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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The scope of direct perception

Notwithstanding what we would prima facie say, our concept of 'perception' is culturally determined. The philosopher/psychologist Eric Schwitgebel notes that in a certain way we could say that we "see" the window while looking at a tree outside it, even if the window can only be seen because we know about trees and about windows and we know that a tree without a window before it would appear differently. In India, Buddhist philosophers admitted within the range of perception (pratyakṣa) things a realist would have never admitted as perceptible, such as the four noble truths (to be seen through intellectual, yogic, perception). Mīmāṃsakas seem to be the most restrictive as regards the definition of perception. To them, only sense perception is perception. No intellectual perception is admitted, memory of a perceived thing is no (longer) perception and there is no perception of not commonly perceivable items. For instance, they deny perceptibility to samavāya (inherence), against Naiyāyikas. Similarly, they deny the possibility of perceiving objects which are not directly in contact with one's sense faculties (again, against Naiyāyikas which maintain that a distant object [such as silver] can be perceived through a special contact in order to explain perceptual error [such as mistaking mother-of-pearl for silver]). On the other hand, however, Mīmāṃsakas deem determined cognitions to be perceptible, against Buddhists. In general, the object of direct perception is, for Mīmāṃsakas, very similar to the one of naive realism: a "thing" recognised as such (i.e. categorised, verbally determined), not its qualitative elements (a particular shade of colour, a kind of softness, etc., as with Buddhists).


VS said...

They differed on the definitions, but then based on these definitions, were their conclusions different?

elisa freschi said...

Well, they all agreed that perception is an instrument of knowledge, that it is of fundamental importance (that is: either all others or most others instruments of knowledge are known to just work on perceptual data), that is has a certain precinct of application, which is primarily that of sense-faculties. But the differences in definition are of major importance: Buddhists just describe it as DIRECT perception (no matter if sensual, in fact it can also be intellectual), whereas Mīmāṃsakas understand it as SENSE perception (not necessarily direct, in fact, it can also entail a mediate sort of determined knowledge). I hope I am answering your question.

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