From Molecules to Perception: Philosophical Investigations of Smell

Philosophy Compass 17 (11):e12883 (2022)
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Theories of perception have traditionally dismissed the sense of smell as a notoriously variable and highly subjective sense, mainly because it does not easily fit into accounts of perception based on visual experience. So far, philosophical questions about the objects of olfactory perception have started by considering the nature of olfactory experience. However, there is no philosophically neutral or agreed conception of olfactory experience: it all depends on what one thinks odors are. We examine the existing philosophical methodology for addressing our sense of smell: on the one hand appeals to phenomenology that focus on the experiential dimensions of odor perception and on the other approaches that look at odor sources and their material dimensions. We show that neither strategy provides enough information to account for the human sense of smell and argue that the inclusion of the missing dimension of biology, with its concern for the function (or functions) of olfaction, provides the means to develop a satisfactory and empirically informed philosophy of smell.



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Ann-Sophie Barwich
Indiana University, Bloomington

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Smell identification and the role of labels.Giulia Martina - forthcoming - Philosophical Psychology.

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