I have appreciated Bill Dwyer’s contributions to this very rich thread. He asked in #7 if it was Rand’s position that what one perceives—the object of one’s perception—is a real existent independent of one’s perception, but that how one perceives it are its qualities (both those that have been called primary and those that have been called secondary), these being produced by an interaction of the object with one’s organs of perception.
I answer that Rand’s direct realism in perception has in common with other contemporary proponents of direct realism that in a perception, one experiences not only the sensory qualities in the perception, but that the object is independent of oneself, the percipient subject. The independence, from perception, of the existence of the object is an element given within a sensory experience counting as perceptual.
In #14 Bill remarked that, in Rand’s view, we cannot say anything about the perceived object as it is independently of the sensory forms in which we observe it, other than that it exists independently of observation. Here the direct realist would want to distinguish between perceiving an object without sensory systems (we do not do that) and perceiving the object as it is independently of our perceptions, yet within our perception of it. With the latter meaning, we can say things about the perceived object as it is independently of the sensory forms in which we observe it.
With this meaning, I apply Rand’s statement “‘Things as they are’ are things as perceived by your mind” (AS 1036) to apply not only to perceptual judgments, but to perception itself.
Sensory forms are not all of one category. Some of the sensory forms are sensory qualities, and some are not. The significance of this, I will come to by the end of this note.
Reid had arrived at the thoroughly modern outlook that for every sensory quality in a perceptual experience of an object, there must be in truth a pair of qualities, one in the object itself, its partner as in our awareness. For some sensory qualities, we think of them firstly as in our sensory apparatus, secondly as in the object itself. For other qualities, such as hardness, it is the other way around. Reid would have experience of the set of qualities as they are in the perceptual object itself be inferred from the set of sensory qualities in our awareness. This is not direct realism. Reid was an indirect realist. (Rand teeters on indirectness when she writes that the task of the senses is to give man “the evidence of existence, whereas the task of identifying it belongs to his reason . . .” [AS 1016; cf.].)
In direct realism, it is not judgments upon sensory qualities that render a sensory experience a perception. Perception precedes perceptual judgment. Perceptions preceding perceptual judgments are already intentional; they are of objects. As with mere sensations, so with sensory qualities in a perception: of themselves they are not intentional. They are necessary constituents of a perception (AS 1035), they are essential to our direct acquaintance with the object, but they are not themselves the source of the intentionality that makes a sensory experience a perceptual one. Neither is a judgment upon them the source of that intentionality.
I do not think Reid was correct to insist that necessarily every sensory quality is diploid. Some sensory qualities may be the self-same as they are in the object itself as they are in an intentional, perceptual experience of the object. Be that as it may, some factors in perceptual form are not themselves sensory qualities. Moreover, as A. D. Smith has argued, it is by discerning the phenomenology of the intentionality in perception that we can uncover what features are self-same in the object and as in the experience of that feature in perception of the object.
In perceptions, Smith observes, we are offered further perspectives of the same object. The sensory qualities within our perception do not offer further perspectives. They are as with mere sensations. Sensations “have no further aspects that transcend our awareness of them. We can attend more fully to a sensation, but we cannot turn it over . . . .” Why is that? “A sensation has no hidden sides because we are not aware of it through the exercise of a sense organ spatially distinct from it” (The Problem of Perception , 135). That spatial distinction is part of what is in the perception.
Shadows and sounds have no hidden sides, but they do afford different perspectives on themselves. The element of spatiality—spatial distinctness from the sense organ—is a sufficient criterion to distinguish a perception from a sensation.
Smell, taste, thermal conductance, and radiant heat are experienced as at the sense organ. So although spatiality is a sufficient criterion for counting a sensory experience a perception, it seems it may not be a necessary one. There may be some other factor(s) of perception that support the intentionality of a perception.
To report “I have a bad taste in my mouth” is to report only a sensation; it has no object other than itself. “I’m tasting the mint in my mouth” is report of a perception, but only because one feels (or has lately felt) the minted object in one’s mouth. So it goes, too, for sensations of thermal conductance. The factor of spatiality is in play here, and that is sufficient.
Smith continues. A smell at the nose or radiant heat on the face is a perception, yet we are not aware of such perceptual objects by organs spatially distinct from them.
Let us “pay attention to the way in which perception is integrated with movement—specifically, movement on the part of the perceiving subject. . . . Our discussion of spatiality has already provided a clue as to the kind of movement that is relevant here. For what we have so far seen to be of perceptual significance is the apparent three-dimensional locatedness of objects of perception in relation to a sense-organ. Hence, the kind of movement that is of perceptual significance is the movement of sense organs in relation to perceived objects. Not all such movements are relevant, however. For given that we are at present interested in how perceptual experience is to be distinguished from mere sensation qua experience, the movements in question must be ones of which the subject is aware” (141).
