Husserl Stud (2009) 25:97–120 DOI 10.

1007/s10743-009-9054-x

Perception, Body, and the Sense of Touch: Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind
Filip Mattens

Published online: 5 February 2009 Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Abstract In recent philosophy of mind, a series of challenging ideas have appeared about the relation between the body and the sense of touch. In certain respects, these ideas have a striking affinity with Husserl’s theory of the constitution of the body. Nevertheless, these two approaches lead to very different understandings of the role of the body in perception. Either the body is characterized as a perceptual ‘‘organ,’’ or the body is said to function as a ‘‘template.’’ Despite its focus on the sense of touch, the latter conception, I will argue, nevertheless orients its understanding of tactual perception toward visual objects. This produces a distorted conception of touch. In this paper, I will formulate an alternative account, which is more faithful to what it is like to feel.

1 Introduction: What It Is Like to Touch Many contemporary philosophical reflections on ‘‘body awareness’’ start with the complaint that touch has always stood in the shadow of vision.1 This is true even for phenomenology, which nevertheless has a special interest in the sense of touch, dating back to Husserl’s seminal description of the constitution of the body. Over the last two decades, however, a series of challenging ideas about the sense of touch have appeared in the Anglophone tradition, focusing on the differences between perception by sight and by touch. One of the earliest contributions to this debate opens with the following remark: We can tell what the shape or size of an object is by either sight or touch. These two senses are very different in character, not only in the mechanisms
1

See, for example Martin (1993), Scott (2001).

F. Mattens (&) Husserl Archives Leuven, University of Leuven, Mercierplein 2, 3000 Leuven, Belgium e-mail: Filip.Mattens@hiw.kuleuven.be

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of perception … but also in their phenomenological character, what it is like to see and to feel (SAT, p. 196).2 This implies that a comparison of sight and touch presupposes an accurate description of what it is like to touch. At first glance, one may be tempted to assume that we know what touching is like. We are continuously in contact with objects and the idea of it is so simple that it is hard to imagine that different philosophers could sustain different ideas about the basic experience of touching something. And yet, comparing the observations from which the most elaborate philosophical accounts of tactile experience begin, one finds that putting one’s hand on an object inspires considerably divergent views on what it is like to touch. Let us start with the observations that form the point of departure for the three most influential views. In his Ideas II, Edmund Husserl gives the following description of tactile experience: My hand is lying on the table. I experience the table as something solid, cold, and smooth. Moving my hand over the table, I get an experience of it and its thingly determinations. At the same time, I can at any moment pay attention to my hand and find on it touch-sensations, sensations of smoothness and coldness, etc. (Hua IV, p. 146; 1989, p. 153). In this way, the tactual perception of the table is necessarily bound to the perception of the body. This nexus, Husserl explains, is a necessary connection between two possible apprehensions, to which corresponds the constitution of two (sorts of) objects, the table and my body.3 Much earlier, in the chapter ‘‘Of Touch’’ in his 1764 Inquiry, Thomas Reid had elaborated an extensive argument against Idealism based on a series of observations of tactile experience. In one of these observations, he described the same experience that Husserl does, but he seems to have retained almost the opposite impression regarding the phenomenal character of touching: This sensation of hardness may easily be had, by pressing one’s hand against the table, and attending to the feeling that ensues, setting aside, as much as possible, all thought of the table and its qualities, or of any external thing. But it is one thing to have the sensation, and another to attend to it, and make it a distinct object of reflection. The first is very easy; the last, in most cases, extremely difficult (1997, p. 56). Reid further points out the fact that in everyday experience we do not notice tactile sensations because we pass immediately to the qualities of the objects, which, however, do not in the least ‘‘resemble’’ the sensations. More recently, in his 1989 essay ‘‘The Sense of Touch,’’ Brian O’Shaughnessy concludes that there is a rich variegation in tactile perception, from the feeling that

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I will refer to Michael Martin (1992), ‘‘Sight and Touch,’’ as SAT and to his ‘‘Sense Modalities and Spatial Properties’’ (1993) as SMSP, followed by page numbers. Wherever the term ‘‘body’’ is used in relation to Husserl, it refers to the lived body and corresponds to Husserl’s usage of the German word ‘‘Leib’’.

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something contacts one’s body to feeling one’s way around a room in total darkness. Thereupon, he asks why all these cases are exercises of the sense of touch: Is it because one uses the sensation of contact as access to the object? But the following example casts doubt on that suggestion. One’s right hand may be numb, and yet by discovering that we cannot push it through something it is touching, we might come to know of the presence of an object, indeed manage by movement to be aware of its shape. Would we not have tactilely perceived that object? But, it may be objected, one must all the same have and put to use bodily feelings elsewhere in the body in becoming aware of the immobility of the arm. This may be so, but those bodily feelings, say in the elbow and shoulder, do not play an attentive perceptual role in this transaction (p. 661).4 O’Shaughnessy maintains that tactile sensations or bodily feelings do not ‘‘represent’’ external objects. This leads him to conclude that immediate body awareness is the perceptual mediator, whereas ‘‘tactile sensation is inessential to tactile perception’’ (p. 662). It is quite remarkable how the mere observation of what is at stake in putting one’s hand on an object leaves such divergent impressions in the respective authors that it leads them to conflicting and even mutually contradictory ideas about what it is like to touch. The main point of disagreement appears to be the importance and the role of the presence of tactile sensations. Reid believes that, generally, we overlook tactile sensations and, similarly, O’Shaughnessy maintains that they are inessential to the exercises of touch. Thus, both Reid and O’Shaughnessy understate the importance of tactile sensations, whereas for Husserl, and many others after him, tactile sensations have an exceptional status, because, unlike all other sensory impressions, they imply a double experience. This idea of a double experience means that tactile sensations allow for the experience of two objects, namely the object touched and the touching object, i.e., the perceiver’s body. More specifically, in touching, and only in touching, does the body gain its peculiar character as a lived body and become my body. This is the second important point of disagreement between Husserl’s account and O’Shaughnessy’s view. For Husserl, tactile sensations are required for the constitution of the body, whereas for O’Shaughnessy, tactile perception depends on immediate body awareness. In the following section, I will explore the importance of these differences.

2 The Sense of Touch and the Body From the outset, Husserl understood that bodily movements are a necessary factor in perception: ‘‘An immobile organ could never be a perceptual organ’’ (Ms. D13

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All page numbers of ‘‘The Sense of Touch’’ refer to the second version printed in his Consciousness and the World (2000). Quotations by O’Shaughnessy are taken from this work, unless stated otherwise.

