Many contemporary philosophers of perception argue that perceiving an object like our gambolling puppy is fundamentally a matter of perceiving the object itself. They insist upon the explanatory priority of object perception in part because they fear that if property-perception were fundamental, the object would stand behind a ‘veil’ of sensible properties, which would in turn make it mysterious how we have perceptual access to objects in the first place. This worry may become more pressing depending on the stances taken on some of the metaphysical questions mentioned above (for instance, if we insist that people perceive only universals, or that sensible properties are mind-dependent).

At the same time, it seems that we cannot perceive an object except by perceiving it as being some specific way; i.e. as being shaped, or coloured, and so on. And this makes it tempting to argue that we perceive objects only in virtue of perceiving their properties. We are thus left with an apparent dilemma: either we relinquish the fundamental role sensible properties play in perception, and so violate fundamental intuitions about conditions of possibility of object perception, or we risk making our perceptual access to objects mysterious.

A related question about property perception concerns the nature of illusion. Almost everyone accepts that standard cases of illusion are possible. These are cases in which we misperceive an object; e.g. a white object looks red, or a straight stick looks bent. Yet are so-called ‘property illusions’ possible? That is, can we misperceive a property?

 

Standard accounts of property perception, as well as accounts of how perception rationalises our beliefs about the world, assume that the answer to this question is ‘no’. But it is far from clear why property perception and object perception should exhibit such an asymmetry with respect to illusion. Indeed, we suspect that there are good arguments for permitting property illusion.

 

We are thus faced with a choice: either we must explain why property illusions are impossible, or we must revise our account of property perception. If we opt for the latter, we introduce a new parallel between object perception and property perception that has interesting metaphysical and epistemological ramifications.

The non-exhaustive questions described above generate a mixture of traditional puzzles that may require new answers, and novel puzzles whose implications remain largely unexplored. Our aim is not to arrive at a definitive solution to any one puzzle, or any small subset of puzzles. It is to use the puzzles described above, as well as others, as a means to pursue a synoptic investigation into the nature and significance of property perception.

© 2020 Perceiving Properties project. perceivingproperties@gmail.com

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