Are the Senses Silent? Travis’s Argument from Looks

Wilson, Keith A. (2018). ‘Are the Senses Silent? Travis’s Argument from Looks’. In John Collins and Tamara Dobler (eds.), The Philosophy of Charles Travis: Language, Thought, and Perception, pp. 199–221, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Many philosophers and scientists take perceptual experience, whatever else it involves, to be representational. That is, to perceive an object via one or more of our senses is to represent it as being some particular way: that tomato is red, round, sweet, and so on. In ‘The Silence of the Senses’, Charles Travis (2004, 2013) argues that this view involves a kind of category mistake, and consequently that perceptual experiences are non-representational. However, the details of this argument are somewhat obscure, and have been widely misinterpreted or misunderstood by Travis’s representationalist opponents.

In this paper, I offer an interpretation of one of Travis’s central arguments—the argument from looks—which appears to present a genuine and important challenge to representational views of perception. I argue that this challenge may be (pace Travis) surmountable, but does place a substantial burden upon the representationalist to explain how the alleged contents of perceptual experience come to feature in our conscious mental lives. Alternatively, if they do not so feature, then perceptual representation fails to play its alleged explanatory role, and so is superfluous.

Wilson 2018 - Are The Senses Silent.pdf