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I, 6a).5 Already in Husserl’s time it was known that the human eye is constantly in motion. Hence, Husserl’s statement may seem superfluous. However, its merit lies in Husserl’s general characterisation of the relation between sensory impressions and the simultaneous experience of one’s body. Namely, Husserl understood that the direct awareness of my bodily movements, e.g., turning my eyes or stretching my finger, is constitutive of the spatiality of the object itself. It is not just that one has to move in order to see or feel further aspects of what one observes—as many contemporary philosophers of perception have rediscovered. Rather, what appears at every given moment needs to be absorbed into an accumulative perceptual process, so that all aspects felt or seen are apperceived as the appearance of one and the same corporeal object. Thus, for the perceptual constitution of an object it is a necessary condition that the modifications of the visual or tactual impressions are immediately experienced as depending upon one’s own movements. It is not just that bodily movements widen a static perceptual horizon; rather, the point is that the immediate awareness of one’s movements ‘‘motivates’’ the changes in what is felt and seen, in such a way that a spatial object comes into appearance. This should be distinguished from the trivial claim that perception is active, or that perception is exploratory. Here it is sufficient to bear in mind that Husserl treats vision and touch equally as far as their dependence on kinaesthesis is concerned. If they were not functionally connected to bodily movements, vision and touch would remain meaningless with regard to a world of spatial objects in exactly the same way (Hua XVI, p. 160; 1997, p. 136). This is to say that insofar as perception is concerned, Husserl does not suppose a special connection between kinaesthesis and the sense of touch. On the contrary, he explicitly excludes all collateral cutaneous sensations that may accompany the movement of one’s limbs (Hua XIII, p. 331). Husserl maintains that ‘‘kinaesthesis’’ in its proper sense only concerns the bodily experiences related to voluntary movements in their capacity to motivate changes in the visual field or in tactual impressions. Whereas the original notion of kinaesthesis, and its precursor ‘‘muscle sensation,’’ referred to the feelings one has in muscles, joints, and tendons when one moves, for Husserl the essence of kinaesthesis lies in the voluntary aspect of bodily movements. It is this aspect, namely the fact that I ‘‘know’’ how to move in order to get such and such modifications in what I see or feel that is of constitutive importance for both visual and tactual perception (Hua XVI, p. 179; 1997, p.151).6
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Already in his 1907 ‘‘Thing-Lecture,’’ Husserl advances this idea (see Hua XVI , p. 160; 1997, p. 136). In a 1916 addition to this text, he states that a static visual field does not present a spatial world, just like an unmovable finger cannot constitute a three-dimensional horizon (Hua XVI, p. 307; 1997, p. 264). In the above cited manuscript, Husserl summarizes as follows: the eye can only see as mobile eye; the tactile organ, the touching finger, the touching palm of the hand, etc., is a tactile organ only in movement and in the ability to move. (‘‘Ein unbewegliches Organ ko ¨nnte nicht Organ sein der Wahrnehmung; das Auge sieht nur als bewegliches Auge, das Tastorgan, der tastende Finger, die tastende Handfla ¨che usw. ist Tastorgan nur in der Bewegung und im Bewegenko ¨nnen.’’) Ms. D13 I, 6a (1921). Here one can ask whether the sensations in muscles, tendons, and joints are really necessary. Many contemporary philosophers have argued that proprioception is required for bodily movements and perceptually guided actions. However, there is no ground to maintain that proprioceptive sensations are necessary. Namely, there is no reason to assume that an imaginary organism could not do the same things

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Nevertheless, the sense of touch has a peculiar relation to the body. According to Husserl, we would never experience our own body as such if we did not have the sense of touch. To put it very simply, when we are touched, our body appears to us; it appears as our lived body in a way that it cannot appear in vision. For example, imagine that I see, in twilight, a number of feet close to each other. Someone could point with a stick at one of these feet and ask me whether it is mine. It is not impossible in this rather absurd situation that I do not know for sure which of these feet are mine. However, if this person were to only slightly come into contact with my foot while she points at it, I would feel that it is my foot. The moment something contacts me, I feel that I am touched somewhere on my body. Clearly, when I look at my own limbs they do not appear to be any different than someone else’s. Actually, there is no essential difference between seeing my own feet, someone else’s feet, the feet of a doll, or any other material object. There is, however, a crucial difference between the perceptual experiences of tapping with a stick a material object, someone else’s body, and my own body. It is the tactile experience of body contact that constitutes my body as such: in feeling that something touches me, my body appears to me in a way that it cannot by simply looking at it.7 This peculiar relationship between touch and the body originates in the fact that, as Husserl points out, I can switch my attention from the object that touches me to my body as it is touched. In this way, tactile sensations imply a double experience. Similarly, Michael Martin, who developed his own view starting off from O’Shaughnessy’s theory, explains this situation in terms of the well-known visual double perceptions. As in ‘‘aspect-shifts,’’ he explains, one can ‘‘switch’’ one’s attention between the object and ‘‘how one’s body feels’’ (SMSP, p. 206). Like Husserl, Martin describes the twofold direction implicit in touching something as one double experience: We should think of this case not as one in which we have two distinct states of mind, a bodily sensation and a tactual perception, both of which can be attended to; but instead simply one state of mind, which can be attended to in different ways (SAT, p. 204). Martin develops his description of such tactile experiences in opposition to the classical Reidian view, which draws a distinction between perception as having an object and sensations as being purely inner, subjective states of mind. He categorically rejects the idea that the sensations of touch would be merely internal, i.e., ‘‘purely subjective,’’ experiences that, accordingly, have no intrinsic spatial character. Contrary to this view, he observes that such sensations are typically felt to be located somewhere in one’s body (see SMSP, pp. 207–208). When something

Footnote 6 continued as we do, and thus have control over its movements, without feeling anything in its limbs. So the argument is, at least, inconclusive. Since Husserl shifts the constitutive importance of kinaesthesis toward the motivational capacity of voluntary movements, I believe he would agree that it is not unthinkable that one perceives a spatial world without ‘‘feeling’’ one’s limbs as one moves.
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For a more extensive discussion of Husserl’s analyses, see Welton (2005).