“The appreciation of a mobile sense-organ is (at least) ‘implicit’ in perceptual consciousness. / Such movement of a sense-organ in relation to an object of awareness is wholly absent from the level of mere sensation, for such movement again introduces perspectives” (142). Smells and radiant heat can be objects of perception because we can move in relation to them and be aware of that relative movement.
Visual, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory sensations have no necessary intentionality. Without intentionality they are mere sensations; with intentionality they belong to perceptions. Without the spatiality structure or the relative-motion structure, sensation is not intentional, not component of a perception.
But wait. Is there not a third factor that sometimes yields the intentionality of perception? Do not sensations of touching a solid object “necessarily embody an awareness of solidity?” (151; cf. AS 1016; also). With spatiality or relative motion in play with the sensation of touch, the sensation can be intentional, can be a sensory perception. But those two factors are not the only ones that can make a sense of touch a perception. In touch there can be a check or impediment, a registration of the not-self. It is that registration “that introduces three-dimensional spatiality at all into haptic perception. It is only the experience of a collision, or at least a resistance, as the result of active bodily striving that opens up genuine spatiality for touch” (155).
We have then “three equiprimordial sources of perceptual consciousness” (158). These are the fundamental forms that perceptual consciousness can take, and each of them is a non-sensuous and yet non-conceptual dimension to perceptual consciousness. The three-dimensionality of the typical visual field “is a simple function of the senses, and is experientially manifest to us; and yet it is not ‘sensuous’, not a matter of the ‘quality’ of visual sensation. Something similar is found in the kinetic structuring of sensation that we find in our second basic perceptual phenomenon. A non-sensuous dimension is even more obvious, however, with the [checking by not-self], for here an object is presented to consciousness otherwise than by sensation . . . . Not only can such a check not be reduced to sensation—something that is equally true of the other two basic perceptual phenomena—sensation is, or may be, entirely absent in its customary role of being a subjective registration of the presence of an object to our senses. . . . . Pressure sensations are not . . . necessary for the experience of the [check by not-self]. We can feel such a check to our agency even if the relevant body part is anesthetized, or if we use some implement to feel the object's renitent bulk. In both these cases, certain sensations will indeed be present. . . . Such sensations, however, do not occur where we feel the obstacle of our action” (159).
Smith stresses that although “it is necessary, in order for a sensory modality to be perceptual, that it feature such a non-sensuous dimension,” it is further necessary that the sensory modality possess the dimension “in such a way that we have a sense of encountering something independent of us” (164).
I grasp that proverbial baseball that Merlin or I (a, b) would firmly grasp. I force the ball, and the ball forces my hand. I am directly aware of the force the ball exerts against my grasping hand. There is a perceived command to the muscles, a sense of effort, estimating the stiffness of the ball. However variable (by fatigue or illness) my estimation of it, I am directly aware of the force of the ball itself opposing me, directly aware of the check by not-self.
Smith’s two other basic perceptual phenomena also cannot be reduced to sensation, but the way in which they give us a sense of something independent of us (which mere sensations cannot do) is by certain of the perceptual constancies (169–76). These constancies are ways of intentionality in perception, and they inform us that location, shape, size, and motion are in the world—as in perception and as in a world without perception (Galileo). In addition, by the check of exertion, we are informed that solidity/softness is in the world as within our perception.
This then would be a contemporary meaning of primary “qualities” in perception: the features delivered in the intentionality-dimensions of perception. Smell, taste, thermal conductance, and radiant heat are sensations rendered intentional in perception only through support by modes of perception having intentionality-dimensions (174). The intentionality of the former modes of perception is derivative (is secondary to) the intentionality of the latter modes. Comparison with the conception of primary/secondary qualities in David Kelley’s direct realism could be very interesting.*
—From my comment on Jason Walker’s “Reductionism: Is It Good for the Objectivists” (2004)
Dennett attempts to reduce the sensory qualities in perception to the intentions of perceptual concepts and judgments. Rand certainly held that percepts are intentional. She maintained that they are always of existents and that they have content. And she recognized that for humans all perception is subject to our critical, conceptual faculty (FNI 17). But she did not suppose that perceptual intentionality was simply conceptual intentionality. Perceiving that it is raining on oneself is not only a disposition to make the judgment that it is raining on oneself.
Rand did not identify perceptual intentionality with conceptual intentionality. Nor did she take the sensory qualities in perception to be reducible to either sort of intentionality.
. . .
Working out the exact true relations of sensory qualities in perception, intentionality in perception, and intentionality in conception is work not accomplished by Rand nor by Searle. It remains work for us (e.g., DK’s ES 208–42).