantial minority agreed that seeing occurs in the Non-Blocker cases, and that in the Blocker cases (...)
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  10. A Representationalist Reading of Kantian Intuitions.Ayoob Shahmoradi - 2021 - Synthese 198 (3):2169-2191.
    There are passages in Kant’s writings according to which empirical intuitions have to be (a) singular, (b) object-dependent, and (c) immediate. It has also been argued that empirical intuitions (d) are not truth-apt, and (e) need to provide the subject with a proof of the possibility of the cognized object. Having relied on one or another of the a-e constraints, the naïve realist readers of Kant have argued that it is not possible for empirical intuitions to be representations. Instead they (...)
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  11. On Silhouettes, Surfaces and Sorensen.Thomas Raleigh - 2018 - In Clare Mac Cumhaill & Thomas Crowther (eds.), Perceptual Ephemera. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 194-218.
    In his book “Seeing Dark Things” (2008), Roy Sorensen provides many wonderfully ingenious arguments for many surprising, counter-intuitive claims. One such claim in particular is that when we a silhouetted object – i.e. an opaque object lit entirely from behind – we literally see its back-side – i.e. we see the full expanse of the surface facing away from us that is blocking the incoming light. Sorensen himself admits that this seems a tough pill to swallow, later characterising it as (...)
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  12. The Immediate Object of Perception: A Sense-Datum.Mika Suojanen - 2017 - Turku: Reports from the Department of Philosophy.
    The question of what we immediately perceive from the first-person point of view has been an issue of philosophizing since the beginning of Western philosophy. However, many philosophers have not considered all theoretical and practical consequences concerning identity and causation in perceptual experience between a perceiver and the external world. Despite their meritorious studies, philosophers have failed to completely understand how the causal series of events affects what we immediately experience. Using facts relating to perceivers, logical reasoning, introspection, and philosophical (...)
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  13. The Immediate Object of Perception: A Sense-Datum.Mika Suojanen - 2017 - Turku: Reports from the Department of Philosophy.
    The question of what we immediately perceive from the first-person point of view has been an issue of philosophizing since the beginning of Western philosophy. However, many philosophers have not considered all theoretical and practical consequences concerning identity and causation in perceptual experience between a perceiver and the external world. Despite their meritorious studies, philosophers have failed to completely understand how the causal series of events affects what we immediately experience. Using facts relating to perceivers, logical reasoning, introspection, and philosophical (...)
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  14. Folk Intuitions About the Causal Theory of Perception.Pendaran Roberts, Keith Allen & Kelly Ann Schmidtke - 2016 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy.
    It is widely held by philosophers not only that there is a causal condition on perception but also that the causal condition is a conceptual truth about perception. One influential line of argument for this claim is based on intuitive responses to a style of thought experiment popularized by Grice. Given the significance of these thought experiments to the literature, it is important to see whether the folk in fact respond to these cases in the way that philosophers assume they (...)
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  15. Berkeley: el papel de Dios en la teoría de la visión / The Role of God in Berkeley's Theory of Vision.Alberto Luis López - 2015 - Tópicos: Revista de Filosofía 49:27-52.
    Berkeley desarrolla su teoría de la visión en la obra de juventud Ensayo para una nueva teoría de la visión, que por lo general ha sido leída atendiendo sólo a sus aspectos científicos o perceptuales. En este artículo propongo una lectura distinta, que busca mostrar que el Ensayo no sólo atiende aspectos científicos sino, por el contrario, anticipa el inmaterialismo de obras posteriores. Esto lo hace porque Dios cumple un importante papel en él, lo cual se debe, entre otras cosas, (...)
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  16. The Deviance in Deviant Causal Chains.Neil McDonnell - 2015 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 4 (2):162-170.
    Causal theories of action, perception and knowledge are each beset by problems of so-called ‘deviant’ causal chains. For each such theory, counterexamples are formed using odd or co-incidental causal chains to establish that the theory is committed to unpalatable claims about some intentional action, about a case of veridical perception or about the acquisition of genuine knowledge. In this paper I will argue that three well-known examples of a deviant causal chain have something in common: they each violate Yablos proportionality (...)
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  17. A Direct Object of Perception.Mika Suojanen - 2015 - E-Logos Electronic Journal for Philosophy 22 (1):28-36.
    I will use three simple arguments to refute the thesis that I appear to directly perceive a mind-independent material object. The theses I will use are similar to the time-gap argument and the argument from the relativity of perception. The visual object of imagination and the object of experience are in the same place. They also share common qualities such as the content, subjectivity, change in virtue of conditions of observers, and the like. This leads to the conclusion that both (...)