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contacts my body, I have a certain sensation in a certain location of my body.8 Given Martin’s observation of the twofold direction of attention and his adherence to the idea that tactile sensations are located, it seems as if Husserl and Martin sketch the same overall picture of what it is like to touch. However, their views are poles apart. Most remarkably, Martin adheres to the felt location of tactile sensations because he believes this location ‘‘should be treated as on a par with the visual perception of location of an object’’ (SMPS, p. 209). When I see a green spot on the wall, it is experienced as located not in some mental space analogue, but on the wall over there. If one treats felt location in this way, Martin believes, the location felt relates to the physical world, namely to one’s body as a physical object, ‘‘itself a part of the objective world’’ (SMSP, pp. 207, 209)—no less than the wall in my example. Thus, Martin argues, a sensation in one’s finger has as much claim to be concerned with the objective world as one’s tactual perception of what one touches: The sensation itself has a felt location, and that is not some metaphorical location ‘‘internal to the mind’’—it is felt to be at some location internal to one’s body. The sensation feels to be within one’s fingertip, and one’s fingertip is every bit as much a part of the physical world as the glass it touches (SAT, p. 204). Clearly, Martin seeks to employ the location of sensations as a feature of the objective spatial world. The felt location would somehow coincide with the real location; they would be the same. The place where one feels the sensation to be shares certain spatial properties with the object which impedes one’s movement; it is in the same place in space. So the spatial location that the sensation feels to have can provide an awareness of the spatial location of the point on the rim which keeps the fingertip there (SAT, p. 204). This scenario could provide an explanation of how we move from sensory impressions to the perception of a spatial world. However, is this description refined enough to bridge the gap between our experiences and the spatiality of that which is experienced? Husserl would not think so. Like Martin, he compares tactile sensations with the givenness of visual properties, but, unlike Martin, Husserl points out a fundamental distinction. Tactile sensations are located in and spread out over one’s body surface; in this way, they ‘‘do indeed spread out in space, cover spatial surfaces, run through them, etc.’’ (Hua IV, p.149; 1989, p. 157). However, they are fundamentally different from the characteristics of my body as a real thing in physical space. Indeed, the properties of, say, my hand, like its color and texture, also appear spread out over its surface. However, as I inspect my hand and look at it from different angles, I see a manifold of different shades and hues; what I call the color of my hand is constituted through such a manifold of perceptual adumbrations.
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This may seem evident, but it is not, for the location does not seem to be intertwined with the phenomenal character of the sensation. I can have the same feeling in my left and in my right hand. What then can it mean to say that they are felt in the left and the right hand but to say that I somehow directly know where they are?

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The same goes for my hand’s textural qualities, i.e., those qualities that are constituted through tactual explorations of my hand’s surface. However, this is not the case for the tactile sensations ‘‘in’’ the surface of my body; the tactile sensations spread out in my hand do not relate to my hand like its real spatial properties relate to my physical hand as a part of the objective world. Therefore, Husserl claims that, even though it is felt somewhere, a tactile impression … is not a state of the material thing, hand, but is precisely the hand itself, which for us is more than a material thing, and the way in which it is mine entails that I, the ‘‘subject of the Body,’’ can say that what belongs to the material thing is its, not mine (Hua IV, p. 150; 1989, p.157).9 Comparing the localization of tactile impressions with the ‘‘surface-filling’’ properties of the hand (e.g., its color, smoothness, etc., cf. Hua XVI, p. 66; 1997, p. 55), Husserl not only shows that from within my hand is not felt as a material thing, but also, at the same time, that from without my own hand can appear to me as the spatial, material thing that it is. (cf. Hua XVI, pp. 161, 280; 1997, pp. 137, 241; Hua IV, p. 145; 1989, p. 152)10 Consider the following situation, which is closely related to Martin’s example. I am blindfolded and my ears are covered. I feel a needle prick somewhere on my thigh. No doubt, this point contact-sensation is felt somewhere. Then I feel a second sting a bit further on, and a third, and so on. Now, does it make sense to say that the felt location of these sensations provides an awareness of the worldly positions where the needles were when they pricked me? The different stings are felt at different locations, and in this way a certain characteristic of my bodily self comes to the fore; namely, my body appears as extended, which means, at the very least, that I feel something at different places of my body. This experience implies that my body appears as having different places. In a certain sense, the spatiality of my body itself is experienced, and, simultaneously, my body appears as spatial. Clearly, if I had no feelings in my body, my body would not appear. Conversely, when something moves all over my body, my entire body becomes manifest. Without the possibility of continuous change of location, my body would not appear as the one spatial body that it is. If these stings were not felt in different locations, all stings would be felt as a
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Husserl adds, somewhat provocatively, that what happens to the body as a material thing is, so to speak, none of my business. To illustrate this I would like to consider the following situation. I wake up in the middle of the night, but my body has shrunken to half its usual size. In a certain sense this has nothing to do with my lived body, but only with my body as a material thing. By myself, I will not sense what happened. My body as lived body has not changed at all. I will first discover what happened when I encounter other material objects (e.g., the door handle will be too high ‘‘for me’’). This shows that the felt locations of tactual contact only become involved with the objective world when I meet the spatial order of the objective world. In this sense, by itself my body is not immediately a part of the objective world.

10 This should not be confused with the experience of my body as a thing like any other corporeal object in space. According to Husserl, this requires a higher-level apperception of my body, which is motivated by the perceptual nexus of carrying an object and being carried as an object (cf. Hua XV, pp. 280–281). Moreover, in this context it becomes apparent that, at the lower level, my body can never be fully constituted as a corporeal object in the same way as other things, for I can never perceive it from a distance.

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repetition of the same sting; this means that the corresponding sensations would only differ in intensity, and no body would appear. But, this is not true of us. On the contrary, the location of sensations in the body precisely allows that something can contact all the areas on one’s body, one after another, in exactly the same way. Thus, having no visual or auditory perceptions, I become immediately aware of my body and its spatial nature without thereby being aware of ‘‘real’’ locations in the world. The question then is whether this spatiality informs me about the spatiality of the world: is it sufficient to say that the felt location of contact informs me about the location of the contact felt? A series of tactile sensations, in their peculiar felt location, constitutes the spatiality of the body itself as a field of possible tactile experiences. But for Husserl this bodily spatiality is not yet the spatiality of the objective world. It simply makes no sense to say that, purely based on what one feels, without any additional perceptions, the felt location of a needle prick can provide an awareness of the spatial location of the needle in the world. This is not to deny that the extension of a tactual field is required for the perception of space; it provides the basis from which objective space is tactually constituted, but it is not yet objective space itself. One could say that being touched is sufficient for the body to be constituted as ‘‘spatial;’’ but in order to constitute the spatiality of the world, bodily movements must motivate the contents of active tactual exploration. Here Husserl’s view appears as a middle position in between a Reidian position and Martin’s solution of Reid’s insoluble gap between sensations in the mind and spatial qualities in the world. Martin closes the gap by assuming that bodily sensations are typically felt as located, and these are locations on the body, which is itself a part of the physical world, ‘‘so that the spatial character of a tactual perception is that of the location of whatever connects with one’s body’’ (SAT, p. 204). Husserl also observes that bodily sensations are typically located. However, these felt locations form a spatial field in its own right; they simply cannot inform one about the spatiality of the objective world. Thus, even though Martin and Husserl initially focus on the same characteristics of the sense of touch, they ascribe essentially distinct roles to the body in tactual perception.

