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Depiction

DOI
10.4324/9780415249126-M017-1
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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M017-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/depiction/v-1

6. Resemblance revisited

The intuition that pictures look like what they depict was clarified above in the claim that depicting and depicted resemble in respect of some visible property. The discussion of seeing-in provides an opportunity to present the intuition another way. Depiction should be understood by characterizing our experience of it. Thus the better way to understand the intuition is as advocating a certain view of seeing-in: that it is the experience of likeness.

So understood, the view fares somewhat better with the first problem presented in §2. Resemblance may require there to be two things, one resembling, one resembled; the experience of resemblance does not. For instance, I may experience a sound I hear as resembling another, even if that other sound is one I have merely on occasion conjured in my imagination, and even if I am fully aware of this. This opens the way for a single account of depiction, whether or not there exists something depicted. In either case, the picture is experienced in a special way. It is seen in a way somehow involving the thought of the thing depicted (existing or not), and the proposal is to understand that way of seeing the picture as an experience of resemblance.

However, this still leaves the second problem entirely untouched. In what respect is resemblance experienced? For it is no more plausible to say that a picture need be experienced as resembling what it depicts in shape, colour, material composition and the like than it is to say that the two must resemble in those respects.

The answer lies in a property of things that we regularly perceive, but rarely articulate. Consider the thought that in one way a circular disk seen at an oblique angle looks elliptical, yet for all that its 3–D shape is clearly unchanged. What is picked out here is a shape property of an unusual kind. For it is relative to a point – in this case, the point from which the disk is seen. In fact, it is the property of subtending a certain solid angle at that point. For convenience, call this property the ‘outline shape’ the disk has at that point. This is not, however, simply the shape of the object’s silhouette. For if the disk is marked with concentric circles, each of those will also subtend a certain solid angle at the point, and the outline shape of the whole may be taken to include these nested sets of angles too. So understood, it is at least clear that many pictures which do not resemble what they depict in 3–D shape may do so in outline shape.

Seeing-in, then, is essentially the experience of likeness in respect of outline shape. Depiction may then be understood as that representation which works through the deliberate generation of this experience. This leaves many details to work through, and many objections to counter. None the less it is a position with great promise. For it offers a way to perform all the most pressing tasks encountered above – accommodating our intuitions about depiction, explaining various of its features, and characterizing the experience to which it gives rise.

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Citing this article:
Hopkins, Robert. Resemblance revisited. Depiction, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M017-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/depiction/v-1/sections/resemblance-revisited-1.
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