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Adam Smith Problem External World JSPFinal

Adam Smith Problem External World JSPFinal

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Adam Smith and the Problem ofthe External World [To appear in The Journal of Scottish Philosophy, Fall 2011

] Brian Glenney, Gordon College Abstract: How does the mind attributeexternal causes to internal sensory experiences? Adam Smith addresses this question in his little known essay ´Of the External Senses.µI closely examine Smith·s various formulations of this problem and then argue for an interpretation of his solution: that inborn perceptual mechanisms automatically generate external attributions of internal experiences. I conclude by speculating that these mechanisms are best understood to operate by simulating tactile environments. Key Concepts: Perception, Sensation, Distal Attribution, Sympathy, Simulation, Molyneux·s Question, William Cheselden, GeorgeBerkeley Adam Smith·s consideration of the problem of the external world is found in hisessay entitled´Of the External Senses.µi Though a juvenile work,ii and perhaps for this reason an underappreciated one,iii his discussion is worthy of being subject to philosophical analysis in its own right. This paper represents a first attempt at this task. I: The Problem of Externality Adam Smith begins ES with a problem of perception: if the origin for our common belief in the existence of an external world is the feeling of resistance, which cannot help but bring to mind the existence of bodies external to the feeling itself,iv how is it that this same external existence is attributed to objects not felt to resist? How, for instance, is the feeling of heat taken to be caused by the sun, when it is merely an internal experience, ´felt, not as pressing upon the body, but as in the body.µ (ES 20) Smith·s problem might be best articulated as the ´psychologicalµ problem of the external world³the problem of ´distal attributionµ as it is called in current literature in psychology.v One such article wrote of the problem: ´Distal attribution can be defined as the ability to attribute the cause of our proximal sensory stimulation to an exterior and distinct other.µvi Though related to the epistemological problem of the external world³how we justifiably make such an attribution of objects, Smith·s concern was how our minds make this attribution of externality. Neither was Smith·s issue the related problem of perception brought about by illusions and hallucinations,vii nor the more contemporary issue of intentionality³of what it is to direct our thoughts externally.viii Smith·s problem concerned how it is that we take sensory experiences as caused by things outside us, ´«as external«and as altogether independent«µ (ES 3) When considering Smith·s problem of externality, it is difficult not to bring Hume·s own query on ´the doctrine of the independent existence of our sensible perceptionsµ (Treatise1.4.2, 44) to mind.ix Smith, however, neither mentions Hume, nor his account.xThough such a contrastwould be fruitful and worth consideration in its own right, very little discussion of Hume will be taken up here.

Just as distance is immediately seen as a point. and are as like shadows. The Internal Objects of Perception How is it that visual experience includes external attribution when the direct object of vision is internal to the eye? Berkeley·s ´one-pointµ problem for seeing distance exemplified this dilemma for Smith. and Smith·s own observations of animals.xii Yet for Berkeley. How is it that we attribute external causes to our non-resisting experiences when: 1) The senses indirectly related to resisting objects like sight and audition are directly related to internalobjects of perception. distinct problems. 2) Senses indirectly related to resisting objects are heterogeneous to touch. however. These problems. which are thus the more proper candidates for what causes sensory experience.xiii Seeing distance and attributing externality are. led him to focus on three particular problems of external attribution. Smith recognized this distinction.µ would have emerged had Smith been as persistent in his account of perception as he was in his accounts ofthe principles of economy and morality.µ triggered by visual and auditory experiences. One wonders after reading Smith·s account whether the dark ages of developmental psychology. 3) The experiences conjoined with senses indirectly related to resisting objects are not interactive with our bodily movements. led Smith to appeal totwo inborn mechanisms of perception: ´preconceptionµ. and that this line must consequently appear to it. II. failing themselvesto cause harm or health to our body. We have to. is a line turned endways to it.Berkeley·s Towards a New Theory of Visionxi was the overt provocation for Smith·s interest in the problem of externality. such as the infamous one point problem³how we see distance when distance lines are a point directed endwise³as problems of external attribution. Molyneux·s question regarding the kind of experiences had by the newly sighted. for instance. a mechanism triggered by bodily sensations like smells or pains and ´instinctive suggestion. which I will discuss individually below. Smith·s surprisingly nuanced responses based on these mechanisms anticipate many current findings in developmental psychology. which culminated in James· appellation of infant experience as a ´blooming. externality was inextricably linked to the problem of seeing distance. but as one point. articulating problems usually reserved as problems of distance. we shall be sensible«that all visible objects must naturally be perceived as close upon the 2 . which included Cheselden·s report of a boy recovering from cataract surgery. so the object that causes visual experiences must be attributed to something in the eye: [I]f we consider that the distance of any object to the eye. buzzing confusion.These specific cases. like retinal images. the sense directly related to resisting objects of experience. refer to an object as being ¶out there·in the external world before taking it to be ¶over there· in the distance.