3 The Body’s Role in Perception 3.1 The Body as an Organ At the outset of this section, it was said that Husserl treats vision and touch equally with regard to their relation to the body, in so far as sensory perception is concerned. Here it becomes clear why. Through touch, and only through touch, the body is constituted as such. Apart from tactile sensations, we also have sensations that accompany our movements, namely kinetic sensations. Such feelings are also located in the body, but, Husserl says, for this they depend on ‘‘primarily localized’’ sensations (Hua IV, p. 151; 1989, p. 158; see also Hua XVI, p. 162; 1997, p. 137), i.e., cutaneous sensations. Thus, tactile experience puts the different aspects of the body in their place; through

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touch, and only through touch, the different sense organs are experienced as part of the body11 and the different systems of voluntary movement, which mutually extend, or neutralize, each other12 are unified as one body. As a whole, the body becomes a perceptual organ that accompanies all sensory impressions. In its capacity as the all-encompassing perceptual organ, the human body situates the contents of experience. The most obvious case is visual perception. A certain aspect of an object appears to me; its profile, corresponding to a given angle, appears within my visual field. In an ontologically neutral sense, this profile as it occupies an area of my visual field can be called an ‘‘image.’’13 When I move, the profile-image changes, corresponding to the direction and extent of my movement. Yet I do not take the object to be changing. This is so because the change in the image is motivated by my voluntary movement. Every perceptual process is a complex combination of concurrent and interfering cases of this paradigm. The same goes for tactual exploration of spatial objects. The changes in what I feel are motivated by the awareness of the nature of my own movements. The whole of what is felt of an object at every given moment Husserl calls a ‘‘tactual image’’ (Hua XVI, p. 68; 1997, p. 57; Hua IV, pp. 69, 166; 1989, pp. 73, 174). Again, the body’s function is to situate each such image in the course of a series of sensory images. In such a perceptual process, a spatial object comes into appearance. In this account, the human body is not a physical object that is used to transpose its own spatial properties, felt from within, to the objective spatial properties of other objects. The immediate awareness of its conditions is not an end product which is to be read—via a shift of attention—as an interpretation of the world. Rather, the human body is an organ; it has a functional contribution to the process of perception that is essentially different from the contents of experience. Perceptual contents are interpreted in light of the body’s conditions; or, more accurately, all perceptual appearances occur against the background of the present bodily condition. In more Husserlian terms, the immediate awareness of the respective ‘‘kinaesthetic situation,’’ which is generally in continuous modification, ‘‘motivates’’ the course of sensory contents. Thus, the difference between one’s awareness of the condition of one’s body during perceptual exploration and the course of sensory impressions that this generates is just that these latter sensory impressions are able to present aspects of the same enduring object, because they are spatially
What goes for the above example of seeing and touching one’s feet equally applies to the sense organs themselves. They are part of one’s body, and thus one has sensations that are felt to be located (in the body) when something touches them. Hence, it is only through touching one’s eyes that they are experienced as located in one’s body.
12 For example, I can stretch my finger to scrape over a surface, but I can extend my reach by moving my wrist, and again by stretching my arm, or turning my shoulders and upper body. Finally, the distance I cover in this way can be further extended, or completely neutralized, by stepping backward. Analogously, I can turn my eyes left and right. But I can extend my visual scope considerably by moving my head, my upper body, and, finally, I can, in principle, visually explore every corner of the world by walking over there. Husserl calls these different groups of movements that gradually extend one’s perceptual horizon different kinaesthetic systems. We are immediately aware of all possible movements of a certain system, and of the combination of different systems, as a kinaesthetic capability. 13 Note that ‘‘image’’ is not used to explain perception here. As is well-known, Husserl fervently rejected the so-called picture-theory of perception. 11

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situated by the former. In a word, the difference is a functional difference, without which no spatial world could appear. The body enters into a specifically regulated interplay with sensory contents—essentially, it is an organ and not simply an object with which one measures the world. 3.2 The Body as Template To say that the body is a perceptual organ is to say that, in tactual perception, the body is not what is perceived—neither for itself nor as a perceptual intermediator. Yet this is how Martin wants to interpret the role of the body in perception. In tactual perception, Martin suggests, we ‘‘exploit’’ the physical object that our body is (SMSP, p. 214). As was pointed out above, Martin starts by rejecting the idea that feelings of touch are inner, and therefore non-spatial, sensations. Instead he argues, like Husserl, that tactile sensations are typically felt to be located. Unlike Husserl, he assumes that these sensations are felt as located in a physical object (e.g., one’s fingertip), which is located in the objective spatial world. The sense of our body we have through these sensations is different from the other senses, since the body is the ‘‘sole object’’ of body awareness (SMSP, p. 209). However, if my body is the sole object of body-sense, how then can it be felt as mine? Why should it not be felt as simply coinciding with the entire world? If there are only bodily sensations, then, indeed, only the body will be felt, and nothing can be felt as without it. Therefore, Martin assumes that We have a sense of ourselves as being bounded and limited objects within a larger space which can contain other objects. A sense of our limits brings with it a sense of the world extending beyond those limits (SMSP, p. 212). It remains unclear how this contrast between the inner realm of bodily feelings and the world outside it is constituted. Having a sense of being a limited object or having a sense of one’s limits rather seems to coincide with, or even derive from, the awareness that the world extends beyond what I can feel. Martin explains that the contrast between body and world is not between different qualities that sensations might have—a positive quality of feeling to be internal to one’s body, which other sensations would lack (see SAT, p. 202)—but ‘‘between places where one does feel sensations to be located and places where one simply cannot feel them to be’’ (SMSP, p. 212). It is not clear how the awareness of a contrast with places that cannot be felt comes about. Most philosophers will not encounter this problem, since they generally start from this contrast; namely, the sense of touch is usually taken to be the experience of outer objects, which implies the awareness of one’s body. In Husserl, for example, this problem does not occur, since this contrast is constitutive of the body itself. When I put my hand on the table, I also sense my hand; however, when I put my hand on my knee, I do not only feel my hand as it touches the material object that my knee is, but I also feel my knee as it is touched. The experience of the difference between touching a table and touching my knee is sufficient—if not necessary—for the experience of the difference between one’s