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  18. The Nature of Object of Perception and Its Role in the Knowledge Concerning the External World.Mika Suojanen - 2015 - Turku: University of Turku.
    Questions concerning perception are as old as the field of philosophy itself. Using the first-person perspective as a starting point and philosophical documents, the study examines the relationship between knowledge and perception. The problem is that of how one knows what one immediately perceives. The everyday belief that an object of perception is known to be a material object on grounds of perception is demonstrated as unreliable. It is possible that directly perceived sensible particulars are mind-internal images, shapes, sounds, touches, (...)
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  19. The Nature of Object of Perception and Its Role in the Knowledge Concerning the External World.Mika Suojanen - 2015 - Turku: University of Turku.
    Questions concerning perception are as old as the field of philosophy itself. Using the first-person perspective as a starting point and philosophical documents, the study examines the relationship between knowledge and perception. The problem is that of how one knows what one immediately perceives. The everyday belief that an object of perception is known to be a material object on grounds of perception is demonstrated as unreliable. It is possible that directly perceived sensible particulars are mind-internal images, shapes, sounds, touches, (...)
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  20. Lambert Wiesing, Sehen lassen. Die Praxis des Zeigens, Berlin 2013. [REVIEW]Martina Sauer - 2014 - Sehepunkte. Rezensionsjournal für Geschichtswissenschaften 14 (3).
  21. The Causal Self‐Referential Theory of Perception Revisited.Jan Almäng - 2013 - Dialectica 67 (1):29-53.
    This is a paper about The Causal Self-Referential Theory of Perception. According to The Causal Self-Referential Theory as developed by above all John Searle and David Woodruff Smith, perceptual content is satisfied by an object only if the object in question has caused the perceptual experience. I argue initially that Searle's account cannot explain the distinction between hallucination and illusion since it requires that the state of affairs that is presented in the perceptual experience must exist in order for the (...)
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  22. In Defense of Relational Direct Realism.Kenneth Hobson - 2013 - European Journal of Philosophy 21 (4):550-574.
    According to proponents of relational direct realism, veridical perceptual experiences are irreducibly relational mental states that include as constituents perceived physical objects or intrinsic aspects of them. One consequence of the theory is the rejection of the causal theory of perception. This paper defends the relational theory against several objections recently developed by Paul Coates. He argues that the required experiential relation is incoherent and unmotivated. The argument that it is incoherent commits a fallacy. In reply to the argument that (...)
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  23. Note on Two Snowdon Criticisms of the Causal Theory of Perception.Walter Horn - 2012 - Acta Analytica 27 (4):441-447.
    Two arguments Paul Snowdon has brought against the causal theory of perception are examined. One involves the claim that, based on the phenomenology of perceptual situations, it cannot be the case that perception is an essentially causal concept. The other is a reductio , according to which causal theorists’ arguments imply that a proposition Snowdon takes to be obviously non-causal ( A is married to B ) can be analyzed into some sort of indefinite ‘spousal connection’ plus a causal ingredient (...)
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  24. 1 Strawson's Rationale for the Causal Theory of Perception.Johannes Roessler - 2011 - In Johannes Roessler, Hemdat Lerman & Naomi Eilan (eds.), Perception, Causation, and Objectivity. Oxford University Press. pp. 103.
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  25. Perception, Causation, and Objectivity.Johannes Roessler, Hemdat Lerman & Naomi Eilan (eds.) - 2011 - Oxford University Press.
    Perceptual experience, that paradigm of subjectivity, constitutes our most immediate and fundamental access to the objective world. At least, this would seem to be so if commonsense realism is correct — if perceptual experience is (in general) an immediate awareness of mind-independent objects, and a source of direct knowledge of what such objects are like. Commonsense realism raises many questions. First, can we be more precise about its commitments? Does it entail any particular conception of the nature of perceptual experience (...)
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  26. Perception and the Ontology of Causation.Helen Steward - 2011 - In Johannes Roessler, Hemdat Lerman & Naomi Eilan (eds.), Perception, Causation, and Objectivity. Oxford University Press. pp. 139.
    The paper argues that the reconciliation of the Causal Theory of Perception with Disjunctivism requires the rejection of causal particularism – the idea that the ontology of causation is always and everywhere an ontology of particulars (e.g., events). The so-called ‘Humean Principle’ that causes must be distinct from their effects is argued to be a genuine barrier to any purported reconciliation, provided causal particularism is retained; but extensive arguments are provided for the rejection of causal particularism. It is then explained (...)