rests on an error of modeling an account of perception on an account of optics. infamously portrayed (or is often depicted as portraying) vision as a process akin to a blind man·s ´seeingµ with crossed sticks and is said to have erred in assuming that the optical inversion of images on the retina needed a re-inversion to account for the upright appearance of objects in visual experience. that the objects which he saw touched his eyes«he could mean no more than that they were close upon his eyes. and Sound. (ES 45) The problem concerned more than just vision.organ.µ (ES 25)These ´affectionsµ include retinal images and the respective ´imagesµ of other sensory modalities. Taste.µ (ES 65) Smith took Cheselden·s patient to be saying that the colors were seen as in the eye and were thus attributed as internal to his organ of sight. or even as qualities of such substances. b) The most immediate object of non-tactile experience is aninternal object. to speak more properly. The report infamously stated that the subject saw the objects as ´close upon his eyes. and what can exist nowhere but in the organ. perhaps.xviiThe operations involved in perception include things internal to sensory organs.xviThus. Smell. are not naturally perceived as external and independent substances. however. or whatever has ´the power of exciting that sensation in our organµ.µxix Smith·s interpretationis as follows: When the young gentleman said. what James termed the ´psychologists· fallacy«the great snare of the psychologist. that they were in his eyes. not as resisting or pressing upon the organ. but as mere affections of the organ. Is Smith·s own description of the problem of internal objects guiltyof this fallacy?xviiiSmith·s worry was not prompted by optics but ratherthe famous case study by William Cheselden of a blind boy·s visual experience after cataract surgery. being felt.xiv The internal objects of perception constitute a specific problem for how one attributes externality to non-tactile senses: given the organ-based existence of the immediate object of experience (like the retinal image) the external attribution of a sensory experience is not properly accounted for. for instance. The anecdotal evidence of Chesleden·s patient alone suggested to Smith the possibility that initially we all visually experience objects as in the eye. perhaps. To put it more generally: a) The object most immediately related to the effect is properlyattributed as the cause of the effect. the problem equivocates on ´immediate object. No anatomy lesson is required to generate Smith·s concern.µ as (a) an object of experience and (b) a theoretical object that is the result of an optical explanation. we have no proper basis for attributing external objects as the cause of an experience. but this in no way entails that these same things are aspects of experience.xx Cheselden·s report was taken by Smith to suggest that all initial sensory experiences are 3 . much less the immediate objects of experience.µxvDescartes. c) So. as in the organ which perceives them. but as in the organ. The problem specified here. or. ´Heat and Cold. like all other Sensations. or more properly.

from disuse. a cut-off age (thought to be around puberty). magpie. In addition. Smith argued in response that such an interpretation of these reports could not be correct for there is no natural propensity to attribute internal causes to sensory experience. the problem of the initial experience of internal objects is problematic insofar as theinterpretation of these anecdotal reports of internal attribution stands. all of which enjoy the distal 4 . there is no equivocation in arguing that sensory experiences have internal attributions. my emphasis) Given the possibility of a natural inclination for external attribution.(ES 69) Smith·s interpretation of Cheselden·s report is the first record that I have come across which anticipates the critical period hypothesis. Because the problem of internal objects is based on a report from experience rather than knowledge gained from an anatomy lesson.) some feeble and unobserved remains of it may have somewhat facilitated his acquisition of what he might otherwise have found it much more difficult to acquire. perhaps. either by the association of ideas. the fact that initial sensory experiences are not of things internal to sensory organs found confirmation from Smith·s Attenborough-esc tales of the behavior of various bird species: chicken. where experience isrequired in order to trigger normal development of functional areas of the brain. not having been exerted at the proper season. sparrow. Or. Smith reasoned that the most likely cause of the blind subject·s internal attribution was his abnormal visual condition.naturally attributed internally because they are experienced as internal and that only with experience and maturation are these experiences attributed externally. duck and hawk. Rather. goose. grouse. This led Smith to an innovative ´critical periodµ explanation for why the healed cataract patient would report attributing the new visual experiences as ´in the eyeµ: In him this instinctive power. or by some other unknown principle. partridge.xxii Smith·s alternative explanation nullified the chief support for (b*). For instance. if the great principles of Vision had not beforehand been deeply impressed upon his mind. have gone gradually to decay. yet he could not have been thus imposed upon by so imperfect an imitation.The claim is that there is a critical period in development. (what seems likewise very possible. been strongly determined to expect certain tangible objects in consequence of the visible ones which had been presented to him. made first by Penfield (1959) for language acquisition and later Huber and Weisel (1970) for visual abilities. and though at first he could not distinguish it from the strong perspective of Nature. according to Smith the quick recovery of Cheselden·s cataract patient suggested a an ´unknown principleµ for external attribution: [H]e had made very considerable progress even in the two first months. and if he had not. (ES 68. and at last have been completely obliterated. He began at that early period to understand even the feeble perspective of Painting. may.xxi This suggests another formulation of the central premise of the problem: b*) The immediate object of non-resisting experiences is experienced asinternal.

