Perception and Reality [Book Review]

Philosophical Review 107 (2):332-334 (1998)
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This book does several things, and it does them all well. Yolton firmly contextualizes the debates about perception within the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while showing how these debates are often repeated in contemporary philosophy of mind. Along the way, he provides novel interpretations of Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant that are clearly and convincingly presented. Perhaps the most important feature of his treatment is that it so vividly shows the Moderns grappling with issues about perception that continue to plague us. The uniting theme of the work is Yolton’s insistence that direct realism and representationalism are compatible. Yolton’s defense of direct realism is largely motivated by the thesis that many philosophers incorrectly take a representational theory of mind to necessitate indirect realism. This mistake arises, according to Yolton, because they suppose that the representations themselves become the objects of perception and therefore stand between the perceiver and the world of objects. Yolton’s argument that the philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were struggling to establish two interactive relations between perceivers and the physical world underlies his compatibility thesis: There is a physical and causal relationship and, more importantly, there is what Yolton calls a “cognitive” or “semantic” relationship. The latter relationship holds the key to the compatibility of representationalism with direct realism.



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Nancy Kendrick
Wheaton College, Massachusetts

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