Introduction: Perception Without Representation

Locatelli, Roberta & Keith A. Wilson (2017). ‘Introduction: Perception Without Representation’. Topoi 36 (2): 197–212.


The idea that perceptual experiences have representational content has become something of an orthodoxy in recent philosophy of perception. It forms part of a view that aspires to extend some of Frege’s (1956) insights on thought to other mental occurrences such as beliefs, judgements, recollections and imaginings to provide a general and integrated account of the mind. The notion of representation also plays a central, some say ineliminable (Burge 2005, 2010), role in perceptual science, and for those who endorse computational theories of mind (e.g. Fodor 1975; Marr 1982).

This special issue focuses upon the debate between representational views and emerging relational views of perception. In particular, we aim to shed light upon the commitments and motivations of the latter which, being historically more recent and less widely held, have all too often been poorly understood by their detractors, many of whom have taken such views to be wildly implausible, incompatible with current scientific theory, or simply inscrutable. Indeed, for those steeped in the representational tradition, it can be difficult to understand why one might want to deny what may seem an obvious truth about perceptual experiences: that they represent how things in the world are. Furthermore, it is unclear that representational and relational views should be considered mutually exclusive, since relationalism need not be formulated in terms of the denial of representational content, and nor do these options exhaust the field. Indeed, some variants of the views have much in common.

We aim to elucidate relational views of perception in a way that facilitates a more nuanced debate (see Brewer, Travis, Martin). Other contributions explore the phenomenal character of experience and its explanatory role (Brogaard, Dokic and Martin, Eilan), and reappraise existing arguments both for (Brogaard) and against (O’Sullivan, Judge, Ivanov) relational views. We hope that this goes some way towards demonstrating that, far from being an implausible fringe view, relational theories constitute a significant and genuine attempt to overcome some central problems in the philosophy of perception, and, as such, are worthy of further consideration—not least by their opponents.

Locatelli & Wilson 2017 - Perception Without Representation.pdf