implicitly at least. but as soon as their sight opens. horse.xxvii Conversely. how visual experiences invoke normal external attributions of their causes remains an open question. experiences other than resistance have no natural basis for external attribution as they ´do not possess. that I am disposed to believe that even they may have some instinctive perception of this kind«it has a tolerably distinct apprehension of the ordinary perspective of Vision. where the newly sighted would not be able to use the past tactile experiences or the touch-based ideas thereby derived in their recognition of the shapes. and size may be the first to anticipate a very productive body of work currently done in developmental science. which it cannot well have learnt from observation and experience. particularly in comparison to experiences of resistance that do so automatically. (ES 74) Smith·s inference from his observations that infants possess natural abilities to see distance. That being said. ´The objects of Sight and those of Touch constitute two worlds.µ (ES 26) In sum. the external solid and independent substances. and magnitude of the different tangible objects which are presented to them. III. shape. any one of the qualities. Affirming Molyneux·s Question The nature of one·s experience at ´first sightµ was considered by many philosophers of the modern period in terms of a thought experiment known as ´Molyneux·sQuestion. who followed Berkeley·s analysis that the senses were heterogeneous. attributions of externality are a precondition for experiences of resistance³are intrinsic to resistance. coupled with the explanation of a critical period of development missed by Cheselden·s subject. This difference between direct external contact had by touch and indirect external contact had by non-tactile senses was deeply problematic for Smith. and as altogether independent of it. for Smith.µ whether a man born blind would recognize shapes known by touch at first sight were his sight restored. including man. Molyneux·s question with a ´yesµ.xxiii The cow. ´It seems difficult to suppose that man is the only animal of which the young are not endowed with some instinctive perception of this kind. Smith·s heterogeneity thesis was based on the fact that tactile experiences of resistanceimmediately invoke external attributions whereas non-resisting experiences do not. resistance and external attribution are of a piece whereas vision and other non-resisting senses required a further mechanism to 5 .xxvi ´[T]he thing which presses and resists I feel as«external to my hand.µ (ES 73) All of Smith·s observations suggested to him a natural propensity for external attribution in the animal kingdom. While Smith clearly held to a version of the heterogeneity thesis. they appear to enjoy it in the most complete perfection.most answered the query with a ´noµ.µ (ES 50) To Smith. nor can we even conceive them as capable of possessing. the shape. kitten. that the cause attributed to initial visual experiences is always an external object. puppy.xxvAs most philosophers of this time advocated a heterogeneous relationship between the senses. he appears to have answered. which we consider as essential to.µ (ES 74) Smith argued that infant behavior effectively demonstrates this natural propensity for attributing the cause of non-resisting experiences to external objects: Children«appear at so very early a period to know the distance.µ (ES 3) In other words.xxiv This evidence strongly suggested to Smith. and inseparable from.powers of vision straight from shell and nest. and ´beasts of prey«come blind into the world.

therefore. However. ´There is evidently therefore. Set in the novel context of Smith·s attribution heterogeneity doctrine. A visible square is better fitted than a visible circle to represent a tangible square. tookthere to be a much closer correlation between sight and touch than the analogy would allow: There is evidently. but rather on the problem of distal attribution. due to the possibility of instinctual mapping rules of perspective between the objects of sight and touch. touch (ES 68).µ (ES 50) Because of these rules of perspective. according to Robert Schwartz·s intriguing analysis. categorically distinct kinds of properties (ES 50). much superior to what takes place either between written and spoken language. did not entail for Smith that the properties were attributed externally in the same way as tactile experiences of resistance. particularly between sight and touch. however.´Those shades and combinations of [Colour] suggest those different tangible objects«according to rules of Perspective. however. focused not on attacking abstract ideas (NTV 122) or the claims of the ´optic writersµ (NTV 6).xxix Schwartz·s analysis provides one explanation for why Smith took fitness correlations to be problematic 6 . Smith·s alternative explanation of Cheselden·s patient (ES 65) based on a missed critical period and confirming evidence from infant observations (both animal and human) suggested that somehow non-tactile senses indirectly result in external attribution. a certain affinity and correspondence between each visible object and the precise tangible object represented by it.generate external attribution.A colored line and a felt solid line remained. present an inconsistency in Berkeley·s heterogeneity thesis as visual and tactile experiences of shape are both non-spatial³sets of points that apply both in cases of sight and touch but neither of which resemble an independent and external world.Attributing externalityto visual experiences. Smith.µ (ES 62) Berkeley himself acknowledged that there were better matches between some shapes over others across sensory modalities. (ES 62) The perceivedinstability of Berkeley·s language analogywas. This did not. The doctrine. the visual shapes themselves are ´better fitted than others to represent certain tangible objects. that like learning a second language. ´the visual languageµ would require learned association with one·s first tongue. is in step with Berkeley·s own heterogeneity doctrine³that distinct sensory modalities acquire distinct kinds of ´objectsµ or properties and share no common idea (NTV 127). Smith·s claim of a difference in kind between sensory modalities. much superior to what takes place«between spoken language and the ideas or meanings which it suggests.Molyneux·s questionprompted the query as to how the experiences of sight and touch are attributed to the same external object. a certain affinity and correspondence between each visible object and the precise tangible object represented by it. asking:would the newly seen shapes be externally attributed as the previously touched ones?xxviiiAs discussed above. is distinct from Berkeley·s in application. however. this empirical basis for an affirmative answer to Molyneux·s question was at best speculative and required a reconsideration of Berkeley·s own negative answer. We can get a sense of Smith·s interaction with the basis of Berkeley·s own negative answerbyconsidering his hesitant use of Berkeley·s infamous language analogy to the senses.µ (ES 61) Smith concluded. for Smith. for Smith.

