Nordic Property-Perception Workshop

An online workshop exploring philosophical approaches to the sensory perception of properties and relations.

Rose petals, leaves and plant

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

This workshop will examine metaphysical, epistemological and other philosophical issues that are distinctive of the perception of properties and relations, as distinct from the perception of objects.

This event will take place on 18 and 19 March 2021 via Zoom from 10am to 3pm (CET) on both days, and is a collaboration between UiO’s Perceiving Representations project, funded by the Norwegian Research Council, and the Perceiving Properties In a World of Objects project, funded by the University of Oxford’s John Fell Fund.

Attendance is free and all are welcome, though familiarity with contemporary philosophy of perception is assumed.


Day 1, Thursday 18th March

10.00–10.15  Digital coffee* and welcome
10.15–11.30  Pär Sundström (Umeå), ‘An Argument for the “Veil of Abstracta”
11.30–11.45  Digital coffee break*
11.45–13.00  Anders Nes (NTNU), ‘Some Doubts About Perceiving Tropes
13.00–13.45  Digital lunch break*
13.45–15.00  Sebastian Watzl (Oslo), ‘Maybe Perceptual Experience Does Not Have Content

Day 2, Friday 19th March

09.45–10.00  Digital coffee* (optional)
10.00–11.15  Roberta Locatelli (Tübingen), ‘Naïve Realism and the Relationality of Phenomenal Character
11.15–11.30  Digital coffee break*
11.30–12.45  Jan Almäng (KAU), ‘The Perception of Internal Relations
12.45–13.15  Digital lunch break*
13.15–14.30  Kristoffer Sundberg (Gothenberg), ‘Are Illusions Hallucinations of Properties?
14.30–15.00  Discussion and closing*

*bring your own coffee/lunch!


Jan Almäng (KAU), ‘The Perception of Internal Relations’

It is common to distinguish between internal relations and external relations, where the existence of the internal relation supervene upon their relata, whereas external relations fail to supervene on their relata. Thus, for example, being longer than supervenes on its relata. If one stick is one metre and another stick is two metre, the latter stick is by necessity longer than the former stick. External relations however fail to supervene on their relata. One ball might be two metres from a second ball, but if we move the balls closer to each other, they would only be one meter apart. So the existence of the balls would not necessitate the existence of the relation two metres apart. It is trivially true that we can visually perceive external relations. But can we perceive internal relations? Here I analyse the Müller-Lyer illusion and provide an argument to the effect that we can perceive internal relations but that the content representing it is best conceived of as a kind of higher-order content.

Roberta Locatelli (Tübingen), ‘Naïve Realism and the Relationality of Phenomenal Character’

Naïve realism claims that the phenomenal character of perception is constituted by particular objects. This is often believed to imply that experiences of numerically distinct particulars can in no circumstances share the same phenomenal character. Many see this implication is unacceptable, because the ­­­phenomenal character is thought to have a certain degree of generality. Recent attempts to accommodate the generality of experience are based on introducing two notions of phenomenal character, one that is particular-involving, and one that has generality. I will argue that bifurcating phenomenal character is unnecessary and unmotivated and will offer an alternative strategy to accommodate the generality of experience. This will involve adopting a relational account of phenomenal character, which identifies it with the obtaining of the relation of having a point of view on a scene.

Anders Nes (NTNU), ‘Some Doubts About Perceiving Tropes’

It has been argued that property instances or, for short, tropes, e.g. the redness of this chip, are well suited to figure as objects of direct perception (D. C. Williams 1953, K. Campbell 1990). More recently, representationalist such as Burge (2010) and Schellenberg (2018) have held that we perceptually represent tropes. I voice some doubts about such views. We have good reason to think we perceive, and perceptually represent, objects and (non-particularised) properties; e.g. from the structure of perceptual attention, from perceptual discrimination or segregation, and from misperception. We seem to lack, however, counterpart reasons in the case of tropes. Pending compelling reasons to think we perceive tropes in addition to objects and properties, simplicity favours not assuming we perceive them.

Kristoffer Sundberg (Gothenberg), ‘Are Illusions Hallucinations of Properties?’

Could I consciously see the red colour of the sofa in front of me in a case where I have a visual experience of the sofa as blue? Contrary to what I take to be the default view, I will argue that there is a sense in which I can see the colour of the sofa despite experiencing it as having a colour it does not have. I will argue that we ought to distinguish “property illusions” from “property hallucinations”, whereas the tendency in the literature has been, either to fail to draw the distinction, or to assume that all illusions are property hallucinations.

Pär Sundström (Umeå), ‘An Argument for the “Veil of Abstracta”’

What types of things do we sometimes experience directly? There may well be many different reasonable or interesting precisifications of ‘experience directly’ and that, on different precisifications, this question receives different answers. I shall formulate an argument with the conclusion that there is one interesting sense of ‘experience directly’ such that we never experience any individual directly. Individuals include here physical things like trees or particular brain states, non-physical things like immaterial sense-data, and property instances like the particular greyness of this laptop. If we do not ever experience any of these things directly, what do we experience directly (in the relevant sense of ‘experience directly)? Plausibly abstract universals. The argument thus supports the view that other things in a sense lie behind a “veil of abstracta” (compare Kriegel 2011). I shall discuss ways of rejecting the argument. But my sense is that the argument is ultimately surprisingly powerful.

Sebastian Watzl (Oslo), ‘Maybe Perceptual Experience Does Not Have Content’

Why would anyone deny that perceptual experience has intentional content? This presentation is a progress report on trying to answer this question. First, I will make precise how the content view should be understood. On the face of it, I argue next, denying the content view on this understanding is extremely unattractive: it comes with many costs, and few apparent benefits. Yet, as I will continue, we can extract a powerful and under appreciated argument against the content view from the writings of some of its opponents. The argument relies on two main premises: the first specifies an explanatory demand for a theory of intentional content, the second argues that a constitutive connection between experience and content required by the content view stands in the way of meeting that explanatory demand. I argue that some intentionalists seem to be aware of this problem. Yet the attempts to solve it published so far, I argue, are not satisfactory.

Further information

Further details of the project and research objectives can be found on the Perceiving Properties in a World of Objects website.


Keith Wilson (UiO)
Tags: Philosophy of mind, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Perception, Representation, The senses, Property perception
Published Feb. 19, 2021 4:06 PM - Last modified July 1, 2022 1:00 PM