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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V034-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

A philosophical theory of perception must accommodate this obvious fact: when someone perceives, or seems to perceive something, how things appear may differ from how they are. A circular coin tilted will look elliptical. A stick partially immersed in water will look bent. Noting that appearance and reality do not always coincide, some philosophers have given the following account of the contrast between the two. Suppose someone seems to see a book with a red cover. Whether or not there is any book to be seen, the individual seeming to see the red book will be aware of something red. What they are aware of is called a sense-datum. According to a sense-datum theory, any perceptual experience involves awareness of a sense-datum whether or not it is an experience of a physical object.

Some philosophers link a sense-datum theory with certain views about knowledge. According to foundationalists all knowledge of the external world must rest on a foundation of beliefs that are beyond doubt. We can always be mistaken about what physical objects are like. On the other hand, we cannot be mistaken about what sense-data are like. So, all knowledge about the external world rests on beliefs about sense-data. In this way a sense-datum theory is supposed to do double duty in contributing towards an account of perception, and an account of knowledge based on perception.

Citing this article:
Gallois, Andre. Sense-data, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V034-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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