rather than thought or taught to be external. and so they would not infer or reason from the prior tactile experiences even if they had these experiences to reason from.µ only in cases of audition and sight.µ (ES 68) Only the latter provoke a ´strongly determinedµ expectation of resisting objects. Eliminating these possible bases for external attributions to non-resisting experiences led Smith to conjecture a third ´instinctiveµ alternative.as touch experiences were automatically attributed as external for Smith. Infant animals. Smith distinguished two types of perspective rules. After all. Smith·s continued discussion of the rules of perspective. as when he describes how animals react to surprising sounds: This effect. bridges the gap between external and internal attributions in a way that visible objects are seen as external. In the same breath that Smith argues for aheterogeneity doctrine of attribution. ´the great principles of Visionµ. however. is produced so readily and so instantaneously that it bears every mark of an instinctive suggestion of an impression immediately struck by the hand of Nature. their external significance. or at least anticipate. might seem to suggest that his account included a rational or at least tacitly learned basis for this correlation.xxx This provided empirical support against both Berkeley·s claim that these associations between sight and touch are learned and also against others who would argue that reason is the basis for this association. which suggest that subjects need not ever associate or infer from the prior tactile experiences to determine which shape is which at first sight. as is implied by the example of both animal and human infants.It appears that Smith thought that though the senses are heterogeneous with respect to externality. what he usually called ´instinctive suggestion.xxxii (ES 87) And regarding the ability of young birds to depart from the nest and visually experience the outside world without previous experience of it. the bases of the painter·s technique are the learned rules of perspective. they 7 . Instinctive Mechanisms of Attribution Smith invoked an instinctive mechanism.for the heterogeneity thesis when Berkeley did not.xxxi The quick progress observed in the recognition abilities of the animals and infants is far too steep to be based on learning or thought. too. the lack of cognitive aptitude had by mature human subjects is no hindrance to this attribution ability.µ In other words. this ´strong perspective of Natureµ or what he also refers to as. some underlying mechanism enabled a mapping correlation between them. however. Additionally. IV. Smith wrote: As soon as that period arrives. However. particularly in ES 67. he refers to the empirical evidence from infant animals and humans. ´in consequence of the visible ones which had been presented to him. and probably for some time before. which does not wait for any recollection of past observation and experience. ´[A]ntecedent to all experience«µ (70) and thus having no tactile familiarity with the objects they are seeing yet recognize. ´the feeble perspective of Painting. and«the strong perspective of Nature.

Both understood the´suggestionµ mechanismas in service of spatially organizing sensations: providing a sort of blueprint for classifying experience: drawn by nature for Smith.evidently enjoy all the powers of Vision in the most complete perfection. and must therefore derive them from some instinctivesuggestion.xxxiv ´Nature hath established a real connection between the signs and the things signified«so that previous to experience. In him this instinctive power. without prior experience. interact with their visual world: That.xxxiii The suggestion mechanism organizes sensory information into a spatial structure. may. Smith·s own use of the term shows there to be no role for previous experience and thus anticipates Reid·s subsequent use in his account of ´original perceptionµ. that young children have not some instinctiveperception of the same kind.µxxxvSmith·s use of the terms ´instinctive perceptionµ. There was. have gone gradually to decay. in doing so. provides grounds for external attribution. the idea is immediately suggested to the understanding. Smith suggested that both made use of an ´instinctive powerµ to correlate visual and resisting experiences. and at last have been completely obliterated.) some feeble and unobserved remains of it may have somewhat facilitated his acquisition of what he might otherwise have found it much more difficult to acquire. For instance. a sharp contrast between how Smith understood the nature of this mechanism and Berkeley. (ES 70) When comparing Cheselden·s subject with human infants. This aligns Smith·s use of the term ´suggestionµ withthe use made by his predecessor Berkeley. suggestion is learned. from disuse. which. we cannot from thence with certainty infer. 12) For Berkeley. Smith is left with 8 . If it is the suggestion mechanism which structures non-resisting sensations. (what seems likewise very possible. the young of at least the greater part of animals possess some instinctiveperception of this kind. which custom had united with it. not having been exerted at the proper season. and can distinguish with most exact precision the shape and proportion of the tangible objects which every visible one represents. In so short a period they cannot be supposed to have acquired those powers from experience. consider Berkeley·suse of the term ´suggestion. (ES 69.µ (NTV. the sign suggests the things signified. Or. or ´acquiredµ as Thomas Reid would later describe. and ´instinctive suggestionµ further distances him from Berkeley·s own conceptual resources for handling the general problem of externality.µ ´Just as upon hearing a certain sound. seems abundantly evident. antecedent to all experience. (ES 71) This same mechanism is used to account for the numerous kinds of animal that. the former of which had it to a lesser extent because of his missing the ¶critical period·: But though it may have been altogether by the slow paces of observation and experience that this young gentleman acquired the knowledge of the connection between visible and tangible objects. my emphasis) The exclusive use of these terms to visual and auditory experiences suggests that they operated as a mechanism for correlating distal or ´spatialµnon-resisting experiences to resisting objects. convention for Berkeley. of course. perhaps. and creates the belief in it.

