Senses as Capacities

In: Multisensory Research
Casey O’Callaghan Washington University in St. Louis, Philosophy Department, PNP Program, 1 Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA

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This paper presents an account of the senses and what differentiates them that is compatible with richly multisensory perception and consciousness. According to this proposal, senses are ways of perceiving. Each sense is a subfaculty that comprises a collection of perceptual capacities. What each sense shares and what differentiates one sense from another is the manner in which those capacities are exercised. Each way of perceiving involves a distinct type of information gathering, individuated by the information it functions to extract and the medium from which it does so. This approach distinguishes the project of characterizing and differentiating senses from that of attributing experiences to sensory modalities. Perceptual experiences are episodes in which perceptual capacities are exercised. Conscious perceptual episodes may be ascribed to distinct sensory modalities, according to the manners in which perceptual capacities are deployed on an occasion. According to this account, senses are not exclusive. First, their capacities may overlap. Second, perceptual episodes, including conscious experiences, may belong to multiple senses. Indeed, some episodes require the joint use of several senses. In this account, subjects have only limited first-person knowledge of the senses they employ.

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