[hist-analytic] Putnam and Sense-Data pt 1

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Thu Oct 6 20:12:28 EDT 2011

I've been thinking a bit about Putnam's discussion of Austin. Here is a selection from my notebook. 

Putnam re-engineers the conceptual motives behind the sense-data theory. Consider what he says early on in his discussion of J. L. Austin, after mentioning some of the standard examples used to illustrate the need to introduce sense-data. 

"Such examples do show that perception is not infallible; but the inference from "perception is infallible; therefore it cannot be direct" is a peculiar one, and clearly needs premises that are going to be problematic." (Putnam [1994] p 25) 

The fallibility of perception was never something that the sense-data philosopher’s set out to show. What they set out to show was that the fallibility of perception requires acknowledgement that because we cannot tell the difference between appearance and reality by way of perception something stands between us and reality, viz a sense-datum. It is a mistake to identify being a sense datum with being an appearance. Appearances do not constitute reality; this would be contradictory. Sense data may constitute reality, depending on how far you carry your empiricism into your ontology. Whether a sense datum were veridical, or not, acquaintance with it could be indirect only if something stood between it and the perceiver, something with which he would be acquainted; but in this case we would be introducing a new datum, some new object of acquaintance "on top of" the old one. We would be on the road to a regress. The consensus was that sense data themselves cannot be subject to the distinction between appearance and reality; their esse was percipi . It was this consideration that led to the idea of sense-data, or appearances, as objects of direct perception. The distinction between direct and indirect perception fell within the distinction between appearance and reality. Direct and indirect do not recapitulate the concepts of appearance and reality. 

It was the distinction between appearance and reality, not between direct and indirect perception that was most typically of interest and had been at least as far back as Plato’s Sophist and Theaetetus . For Plato appearances were never objects of direct perception, this being reserved for the forms. The combat between Socrates and the sophists is the ancestral beginning of the disputes which, after Descartes, led to representational realism and sense-data theory more generally. 

steve bayne 
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