E-mail to Me

24 Feb

Here’s the e-mail my professor sent me in response to the one I sent him the other day (link below). I don’t know why he keeps writing Stephen – it clearly says my name is Steven on my paper AND e-mail. Anyway, enjoy.

Hi Stephen

It’s great that you’ve been doing this kind of independent thinking. That was also what struck me as such a pity about your paper: you clearly put some serious thought into it. So please don’t be put off doing that!

As far as the paper goes, I’m afraid the burden is on you to make clear how you’re answering the question. I’d be happy to take another look, but as I recall it wasn’t clear from what you wrote how you took yourself to be engaging with the Argument from Illusion. (In particular, a chunk of the paper was taken up with alternative reasons to think we don’t experience the physical environment directly.) You should spend most of the paper explaining how the Argument works in detail, and then tie your criticisms explicitly to the Argument as you have set it out. (Don’t worry too much about the grade. That 1st assignment was mostly just a warm-up, worth less than 10% overall. So e.g. the difference between a B and a C on it is around 2% overall.)

That said, I do now see how you take this stuff to undermine the 1st premise: the claim that there are illusions. That’s an interesting line to take. The keys thing I don’t get are:

1. Why do you think we perceive the aspects of our environments and brains which you mention as causing our experiences? It’s certainly not true that we perceive everything that causes us to perceive – e.g. the sun behind your head; the blood-flow to your eye; the past development of your brain during infancy. So why think we do perceive the things you mention, such as neurochemical effects? Aren’t they revealed only by recent scientific inquiry, rather than by the perceptual experiences they cause? Now the medium – the air or space through which light passes – is a different matter. To describe our experiences properly, it does seem we need to say we perceive that. We’ll read some stuff about this just after Spring Break.

2. You say that we see sense data, not mind-independent objects. If I understand you right, you also say that perception in some sense amounts to ‘direct representation’ of the mind-independent world. On the face of it these two claims are inconsistent: if the direct objects of perception are sense data, and not mind-independent objects, we don’t directly perceive the mind-independent world. I suspect you’re using ‘direct’ in a different way from the one at issue in the Argument. For instance, you say that a ‘sense-datum is always an accurate and direct representation’. This suggests a notion of directness which has to do with the relation between a representation and the world: does the representation represent real things (or something like that)? By contrast, the Argument is concerned with a direct relation between a person and the world: do you experience the world directly?

Anyway, I hope that gives you some food for thought. As I say, it’s great that you’re really engaging with our topic like this. Let’s talk before you finalize the next assignment, to make sure you’re on track.

All the best,


1 Comment

Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Learning, Philosophy, Writing


One response to “E-mail to Me

  1. Maria Luisa Balasta

    February 24, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    So I am glad you tried to explain to the professor. I guess his point is for you to stay on track with the question and to avoid too much digression. But it is a good start to have a dialogue and you should avail of his invitation to discuss the next writing assignment with him first. This is also a good exercise of argumentation and logical reasoning so be prepared to be challenged continuously with your ideas and argument ( I think you enjoy it anyway) and remain open to other view points as well (which I know you are).


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