A Defense of Representationalism Against the Inverted Spectrum and Blur Objections

The representationalist theory of perception is an extremely attractive theory. According to the theory, our perceptual experiences are representations of properties that external objects in the world might have. Nothing in the external world necessarily possesses these represented properties, so we quell the worry of a lack of an account of instances of illusory or hallucinatory perception. Representationalism has the attraction of a perceptual realist view while avoiding the problems incurred by a view like naïve realism. According to a representationalist view of perception, we classify and individuate experiences by their content, and not by their intrinsic properties, much like we classify books and films. In fact, a representationalist view is supported by the assumption that the transparency thesis is true. That is, we could not classify experiences by their intrinsic properties even if we wanted to, because we are not able to be aware of any intrinsic properties of experiences. When we attempt to introspect in order to reflect on and observe properties of having an experience, we “see right through” the experience and can only reflect on and observe properties of the objects of our perceptions. According to representationalism, the phenomenal character of a perceptual experience is completely given by the representational content of that experience.

Two of the strongest objections to the representational theory of perception are the objections of the inverted visual spectrum and the objection of blur. In my thesis, I will argue that both objections do not succeed. I will argue that it is possible to acknowledge the possibility of an inverted visual spectrum while also maintaining a representationalist view of perception. I will achieve this by examining a wide variety of current research that both support and object to representationalism. I will conclude that representationalism survives two of its strongest objections, demonstrating that it is not only an attractive theory, but also is a strong theory that prevails through objections.

I have found that one possible way to defend representationalism is by adapting an internalist representationalist theory. I reach the conclusion that with an internalist view of representationalism, it is in fact possible for representationalism to be defended against both objections. I achieved this by recreating the argument for an internalist account of representationalism developed by Sydney Shoemaker that demonstrates its fortitude against the objection of the inverted spectrum, and then by using his argument and extending it into a response to the objection of blur.


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