´The sense of Taste certainly does not«µ (ES 76) He clarifies why with the following suggestion: But all the appetites which take their origin from a certain state of the body. butis rather foundas part of one·s natural constitution. do non-spatial senses such as smell and taste invoke the same kind of external attributions as touch. (ES 85) Preconception clearly serves the satisfaction of felt bodily need. and.µ Preconception invokes vague appeals for internal satisfaction by a source from without. is the structure provided by the mechanism of instinctive suggestion the same structure as that provided directly by felt resistance?xxxvi Smith answered that the external object felt to resist or seen or heard were in fact the same. this term is only used in cases of non-visual. as such sensations ´must suggest at least some vague idea or preconception of the existence of that body. and (non-resisting) feeling sensations like felt temperatureresult in an attribution of externality. (ES 79) Smith·sdenialofnon-spatial senses invokingfeelings of resistance suggests further that they do not invoke the suggestion mechanism. seem to suggest the means of their own gratification. This ability to pre-cognize is neither learned. and sound?Smith has little patience for this possibility. In other words. sight. and non-resisting experiences of either internal anticipations. some anticipation or preconception of the pleasure which attends that gratification. For instance. Rather. even long before experience. nor rational. and the desire to move towards the side of the agreeable. and felt temperature. as in the case of an infant that suckles even without an object in its mouth as ´some anticipation or preconception of the pleasure which it is to enjoy in sucking«µ (79).a further open question.This explains. taste. Smith claims that they make use of a distinct mechanism. supposes at least some vague notion of some external thing or place which is the cause of those respective sensations. preconception appears to function as 9 . Furthermore. of the thing to which it directs. though not the precise shape and magnitude of that thing. and protoconceptual. Smith describes the visual experiences of infant foals and calves as having ´the shape and proportion of the tangible objects which each visible one represents. ´Do any of our other senses«instinctively suggest to us some conception of the solid and resisting substances which excite their respective sensations«?µ (ES 75) This suggests that for Smith sight and touch are spatial only insofar as they connect with the objects of resistance and do only insofar as they avail themselves to a mechanism that makes this correlation. or from that of the disagreeable sensation. preconception: an ´anticipationµ and ´vague ideaµ of something external. non-auditory. how newborn animals self-regulate their bodily temperature with movement toward and away from heat sources: But the very desire of motion supposes some notion or preconception of externality. such as hunger and thirst or those with external significance like smelling.µ (ES 72)Furthermore. A further question presents itself. is the externality of felt resistance the same as the externality of visual and auditory experience? In other words. for instance. The term·s explicit use is limited to a set of conjectures at the end of ES in which Smith discusses how smell. in some cases he used resistance and externality interchangeably. Preconception is both anticipatory. tasting. The mechanism of instinctive suggestion used felt resistance as a mediator for the external attribution of visual and auditory experiences.

and peck directly at it? This example suggests that the ´vagueµ and merely ´anticipatoryµ mechanism of preconception would fail to guide such complex interactions. In other words. cannot provide a correlation with the same resisting objects as that provided directly by felt resistance or indirectly by visual or auditory experiences that instinctively suggest resisting objects. Once doing so by the mechanisms of suggestion and preconception. in contrast to the mechanism of instinctive suggestion. what of the ability for newly hatched chicks to visually experience a food source. or lack thereof. Diagram 1: Categories of Mechanism and Externality External Attribution TactileResis tance Sight. taste. Smith suggests why these mechanisms are so crucial. what of other sensory experiences. V: Bodily Interaction and Non-Resisting Experiences 10 . as his primary interest was to establish how the senses instinctively presuppose externality. and temperature feeling through the mechanism of ´preconceptionµ or attribution by sight and audition through the instinctive mechanism of ´suggestionµ. walk to it. provided by the mechanism of preconception. But if sensations are all that are covered by the mechanism of preconception. particularly vision? In particular. The distinction featured here between the kind of external attributions engendered by instinctive suggestion and the external ´anticipationsµ summoned by preconception is good evidence that Smith·s account operated with two kinds of externality: external attribution and external anticipation. Taste. I·m not sure Smith considered these questions. Feel External Anticipation Suggestion Preconception Description: All the senses invoke some kind of externality: either anticipation by smell. This proposal invites further questions: Can external anticipations afford any cognitive tasks. yielding bodily interaction with resisting objects.a non-inferential mechanism for processing bodily sensations. the structure. and in this sense it is at best a ´vagueµ and merely ´anticipatoryµ satisfaction from the pangs of the most basic requirements of human survival³nourishment and protection. such as shape recognition? Are there cases where visual experiences invoke external anticipations? Are there cases where smell experiences invoke external attributions?xxxvii While interesting in their own right. Audition Smell. Tactile feelings of resistance are directly correlated with external attribution. which indirectly arrives at attribution through simulated feelings of tactile resistance.

remains inconclusive with respect to how the mechanisms themselves function. in the most trifling as well as in the most important transactions. and can essentially neither benefit us nor hurt us. Colour. are seldom far-sighted. not upon them. (ES 53) How is it. and all its different modifications. though not original with Smith. VI: Sight by Sympathy 11 . In themselves. Even when we appear to be looking at them with the greatest earnestness our whole attention is frequently employed. (ES 52) Tying the function of the senses³all of the senses³with survival.µ (ES 52) In another instance. which seem to float.Smith·s answer to this problem of the external world. but the number of masts. and without it we could neither move. who live much in their closets. but upon the tangible objects represented by them. Smith might be read to ask. funnel into a single response based on naturalmechanisms of the mind. the direction of her course. not only the appearance of a ship. which is altogether invisible to the land-man. suggestion and preconception. Smith discusses a converse profession with its opposing skill. are in themselves mere shadows or pictures.Smith·sfollowing observation suggests a final problem of external attribution: Visible objects. What is the operational basis for ´suggestionµ and ´preconception? I conclude with a suggested answer. the natural origin is supplied with a natural benefit: The benevolent purpose of nature in bestowing upon us the sense of seeing. and distance of an object by sight is in proportion to their continued existence.xxxviii It often astonishes a land-man to observe with what precision a sailor can distinguish in the Offing. shape. before the organ of Sight. as it were. Even animal motion depends upon it. in answer to the bodily interaction problem. and independent of their connection with the tangible objects which they represent. and the rate of her sailing. they are of no importance to us.xxxixanswers the question of why non-resisting experiences that engender their shadowlike experiences of colors and sounds enablebodily interaction with resisting objects. Yet. (ES 60) Smith further suggeststhis survival function of the senseswhen writing that the exactness of one·s ability to judge the size. and have seldom occasion to look at very distance objects. as with those above. however. is evidently to inform us concerning the situation and distance of the tangible objects which surround us. ´Men of letters. nor even sit still with complete security. that the innocuous colors of sight (and the related experiences of the other senses) take on the harm or benefit to our bodies that are associated with resistance? This problem. Even while we see them we are seldom thinking of them. Upon the knowledge of this distance and situation depends the whole conduct of human life. to make this correlation.