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body and other physical objects. But Martin holds a different view on the order of dependence: Since one is aware of nothing but one’s body, it does not have to be identified as such within experience; there are no other objects of awareness to contrast it with. But since one is aware of it as in a world which contains many other objects, one nevertheless has a sense of it as one’s body in contrast to other objects, things which one doesn’t feel (SMSP, p. 213). What most philosophers might find unacceptable is the suggestion that there is an awareness of one’s body that precedes every awareness of other objects, and, even more so, the suggestion that one could have an initial awareness of one’s body as in a larger world that can contain other objects. But Martin finds a further corroboration of his view in the case of kinaesthesia. One is indeed only aware of the posture of one’s own body, but ‘‘one is also aware of one’s body as in a space which extends beyond it and contains it’’ (SMSP, p. 212). To illustrate this, Martin refers to the awareness one has of the relative position of one’s hands. One feels their relative position and thus one is aware of a region of space in between them, which extends beyond what one feels. This awareness should then be sufficient to have a sense of space, and possible objects, outside oneself (see also SAT, p. 206). Martin thus maintains that we have an original awareness of our own body that is, in addition, sufficient to indicate the world outside us. The reason why Martin holds on to the structural priority of body awareness originates in the fact that, on the face of it, there is no such thing as a tactual field, analogous to the visual field in sight. However, in visual perception the visual field introduces the spatiality of the world. Lacking a proper sense field, it becomes unclear how the tactile-sense can present a spatial world. Martin’s goal is to demonstrate that, due to the spatial nature of bodily sensations, the body can fill this gap. To that purpose, he has to argue that the body is not only suitable, but also available for this. The sense of one’s body must (at least to a certain extent) be prior to tactual perception if one wants to argue that a certain ‘‘feature of bodily awareness, the contrast between inner and outer, provides what we need for the sense of touch’’ (SAT, p. 203). The idea is that, when we tactually explore the world, we employ our bodies to disclose the spatial properties of external objects. One measures the properties of objects in the world around one against one’s body. So in having an awareness of one’s body, one has a sense of touch (SAT, p. 203; see also SMSP, p. 213). Since there is no equivalent of the visual field for touch, we have to rely on our body. We can do so because our body is itself a spatial object among other spatial objects. Moreover, our body is flexible; we can spatially reorganize its different parts. Therefore, Martin can say that the arrangement of one’s body ‘‘mirrors’’ that of the object touched; in being aware of the former one can attend to the latter (SAT, p. 206). In this way, Martin substantiates his claim that ‘‘touch is dependent on bodily awareness’’ (SAT, p. 197; SMSP, p. 213). The origin of this idea can be found in

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O’Shaughnessy’s attempt to formulate a theory of tactual perception that does not involve sense mediation.

4 Tactual Perception and Spatial Properties O’Shaughnessy’s description of tactual perception is preceded by the questionable claim that ‘‘tactile sensation is inessential to tactile perception’’ (p. 662). This claim is inspired by the idea that a perceiver discovers that something is there and what its shape is, by immediately feeling that, say, his or her hand cannot be pushed further and by moving around the perimeter of the object. In order to do so, the subject does not need cutaneous sensitivity—its hand could be numb—and neither does the subject rely on bodily feelings—inside the elbow or shoulder—because these feelings do not ‘‘represent’’ solid objects. Rather, O’Shaughnessy is convinced that the ‘‘necessary mediator in the case of tactile perception’’ is body awareness, i.e., the immediate awareness of limb posture. His actual description of tactile perception starts with the remark that his analysis brought to attention the vital role of body awareness in tactile perception, to which, most remarkably, he adds: But it does not show that bodily sensation is not also of great importance. Indeed, I am happy to affirm as a principle that the simplest case of tactile perception, in which we feel something momentarily contact a point on our body, is the unit out of which are fashioned the more complex structures of tactile perception (p. 662). Clearly, what O’Shaughnessy advances as the basic unit of tactile perception is a case of cutaneous stimulation, which has nothing to do with his notion of body awareness. Thus, what he considers the unit of tactile perception belongs to what he proclaimed, earlier in the same section, inessential to tactile perception. What does the experience of ‘‘momentary point contact’’ tell us? As O’Shaughnessy correctly points out, we gain very little information from an isolated point contact. We do feel that something is here; something contacts us. This ‘‘here’’ experience is not specified in objective space or according to a co-ordinate system. O’Shaughnessy speaks of a ‘‘qualitative determinacy,’’ which is part of the ‘‘experience of a body-point,’’ consisting in our experience of ‘‘the point touched as on or of some given limb’’ (p. 663). This experience is indeed not purely spatial, but neither is it purely qualitative, since it has a certain spatial content—for example: ‘‘on-right-index-finger-attached-to-hand-attached-to-etc.’’ Thus, the point contact experience can be specified according to ‘‘widening descriptive circles,’’ which are relevant for the experience itself, since a subject feels something in its finger as well as in one end of its body. But, the body does not only have a fixed structure; it also has, at any given moment, a determinate posture. So, in the example given, the hand can be, say, close to my forehead. On the more general point, O’Shaughnessy concludes: In sum, information conveyed at that moment concerns a point in a bodyrelative space that is qualitatively determinate both locally and globally.

