Reference, perception, and realism
PublisherCambridge University Press
SourcePerception, Realism, and the Problem of Reference
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One of the perennial themes in philosophy has been the problem of our access (if any) to the world around us. This is, widely construed, the problem of realism. The question can be made more specific. Do our perceptual systems bring us into contact with the world as it is or do some of the ways they present the world depend on the systems themselves, e.g. as due to one’s conceptual frameworks or to the make up of the perceptual systems? If they do not show us the world as it really is, and if there is no neutral perspective or independent way to know the world, does it make sense to talk about a world that exists independently of organisms that perceive or experience it? A somewhat related question is whether our scientific theories reveal the world as it really is or whether the theoretical assumptions and concepts constitutive of every theory somehow describe the world only in ways presupposed by the theory and its background assumptions. The answers to these questions hinge in the last analysis on whether our perceptual acts, such as fixing the eyes and other deictic operations, succeed in picking out real objects or features in the world. Since perception is the basis for our evidence for scientific theories, the related question becomes whether the terms, especially the theoretical terms, of our best scientific theories ought to be taken to refer to entities, events, and processes in the world. If they do, then our perceptual system and our best scientific theories would correctly represent the world. Of course, scientific theories have a history, and, so even at best, they do not always get things right. © Cambridge University Press 2012.