In this sense. and distant mountains. and even feel something which. For Smith·s account of sympathy to be useful to hisaccount of perception. (ES 54. our sensory experiences place us in the context of what it is like to be directly affected by the respective resisting object. my emphasis. In other words. we produce a representation of these objects as if they were the proper objects of touch. 134-5. for instance. from whence I can survey both at nearly equal distances. This allusion also occurs in a passage from ES: It is because almost our whole attention is employed. 2) In the case of external attributions and anticipations. it must serve an ´external attributionµ function³it must serve to relate the sympathizing subject·s sensory experiences to its object·s possible resisting properties.xli Similarly when we smell an 12 . not upon the visible and representing. though weaker to a degree. and become in some measure the same person with him. we place ourselves in his situation«we enter as it were into his body.µ For a subject to feel sympathy for another is for them to ¶put themselves in the other·sshoes·³to pre-reflectively grasp what it would be like for them to be in the circumstances of another. that in our imaginations we are apt to ascribe to the former a degree of magnitude which does not belong to them. and thence form some idea of his sensations. at least in fancy. (Smith 1994.) The imaginative ´transporting myself. is not altogether unlike them.In his workTheory of Moral Sentiments. As Smith describes: By the imagination. For instance.) These ¶ascriptions· that we give to our sense of sight are attributions of externality. which in this case is aimed at securing the tactile size of objects seen. but upon the tangible and represented objects. my emphasis. Smith makes such an allusionin TMS: In my present situation an immense landscape of lawns.xlSmith employed a complex mechanism as a basis for moral attributions called ´sympathy. to a different station. we automatically sympathize with what it would be like to feel resisting objects correlated to our spatial and bodily experiences. It is plausible not only to think of these mechanisms as employing a kind of sympathybutto think that Smith himself may have had such aspirations. Hence. in no other way than by transporting myself. and thereby form some judgment of their real proportions. but which belongs altogether to the latter. it is tempting to articulate instinctive suggestion and preconception as mechanisms of sympathy. I can form a just comparison between those great objects and the little objects around me. On such an account. (Smith 1994. when we experience objects by senses other than touch. when seeing a cup in front of me I instinctively perceive it as external because the visual experience brings to mind what it would be like for me to be touching the cup³wrapping my hands around it. seems to do no more than cover the little window which I write by and to be out of all proportion less than the chamber in which I am sitting. and wood. at least in fancyµ is suggestive of a sympathetic mechanism. we implicitly bring to mind all of the resisting experiencesupon our non-tactile experiences of objects.

London: Dent ³(1860)The Theory of Vision Vindicated and Explained.Oxford: Oxford University Presspp. George (1975)Philosophical Works.Naomi (1993)¶Molyneux's Question And the Idea of an External World· in Problems in the Philosophy and Psychology of Spatial Representation edited byNaomi Eilan et al. David (2000) Treatise on Human Nature. Macmillan and Co. (1989) ¶Reexamining Berkeley·s Notion of Suggestion. Charles Lenay. Oxford: Oxford University Press Evans.S. and deserves further exploration. Ayers.. H.·in Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. H.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Gordon. though the smell is merely anticipatory. Including the Works on Vision edited by M. Robert M.xliiof resisting experiences offers a very suggestive response to the problems of externality presented above. Simulation. Jorton.Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers Eilan. (1995) ¶Sympathy. Jack M. M. D. T. Marjolein (1996)Molyneux's problem : Three Centuries of Discussion on the Perception of Forms. P. Hacker. (4): 505-521 Ben Zeev. Oxford: Oxford University Press Gibson. Oxford: Oxford University Press James.Translated by Michael J. Martha Brand (1994) ¶The Real Molyneux Question and the Basis of Locke's Answer.· Conceptus 23: 21-30 Berkeley.·Journal of Integrative Neuroscience4. Edited by Cowell.J. Rogers. and the Impartial Spectator. Hume.·Ethics 105 (4): 727-742 Hacker. Malika. N. Twenty Years Later. Cambridge. Sylvain Hanneton. 75-99 Brown. Wiesel. Journal of the History of Ideas.V.William(1981) The Principles of Psychology. R.Ithaca: Cornell University Press Auvray. S.Oxford: Blackwell Hubel. Smith·s allusion to sympathy·s role in external attribution might be developed into an explanation of how we attribute externality to non-resisting experiences. to use the present term of art.J. Edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. 53: 333-337 Degenaar. Kevin (1992) ¶Dating Adam Smith·s Essay ¶Of the External Senses··. (1970)¶The period of susceptibility to the physiological effects of unilateral eye closure in kittens. and Kevin O-Regan (2005)¶There is Something Out There: Distal Attribution in Sensory Substitution.·Journal of Physiology 206: 419-436. Bennett and P.odor. MA: Harvard University Press Loomis. Margaret (1990) Berkeley·s Revolution in Vision. (1979) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.· inLocke·s Philosophy: Content and Context edited by G. 1: 113-119 13 .H. Bolton.A. Aaron. by M. it brings to mind satisfaction of simple bodily needs³it pre-conceives a vague resistingthing.xliii References Atherton.M. Gareth (1985) ¶Molyneux·s Question·in Collected Papersedited byJohn McDowell. The possibility that our visual experiences lead to a ´simulationµ. (2003) Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Collins. (1992) ¶Distal Attribution and Presence. J.

