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Department of Philosophy

Completed PhD Theses, 2008 - 9

Matthew Conduct - In Defence of Naïve Realism


This thesis offers a defence of naïve realism. As I understand it, naïve realism involves a claim about the structure of perception, and about the nature of perceptual experience, that is, the sensory experience that one enjoys when perceiving something. It claims that perception is psychologically direct, in that perceptual experience, in its very nature, suffices to put one in contact with normal, mind-independent objects. And it understands this nature in terms of it being presentational of these objects.

After explaining the core commitments of naïve realism and presenting the salient alternative views of the nature of perceptual experience and perception, I go on to consider motivations for why it is a position that is worth defending. I discuss epistemological, metaphysical and phenomenological reasons for why naïve realism should be the place where we begin our theorising about perception, and why we should defend it as strongly as we can.

I then present the two main challenges to the naïve realist view, the arguments from illusion and hallucination. The possibility of these two kinds of sensory experience is held to make the naïve realist view of the nature of perceptual experience untenable. I present a modified form of adverbialism as the best way for the naïve realist to understand the nature of perceptual experience if they want to successfully accommodate the possibility of illusory experience. On this approach, perceptual experience is the sensing of the object of perception by a subject.

Next I consider the disjunctive response to the challenge that hallucination presents to the naïve realist, according to which we should conceive of perceptual and hallucinatory experience as having fundamentally different natures. I argue that such a disjunctivism needs to take an extreme form in which the only positive nature to hallucinatory experience is its being subjectively indiscriminable from perceptual experience. This position is rejected on the grounds that it maintains an implausible view about the nature of sensory experience.

Finally, I consider an alternative way in which the naïve realist can deal with hallucination.  This is to claim that perceptual and hallucinatory experience can share the same nature, while at the same time perceptual experience can be understood as presentational of the objects of perception. This strategy will require the naïve realist to adopt a stance about the metaphysical nature of the entities to which one can be related in experience.