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Roughly speaking, this almost totally body-relative information that something is at such a point is the unit out of which the deliverances of the sense of touch are fashioned (p. 663). The next case of tactile-sense is ‘‘extensive contact.’’ O’Shaughnessy advances the example of an object of approximately saucer size that contacts one’s body, and asks ‘‘what spatial information do we gather from this tactile experience.’’ As a matter of fact, we only have a rough idea of size and it is almost impossible to say with certainty what the saucer’s shape is like. O’Shaughnessy compares this indeterminate spatial information with the situation at the edges of the visual field, which is due to the lack of differentiation in the visual sensations. But, what is responsible for such vagueness in tactile contact? Is it the character of bodily sensations or of body awareness? According to O’Shaughnessy, we do not feel a series of simultaneous contacts as a straight line, but neither can one say that body parts are experienced as straight, curved, etc.; both aspects are part of the same situation. The ‘‘prime case of tactile perception,’’ however, consists in ‘‘active exploratory movement’’ (p. 664): Keeping one’s hand on an object, one runs it around the edge and attends to the shape of the object as one does. … Then while at first one might actively follow the outline of the object part by part, one might thereafter actively initiate the entire movement that one remembers tracing out qua follower. Here O’Shaughnessy describes tactile perception in terms of what psychologists call ‘‘contour following.’’ What is decisive in this process cannot be merely the introduction of time and movement, since these elements are also present in the case where something wanders over one’s body. Neither can it be the element of activity, since someone else could drag my hand along the object’s edges as well. Therefore, O’Shaughnessy concludes, ‘‘the novel and crucially important factor is the movement of one’s limbs’’ (p. 665). O’Shaughnessy’s main goal is to demonstrate that tactile perception does not depend on sensations. When I say that a thing’s edge ‘‘feels’’ straight, I do not perceive the straightness of the edge through perceiving the straightness of a sensation. Feeling along the edge is a temporally extended process and, at any given moment, the sensation is never a line, and neither ‘‘does it persist in consciousness across space and time in linear form’’ (p. 666). Instead, O’Shaughnessy maintains, through our awareness of our limb-movements we ‘‘discover’’ objects’ spatial properties. There can be little doubt that we intuit the shape both of the limb-movement and the felt object. More, since we intuit the latter only because we intuit the former, this tactile perception has to be classed as representational in type. … The representational element is not sensation. It is the spatial properties of the immediately experienced actively executed body movement (p. 667). Here a specific form of ‘‘transitivity of the attention’’ is required, from the movement onto the spatial properties of the object.

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This is the core of O’Shaughnessy’s ‘‘representational theory of tactile perception’’: the ‘‘mediate’’ perceptions of tactile-sense ‘‘match’’ the ‘‘immediate’’ perceptions of body-sense, and as a consequence it can be said that the ‘‘deliverances’’ of tactile-sense and body-sense ‘‘coincide’’ (pp. 667, 675). Tactual perception is an active project carried out by exploratory limb-movements; here, the awareness of our body is the ‘‘causal mediator.’’ This means that our tactile-sense is mediated by the awareness of our body, which is mediated by bodily sensation.14 Thus, perception of objects works via the body, while our body-sense itself is immediate (p. 675). In this way, we perceive spatial properties of objects because ‘‘we body-sense perceive the movement of the limb’’ (p. 668). A counter-example would be any situation in which we perceive an object’s form, but where we are not aware of the ‘‘shape’’ of the movements we make. O’Shaughnessy seems to offer such a situation himself, namely complex objects. Clearly, it makes no sense to hold that one discovers the overall shape of a complex body ‘‘through’’ a perception of one’s own limb-movements. Therefore, O’Shaughnessy says that when we perceive complex objects, ‘‘mostly only the outer-directed tactile project is undertaken,’’ even though one ‘‘might undertake both perceptual objects at once.’’ Hence, he has to admit that the perception of the overall shape does not necessarily depend on the perception of the limb-movement. In either case the perceptual relation is non-representationalist in character. Representationalist [sic] is inexistent in the bizarre case because, I do not perceive the shape of the object through perceiving that of the limbmovement, and it is inexistent usually because I do not usually perceive the shape of the limb-movement (p. 668). Does this mean that the representational structure is not really necessary? O’Shaughnessy does not think so. He maintains that representationalism continues to hold piecemeal in the perception of complex shapes (See p. 669). Martin’s understanding of the dependence of touch on the body was modeled in order to support this conception of tactual perception.15 Martin describes similar situations in order to illustrate how the body functions in tactual perception. For example, tracing the rim of a glass with one’s finger: In feeling a sensation in one’s finger one is aware of the position of one’s finger relative to the other parts of one’s body, other fingers and one’s wrist,
14 Previously, O’Shaughnessy explained that ‘‘there is no apriori reason why body awareness must have a sensation cause.’’ It is possible in principle that one is immediately aware of the posture of one’s limbs (without mediation of sensations). Intuition without sensation, he argues, is a ‘‘theoretical possibility’’ (p. 662). This claim safeguards his general thesis that touch does not depend on sensations, like vision does, and therefore touch is a more direct access to the world. However, his initial claim prioritising touch over the other senses is based upon the supposition that ‘‘it is not really possible to suppose a man might have full command over his limbs and lack tactile-sense’’ (p. 661). But why would this not be a ‘‘theoretical possibility?’’ 15 Martin says he is indebted to O’Shaughnessy’s work (see SAT, p. 197; SMSP, p. 217), but he distances himself from O’Shaughnessy’s claim that there is nothing like a sense field in touch at all (see SAT, pp. 207–210).

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for instance. In moving the finger, one is aware of it as moving. The finger traces out a singular path, relative to the rest of one’s hand, and one is aware of it as doing so. In attending to the rim of the glass, one is aware of the rim as not moving to one’s finger (SAT, p. 205). On the face of it, this observation does not contradict Husserl’s descriptions. Yet what both authors infer from such observations is essentially different with respect to the body’s contribution to tactual perception. Like O’Shaughnessy, Martin ascribes a more direct role to body awareness than Husserl does. Basically, they assume that we are directly aware of the shape that our moving limbs trace. So it is not so much the moving limbs, but the figural properties of their movements, from which they expect a literal ‘‘translation.’’ Thus Martin and O’Shaughnessy assume that only by copying spatial figurations of the world using our body parts as tools do we get to know the world’s spatial properties. They consider the body to be a scanning device, whereas for Husserl the body enters into a functional interplay with what is felt. For Husserl, our body enables our voluntary movements; in this way, the body generates motion in the sensory contents, which, in turn, generates patterns of modifications that bring the visual or tactile momentary impressions into relief. Clearly, Husserl seeks to ascribe a specific role to the body in perceptual processes in general, whereas O’Shaughnessy and Martin use every opportunity to show that touch and vision are essentially different, a project for which the body proves to be extremely helpful since touch is spread out all over its entire surface, whereas eyesight is not. O’Shaughnessy must demonstrate that touch is essentially different from vision, since he believes that vision has no direct access to the world. In sight, consciousness discovers outer objects ‘‘through landing upon inner sensuous objects.’’ Consequently, O’Shaughnessy wants to show that touch and the body are interdependent, because he believes that ‘‘we gain epistemological access to the world through immediate epistemological access to one small part of it: our own body’’ (p. 662). On the other hand, Martin’s philosophical project is to efface all hopes of a common theory of visual and tactual perception. Several authors have rejected Martin’s ambition. For example, Michael Scott argues for a unified account of sense perception: The fact that there is a usually seamless integration of information yielded by the two sense modalities, and that they provide common information about the properties of objects, such as their shape, lends support to this approach (2001, p. 159). Far more radically, Husserl maintains that, in principle, every strictly visual property (e.g., color) ‘‘could have a parallel in the sphere of tactile appearances’’ (Hua IV, p. 71; 1989, p. 75), and vice versa. Regardless of how the differences between sight and touch should be understood, one effective way to evaluate theories about the dependence of touch on body

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awareness is to examine the explanatory power of the account of tactual perception that they entail.

