Dr Matthew Ratcliffe
Touch: A Philosophical Exploration
Touch: A Philosophical Exploration will address several closely related issues, including the nature of touch, the difference between touch and the other senses, the variety of tactile experience, the relationship between touch and a sense of belonging to the world, the contribution made by touch to emotional feeling, the role of touch in interpersonal relations, and how a study of the experience of touch can inform our understanding of certain psychiatric and other medical conditions. The project is important for three principal reasons:
First of all, misconceptions of experience, which alienate us from the world by construing us as detached voyeurs, are prevalent in a range of disciplines. Dr Ratcliffe's re-characterisation of the structure of experience will therefore have widespread repercussions. For example, he will argue that a host of philosophical worries concerning how we are able to experience and think about an ‘external' world dissolve once it is appreciated that our relationship with the world is one of practical belonging rather than of passive surveying. In addition, he will show that interdisciplinary consciousness research generally starts off with an inadequate description of experience and that this has led to a number of confusions.
Second, accounts of interpersonal understanding in philosophy of mind, cognitive science and developmental psychology are generally based upon the perspective of a detached spectator. A study of the significance of interpersonal touch serves as a corrective to this, stressing the extent to which interpersonal understanding is a matter of relatedness and interaction between people, rather than of distant contemplation.
Third, many people diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses complain of feeling strangely disconnected or alienated from the world and from other people, ‘out of touch' with everything. A construal of world-experience as a matter of ‘watching things happen' is unable to cast any light upon such experiences, given that it construes normal, healthy experience as similarly detached. An account that emphasises certain features of touch is able to accommodate the role played by a sense of practical belonging in healthy experience and thus to convey what it is that is missing in certain cases of psychiatric illness.