MA:MIT Press ³(1994) Vision: Variations on Some Berkeleian Themes. vi Auvray. particularly Smith·s reference to content from Linnaeus· Systema Naturae 10th ed. ´The objects of Touch always present themselves as pressing upon. Raphael and A.L.. Michael J. Thomas (1997)An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense. Cambridge. Adam (1982) ¶On the External Senses· in Essays on Philosophical Subjects. Edouard (2003) ¶Cross-modal recognition of shape from hand to eyes in human newborns.D.P. Yet.Malebranche. N. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Reid. iii ES warrants less than a paragraph in I. Brown (1992) observes. Edited by W. ES·s editor. Moreover. there is no full length philosophical treatment of its content by any philosopher. such as might have provided an encyclopedia article«as such it is no more than competent. Edited byDerek R Brookes. MA: Harvard University Press Streri. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press Hereafter ES. and the philosophy of perception. A. touch.· inSomatosensory & Motor Research 20. Macfie. N. published in 1758. vol.(2002) The Problem of Perception. (1975) ¶The meaning of ¶meaning·Philosophical Papers.Cambridge. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund ³(1984) The Theory of Moral Sentiments.D. who was 15 or so.P. II inLanguage. before Hume·s Treatise (1739) was published and while Smith. Mind and Reality. between 1758-9.D. another. M. (1): 11-16 Wolf-Devine.· inNeuroImage 16. (2005). perhaps simpler suggestion is that Smith initially composed the work in his youth and made small edits to it throughout his life. (1980)The Search after Truth. (2002)¶Critical Period for Cross-Modal Plasticity in Blind Humans: A Functional MRI Study. Bryce. Ross·s twenty page introduction (Smith. Whightman makes a strong case that ES was written around 1737.µ 133-4. Gentaz. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Smith. as Kevin L. this date has significant problems. J. 1980). iv As Smith writes. Morgan.µ (ES 3) v An overview of contemporary work on distal attribution is found in Loomis (1992). Edited by D. W. Whightman·s dismissive commentary. W. Olscamp.L. Though this gives Brown some basis for his suggested later date of composition. (1959)Speech and Brain Mechanisms. Princeton:Princeton University Press Putnam. Lennon and P. and Roberts. Translated byT. Citations of ES refer to the paragraph number provided by the editors. Cambridge University Press.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Penfield.P. This may be partially due to W. Celia (1993)Descartes on Seeing: Epistemology and Visual Perception. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Smith. Cambridge. Robert (2006) Visual Versions.D Wightman and J. H. Arlette. et al. 389-400 Schwartz. ´«of all the essays it is the most difficult to assess«it is perhaps best to regard it as literally an essai or attempt to set out the author·s ideas on a subject that remained of central concern throughout his lifetime.C. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Sadato. was at Glasgow University.(1977)Molyneux's question: vision. 508 ii i 14 .S.D. («) «it would pass for a very fair résumé of the contemporary state of knowledge of the ¶external senses·. or as resisting«[which] necessarily supposes externality in the thing which presses or resists.

hereafter Treatise. x This neglect supports the claim that ES was a juvenile work. xix Some 18th Century interpretations took this statement by Cheselden·s patient quite literally. found in the Treatise 4. depth. 68-9 xvii W. Mill·s poking fun at the controversy as a whole can be found in H. as in his ears. xii Smith prefaces his final section in ES. written before the Treatise made its appearance.2 xi Berkeley (1975). P. xv James (1981) p. might in the same manner naturally enough say. also points out this problem as a ´Confusion between ¶seeing·«and the inference from analysisµ.H. if not directly borrowed from him. The surrounding attention would itself be sufficient to suggest Smith·s facility in avoiding the fallacy in his own account. is his New Theory of Vision. meaning that he felt them as close upon his ears.V. 74-77 and cites Robert Schwartz·s (2006) paper ´Seeing Distance from a Berkeleian Perspectiveµ pp. who was made all at once to hear.µ (ES 65) xxi See ES 57. or.D. ´A deaf man. 4.Smith. xx This led Smith to further speculate that other senses prompt similar initial internal attributions of sensory experiences.S.µ (ES 43) xiii According to Margaret Atherton (1990). apparently added posthumously. one of the finest examples of philosophical analysis that is to be found [on] the nature of the objects of Sight: their dissimilitude to. Dugald Stewart·s objection to Smith·s. xiv See ES 22-24 for Smith·s discussion of taste. smell. (2002) Putnam. so to speak. no commentator has discussed at length Berkeley·s treatment of distance. Philosophers of Smith·s time often noted the tendency of the vulgar to misidentify the location of the objects of perception (Berkeley 1975. Bailey·s agreement with Smith. The Principles of Human Knowledge Sec. Citations of NTV refer to paragraph number.2. viii vii 15 . Hume·s account of the psychological basis of externality is based on the felt continuation of the existence of objects. and J. would imply. (1975) ix Hume 2000. He uses the phrase ´principle of perceptionµ throughout ES as a placeholder for that operation which transforms the physical impression in the organ to the sensory experience felt in the mind. 13-26. 16 xviii Given the intellectual climate of the period in which Smith is writing.P. which shows a more nuanced treatment of Descartes· account than the infamous figure of the blind man ´seeingµ with crossed sticks. Atherton has some brief words in pp. see Celia Wolf-Devine·s (1993) monograph. with praises to ´Dr. the editor of ES. 129). («) Whatever I shall say upon it. hereafter NTV. and externality as three separate issues. This placed a demand of care and attention to their own philosophical analysis of the true location of the objects of perception. Mr. has at least been suggested by what he has already said. more properly. but this later work focuses on the distinction between distance and depth. Wightman. and hearing. we should find this doubtful. Hume 2000. Thanks to Eric Schliesser for this point. as well as their correspondence and connection with those of Touch. ´Of the Sense of SEEINGµ. writing. A survey of these interpretations. 195 xvi For an interesting overview of Descartes· mechanistic account of vision found throughout his writings. Cowell edition of Berkeley (1860). See pp. including Adam Smith·s. perhaps. Berkley (sic). 148 fn. that the sounds which he heard touched his ears.