5 The Scope of Tactual Perception and the Limits of Body Awareness When I am touched somewhere on my body, I immediately know where I am touched. This can only mean that this point is somehow recognized in its relative position to the rest of my body. My body can also take different stances and postures. Roughly stated, the ‘‘template theory’’ says that, if the point where I make contact is situated on one of the parts of my body that I can move relative to the rest of my body, I am somehow aware of its changing position and thus of the path it traces, relative to the rest of my body. What O’Shaughnessy has in mind is the idea that in my finger, say, there is a constant but meaningless contact-sensation, while I intuit the shape that this contact-point traces as I move my finger following the perimeter of an object. Thus, my finger is a kind of scanner; what it feels is inessential. I cannot intuit the shape ‘‘in’’ tactile sensations, but neither can the act of limb moving have a shape. Therefore, I ‘‘intuit’’ the shape of the movement of my limb (p. 666). 5.1 The Scope of ‘‘Movement Representationalism’’ The most obvious critique of this theory of tactual perception can be found in O’Shaughnessy’s seminal discussion itself. At the outset, O’Shaughnessy provides an overview of the variety of the ‘‘exercises of the sense of touch’’: The simplest of all cases is that of momentarily feeling something contact a point on one’s body. Probably the next most simple case is feeling something extensive momentarily contact one … one might passively feel an insect wander across one’s forehead. Or actively run one’s hand around the outside of a box with a view to discovering its shape. Finally, one might feel one’s way around a room in total darkness; or, if blind, navigate one’s way across an entire city (p. 661). The two-first cases are not really cases of the perception of an object, as O’Shaughnessy himself suggests elsewhere.16 The last two cases do not fit into the scenario of tactual shape perception ‘‘through’’ the perception of one’s limbmovements, as O’Shaughnessy admits during the elaboration of his theory. Namely, representationalism fails to hold as soon as an object is more complex than basic shapes or larger than oneself (see pp. 668–669). This means that, according to O’Shaughnessy himself, this theory applies to precious little.
16 O’Shaughnessy writes that these ‘‘cases can easily be understood merely as examples of body awareness’’ (p. 664). As the reader might already have noticed, O’Shaughnessy and Martin understand the most basic case of skin contact as ‘‘body awareness’’ (see also Martin’s SAT, p. 209), while they stretch the common notion of the sense of touch, which relates to cutaneous sensitivity, so far that it lies almost completely beyond what we usually understand by touch. This complicates a comparison of their theory with other views.

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So what is the range of this theory? The examples O’Shaughnessy and Martin provide concern the perception of the shape of a box and a glass via the awareness of the shape of the movement of a specific body part, e.g., a finger or a limb. In this way, O’Shaughnessy believes, we ‘‘discover’’ that something is circular, rectangular, parallelepiped, and so on (pp. 665, 674). The examples used are typically about (a) objects whose size does not extend beyond arm’s reach, and about (b) straight lines, squares, and circles. One could say that these shapes are among the most basic geometric figures, the ones that children first learn to draw. These figures stand out in the visual world because they are so simple. Of all the shapes that can be seen or felt, these figures are highly recognizable. In a parallel way, it is easy to imagine the movement one has to make to trace a circular path or to draw such a circle in the air. In fact, the transition from a circle-movement toward tracing out a square is not a big step: understood from within the movement itself, a rectangular shape is also drawn by going around, but this time making sharp turns instead of one gradual turn. Such movements are extremely simple, and it is very easy to relate these basic movements to their corresponding figures. Therefore one might even think that these examples inspired the theory, rather than that the theory is developed to explain the tactual perception of such shapes. To put it differently, the theory is about these examples, rather than these examples merely illustrating the theory. The theory’s range of application coincides—more or less—with such examples. One can further ask what might be responsible for the limited range of this theory. O’Shaughnessy realizes that the theory is only about relatively simple and small objects, but he is satisfied with the idea that in more complex cases his representationalism continues to hold piecemeal. Thus, he seems to understand the minimal range of his theory as a problem that originates in our tactuo-perceptual abilities—instead of in what the theory believes touch is about. Yet, O’Shaughnessy, just like Martin, has a specific expectation about what tactual perception should achieve, namely shape recognition. This expectation—which both authors seem to forget is very specific—originates in the larger plan of their work. O’Shaughnessy’s view of touch is inspired by his negative conception of visual perception,17 and likewise, Martin’s elaboration of it is motivated by his conviction that touch is fundamentally different from vision. Strangely enough, they orient their theories toward visual perception. More specifically, the explanatory power of their theory addresses the spatial quality of visual objects. Of course, seeing and touching a circle should amount to having the same idea of an object’s shape. But, the problem lies in what it takes to arrive at this perception. This theory describes what one should have to do with one’s body in order to pick up information identical to the information that is present in visually perceived shapes. In other words, they demand from the sense of touch that it should ‘‘intuit’’ the identical phenomenal spatial qualities as vision.

17

O’Shaughnessy (1980, p. 11) is convinced that, unlike touch, ‘‘a purely visual consciousness of physical reality is nothing.’’