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  27. Perception and the Ontology of Causation.Helen Steward - 2011 - In Johannes Roessler, Hemdat Lerman & Naomi Eilan (eds.), Perception, Causation, and Objectivity. Oxford University Press.
    The paper argues that the reconciliation of the Causal Theory of Perception with Disjunctivism requires the rejection of causal particularism – the idea that the ontology of causation is always and everywhere an ontology of particulars (e.g., events). The so-called ‘Humean Principle’ that causes must be distinct from their effects is argued to be a genuine barrier to any purported reconciliation, provided causal particularism is retained; but extensive arguments are provided for the rejection of causal particularism. It is then explained (...)
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  28. Color Within an Internalist Framework : The Role of Color in the Structure of the Perceptual System.Rainer Mausfeld - 2010 - In Jonathan D. Cohen & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Color Ontology and Color Science. MIT Press.
    Colour is, according to prevailing orthodoxy in perceptual psychology, a kind of autonomous and unitary attribute. It is regarded as unitary or homogeneous by assuming that its core properties do not depend on the type of ‘perceptual object’ to which it pertains and that‘colour per se’ constitutes a natural attribute in the functional architecture of the perceptual system. It is regarded as autonomous by assuming that it can be studied in isolation of other perceptual attributes. These assumptions also provide the (...)
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  29. Causal Inference in Perception.Ladan Shams & Ulrik R. Beierholm - 2010 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14 (9):425-432.
  30. The Reappearing Act.István Aranyosi - 2009 - Acta Analytica 24 (1):1 - 10.
    In his latest book, Roy Sorensen offers a solution to a puzzle he put forward in an earlier article -The Disappearing Act. The puzzle involves various question about how the causal theory perception is to be applied to the case of seeing shadows. Sorensen argues that the puzzle should be taken as bringing out a new way of seeing shadows. I point out a problem for Sorensen’s solution, and offer and defend an alternative view, according to which the puzzle is (...)
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  31. The Causal Theory of Perception Revisited.Valtteri Arstila & Kalle Pihlainen - 2009 - Erkenntnis 70 (3):397-417.
    It is generally agreed upon that Grice's causal theory of perception describes a necessary condition for perception. It does not describe sufficient conditions, however, since there are entities in causal chains that we do not perceive and not all causal chains yield perceptions. One strategy for overcoming these problems is that of strengthening the notion of causality. Another is that of specifying the criteria according to which perceptual experiences should match the way the world is. Finally, one can also try (...)
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  32. Getting Objects for Free (Or Not): The Philosophy and Psychology of Object Perception.Gary Hatfield - 2009 - In Perception and Cognition: Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology. Clarendon Press. pp. 212-255.
  33. Review of Roy Sorensen's Seeing Dark Things. The Philosophy of Shadows[REVIEW]István Aranyosi - 2008 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86 (3):513-515.
  34. Seeing Dark Things: The Philosophy of Shadows.Roy A. Sorensen - 2008 - Oxford University Press.
    The eclipse riddle -- Seeing surfaces -- The disappearing act -- Spinning shadows -- Berkeley's shadow -- Para-reflections -- Para-refractions : shadowgrams and the black drop -- Goethe's colored shadows -- Filtows -- Holes in the light -- Black and blue -- Seeing in black and white -- We see in the dark -- Hearing silence.
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  35. A Reflexive Dispositional Analysis of Mechanistic Perception.John Dilworth - 2006 - Minds and Machines 16 (4):479-493.
    The field of machine perception is based on standard informational and computational approaches to perception. But naturalistic informational theories are widely regarded as being inadequate, while purely syntactic computational approaches give no account of perceptual content. Thus there is a significant need for a novel, purely naturalistic perceptual theory not based on informational or computational concepts, which could provide a new paradigm for mechanistic perception. Now specifically evolutionary naturalistic approaches to perception have been—perhaps surprisingly—almost completely neglected for this purpose. Arguably (...)
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  36. The Reflexive Theory of Perception.John Dilworth - 2005 - Behavior and Philosophy 33 (1):17-40.
    ABSTRACT: The Reflexive Theory of Perception (RTP) claims that perception of an object or property X by an organism Z consists in Z being caused by X to acquire some disposition D toward X itself. This broadly behavioral perceptual theory explains perceptual intentionality and correct versus incorrect, plus successful versus unsuccessful, perception in a plausible evolutionary framework. The theory also undermines cognitive and perceptual modularity assumptions, including informational or purely epistemic views of perception in that, according to the RTP, any (...)