my emphasis) But attributing necessity to such attributions suggests a conceptual basis. For instance. Susan Rose has been testing infants with visual and tactile shape stimuli to determine whether or not there exist implicit connections between them. instinctively suggest to us some conception of the solid and resisting substances which excite their respective sensations«µ (75) xxxiii I owe this understanding of Berkeley·s use of ´suggestionµ to Aaron Ben Zeev (1989). See Gareth Evans (1985) xxxii Smith also uses this term when he introduces the possibility that other senses besides sight correlate with the objects of touch. ´Do any of our other senses. (2002). like shape and number.µ Berkeley (1975). (1977). connections which obtain by having. It is even doubtful that Reid read or possessed ES. to be suggested is one thing. (Thanks to Paul Wood for this observation in personal correspondence. the kind often referred to by Hume. to judge is another. (ES 66-7) xxx Smith never explicitly draws on this argument against a rational basis for associating sense-specific experiences. So likewise. However.. and to be inferred another. a student of Rose. experiences of resistance need no separate mechanism to bring about external attribution. that it is not conceivable that an object be felt to resist and yet not be attributed with externality. xxix Schwartz (2006) p. Berkeley·s own mechanism of learned association.24 xxii 16 . Though Smith never mentions this passage explicitly. experiences in those senses that are of spatial properties. and independent of. The Theory of Vision or Visual Language Vindicated and Explained: ´To perceive is one thing. antecedently to such observation and experience. (Thanks to Eric Schliesser for this point. Marjolein. where there exists a certain period of time where connections between the senses are needed. This is likely due to the fact that Berkeley·s criticism of the ´optic writersµ in NTV against a similar rational basis for experiencing distance was as white noise in the background. xxxv Thomas Reid (1997). xxiii See ES 70-72 xxiv Since the 70·s.) xxvii As I argue below. This is what I hope to convey by the term ´intrinsicµ. he does discuss Cheselden·s report of his subject·s feeling tricked by sight upon viewing paintings. is not inferential as he clarified in a later work. Arlette Streri (2003)has produced some very persuasive evidence that there are such connections. 6.. for instance. xxvi He reiterates in stronger language that it ´is necessarily felt as something external to. 62 Martha Bolton Brand·s (1994) interpretation of Locke·s discussion of sensing a non-spatial circle variously colored to the perceptual judgment of perceiving a spatial single colored sphere parallels Smith·s own predicament. xxviii Naomi Eilan (1993) is the only discussion of Molyneux·s question as a case of external attribution that I have come across. there is no basis for attributing Reid·s notion of ´original perceptionµ to Adam Smith. xxxi Leibniz is often thought to have held a rational basis for his affirmative answer to Molyneux·s question. We make judgments and inferences by the understanding. Smith·s point might best be taken as a purely ´felt necessityµ. this critical period likely concerns crossmodal plasticity. Michael J. the hand which feels it. Some thirty years later. xxv See Degenaar. (1996) and Morgan. Things are suggested and perceived by sense. 42.) So. which he often termed ´suggestionµ.µ (ES 20. xxxiv It is extremely unlikely that Reid had access to ES before its publication or ever conversed with Smith directly. See Sadato.In the case of Cheselden·s cataract patient. N.

µ (Book I. xli Of the many ways to understand the mechanism behind this phenomenon. J. Walter Hopp. 191-2 xxxix Malebranche. 85 xl Hereafter TMS. Eric Schliesser. Chapter 20. xliii I would like to thank an anonymous referee. Gordon (1995) makes this connection explicit for Adam Smith·s theory of sympathy. xxxvi 17 . Gibson·s theory of affordances seems again to be the clearest and most productive. xlii Robert M. xxxviii This point is also developed by Reid (1997) pp. Janet Levin. argued that our senses were not so much grounds for knowledge. but ´«are given to us only for the preservation of our body. but I·ll conclude this paper with some preliminary suggestions that for Smith the mechanism of sympathy might play role³that visual or auditory properties are naturally perceived as if they were properties of tactile resistance and thereby external. it seems clear that Smith thinks only sight and touch ´instinctively suggest to us some conception of the solid and resisting substances which excite their respective sensations«µ (75). and James Van Cleve for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. 171-2. xxxvii As discussed above. i).Smith never explicitly discusses the precise kind of mechanism that enables this. given their propensity to error. who also influenced Berkeley. Robert Schwartz.J. with additional thanks to Eric Schliesser for introducing me to Adam Smith·s little essay.

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