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  37. A Naturalistic, Reflexive Dispositional Approach to Perception.John Dilworth - 2005 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 43 (4):583-601.
    This paper will investigate the basic question of the nature of perception, as theoretically approached from a purely naturalistic standpoint. An adequate theory must not only have clear application to a world full of pre-existing biological examples of perception of all kinds, from unicellular perception to conscious human perception, but it must also satisfy a series of theoretical or philosophical constraints, as enumerated and discussed in Section 1 below. A perceptual theory invoking _reflexive dispositions_--that is, dispositions directed toward the very (...)
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  38. Perceptual Causality Problems Reflexively Resolved.John Dilworth - 2005 - Acta Analytica 20 (3):11-31.
    Causal theories of perception typically have problems in explaining deviant causal chains. They also have difficulty with other unusual putative cases of perception involving prosthetic aids, defective perception, scientifically extended cases of perception, and so on. But I show how a more adequate reflexive causal theory, in which objects or properties X cause a perceiver to acquire X-related dispositions toward that very same item X, can provide a plausible and principled perceptual explanation of all of these kinds of cases. A (...)
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  39. Naturalized Perception Without Information.John Dilworth - 2004 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 25 (4):349-368.
    The outlines of a novel, fully naturalistic theory of perception are provided, that can explain perception of an object X by organism Z in terms of reflexive causality. On the reflexive view proposed, organism Z perceives object or property X just in case X causes Z to acquire causal dispositions reflexively directed back upon X itself. This broadly functionalist theory is potentially capable of explaining both perceptual representation and perceptual content in purely causal terms, making no use of informational concepts. (...)
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  40. Review of The Problem of Perception By A.D. Smith. [REVIEW]Fiona Macpherson - 2004 - Philosophical Books 45 (3):255-257.
  41. The Evidence of Our Senses.John Hyman - 2003 - In Hans-Johann Glock (ed.), Strawson and Kant. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
    The modern causal theory of perception—the theory defended by Grice and Strawson—differs from the classical theory advanced by Descartes and Locke in two ways. First, the modern theory is an exercise in conceptual analysis. Secondly, it is a version of what is sometimes called direct realism. I shall comment on these points in turn.
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  42. Causation and Perception: The Puzzle Unravelled.Alva Noe - 2003 - Analysis 63 (2):93-100.
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  43. Development of Causal Perception.L. M. Oakes - 2003 - In L. Nadel (ed.), Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Nature Publishing Group. pp. 1--456.
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  44. Causality and the Perception of Time.David M. Eagleman & Alex O. Holcombe - 2002 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6 (8):323-325.
  45. Causal Analyses of Seeing.Campbell Scott - 2002 - Erkenntnis 56 (2):169-180.
    I critically analyse two causal analyses of seeing, by Frank Jackson and Michael Tye. I show that both are unacceptable. I argue that Jackson's analysis fails because it does not rule out cases of non-seeing. Tye's analysis seems to be superior to Jackson's in this respect, but I show that it too lets in cases of non-seeing. I also show that Tye's proposed solution to a problem for his theory -- which involves a robot that mimics another (unseen) robot -- (...)
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  46. Pragmatism and Realism.Tadeusz Szubka - 2002 - New York: Routledge.
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  47. The Causal Theory of Perception and Direct Realism.Tadeusz Szubka - 2002 - In Pragmatism and Realism. New York: Routledge.
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  48. Deviant Causal Chains and Hallucinations: A Problem for the Anti-Causalist.Paul Coates - 2000 - Philosophical Quarterly 50 (200):320-331.
    The subjective character of a given experience leaves open the question of its precise status. If it looks to a subject K as if there is an object of a kind F in front of him, the experience he is having could be veridical, or hallucinatory. Advocates of the Causal Theory of perception (whom I shall call.
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  49. Mind and Meaning.Dagfinn Follesdal - 1999 - Philosophical Studies 94 (1-2):139-149.
  50. Perception and Metaphysical Scepticism.Paul Coates - 1998 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 72 (72):1-28.
    In this paper I introduce and critically examine a paradox about perceiving that is in some ways analogous to the paradox about meaning which Kripke puts forward in his exegesis of Wittgenstein's views on Rule-following. When applied to vision, the paradox of perceiving raises a metaphysical scepticism about which object a person is seeing if he looks, for example, at an apple on a tree directly in front of him. Physical objects can be seen when their appearance is distorted in (...)
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