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5.2 The Relation Between Shapes and Movements Apart from the fact that, in the end, this theory proves to be about precious little, there are at least three reasons why one might be sceptical from the outset as to whether this theory’s approach is appropriate. To start with, the idea that I intuit the shape of an object because I intuit the shape of my movement presupposes that I do indeed intuit the shape of my movements. However, does a movement have a shape? If one wants to maintain that a movement does have a shape, this can only refer to a visual shape, for, according to the theory under consideration, a tactual perception of a shape requires that one intuit the shape of one’s own movements. Thus, the idea that one intuits the shape of a movement can only be inspired by the visual perception of movements. Still, the theory can assume that I am immediately aware of the movements I make, and thus of the shape of my movements—or, in the theory’s jargon, that I ‘‘body-sense perceive’’ the shape of my movement (p. 668). But the point is that there is little reason to assume that, in themselves, voluntary bodily movements would have a shape. It is more likely that we name the shape of the path of our moving hand after the shapes of the objects we know. We are indeed familiar with turning-movements (and stirring-movements), but it is highly questionable whether we would call them ‘‘circles’’ if we had never discovered the peculiar spatial character of circular objects through sight or touch. To relate turning or stirring to circles is something that is inspired by the tactual perception of shapes—if not simply by the visual perception of movements. To put it another way, it is highly questionable whether a community of blind bodily beings who never had contact with the sighted would call their movements ‘‘rectangular’’ or ‘‘circular’’ before they ever touched an object with the corresponding shape.18 We cannot put this suggestion to the test; it remains unclear whether ‘‘shape’’ would have a meaning with respect to movements only. Yet it is clear that the idea that I perceive an object’s shape because I intuit the shape of my own movement is based on a highly questionable supposition concerning the relation between shape and movement prior to perception. In any case, the names we have for our movements do not refer to shapes. Secondly, even if we assume that we intuit our movements directly as ‘‘shaped,’’ the theory focuses on shapes as we know them through vision—i.e., as (complete) figures. If one wants to perceive in touch the same as in vision, one would have to invent something like limb-movement representationalism. In other words, if one wants to perceive in touch a circle-figure as we know it in sight, one has to grope over the entire circle and somehow imagine the end product of this process. Now, several psychological studies have demonstrated that we are actually rather bad at recognizing familiar objects from manually tracing their contours. Most significantly, recent research shows that blindfolded people perform such tasks considerably better than congenitally blind subjects.19 This demonstrates that it is ¨ naıve to assume that blind people would reconstruct an entire figure in their minds that corresponds to what a figure is for sighted people. Sighted people do this, and
18 19

This is not to say that such a subject would not be able to understand the concept of a circle. See for example Klatzky and Lederman (2003, pp. 107–109).

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this might explain why they perform better at the recognition of objects by their contour-shape. We somehow complete the object in visual imagination as we feel across its surface; we try to picture for ourselves what we are feeling. This is something a congenitally blind subject cannot do, and it is thus mistaken to assume that the product of tactual perception should correspond to the nature of visual figures. Movements must be involved in tactual perception, but the mistake is to assume that these movements must tell us the same thing about an object’s spatial properties as vision does. It is quite possible that, if I were blind, my immediate awareness of my turning-movement would tell me that this object is ‘‘round,’’ which would mean for me that it can roll, that it has no edges, and so on. This might be what I feel when moving around this object’s perimeter, and there is no need to assume that my immediate grasp of roundness has to work via that which corresponds to a circular shape in vision, i.e., a complete figure with a specific basic geometry. In other words, through exploratory limb-movement I immediately grasp the spatial-corporeal condition of the object, and there is no figure-intuiting involved. If a congenitally blind person gropes over the top of a large box, crosses over the edge, and continues to feel downwards over the side, this person perfectly perceives the spatial character of this part of the box. However, to assume that, in order to perceive how the box is, this person must have a certain shape representation analogous to ‘‘:’’ is a mistaken idea inspired by the way shapes appear in vision and are represented in contour drawings. A third problem for the theory under consideration is that we simply do not do what it describes. Even if one focuses on sighted people, neglects that they are rather bad at it, and restricts the theory to small and simple shapes, one still has to admit that contour following is not what we usually do. In reality it does not seem to be necessary to trace around the perimeter of an object. Yet the theory advances contour following as the paradigm of tactual perception, as if the contour-shape is the information we seek to extract from touch. The theory assumes that the (only) way to perceive a circle with one’s hands is to ‘‘draw’’ a circle—tracing a circle is something we do neither with our skin, nor with our hands, but with a pencil. To say that this corresponds to the prime case of tactual perception is to sustain a rather robotic conception of what it is like to touch. It neglects what we usually understand by touch and it fails to appreciate the tactile organ par excellence, namely our hands. If one asks a blindfolded person to recognize a plate, it is very unlikely that (all-round) contour following is what this subject will do. Even if one explicitly asked what the shape of the object is, it is quite possible that this subject answers correctly by simply picking up the plate with both hands. In all likelihood, grasping the plate simultaneously with two hands will be sufficient to know that it is round.20 Now, the point is that, in the tactual sphere, to discover that something is round is to perceive a circular shape.

Clearly, in order to sort books and records or boxes and balls according to shape, it is sufficient to pick them up. Of course, it is always possible that the plate has an irregular shape (e.g., a sharp corner) where it is not touched; but this is no different from the fact that, when I see a ball, it is always possible that it is pointed on the side that I cannot see at the moment.

20

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6 Spatial Properties: What Do We Feel? What is it that we do when exploring the shape of an object? Clearly, an unmoving grasp of one hand already contains a considerable amount of spatial information. One can in fact say that the hand functions as a template as one grasps an object; the hand folds itself around it. Holding a bar, I know something about its shape; likewise, when I cannot hold an object, the palm of my hand is spread against its surface, which informs me about the simple fact that this object is too large for my hand’s grasp. In this way the adaptation of my hand to the shape of the object says at least something about the spatial nature of the rest of the object. But one or two static hands are usually not sufficient; one has to move one’s hands. Now, what is it that one perceives, or what is it that one focuses on, when one follows the outer boundaries of an object? What is it that one feels now, but could not feel during an unmoving grasp? As soon as one tests this, one realizes that what one feels now are changes of direction; gradual and sudden changes of direction as opposed to previous continuity, edges, corners, bends, and so on. Take, for example, an electrical cable as it lies in a tangle over the floor. If one tries to follow—eyes closed—the cable with one or two fingers, one easily discovers that, instead of one’s own movement, the beginning and increase of the curvature of a bend is what is manifest; that is what one feels. In the case of more rigid objects, a curve or inclination in a surface forces one’s fingers to follow the change in direction. An important factor in synthesizing the different changes of direction is the difference in horizontal and vertical directions. However, one cannot synthesize all the changes into a correct overall picture; one realizes very quickly that shape perception happens mainly at this ‘‘hand-sized’’ scale. As was mentioned before, O’Shaughnessy is convinced that it is not through the addition of time or activity but through the addition of limb-movement that mere bodily contact turns into the tactile exploration by which we discover the shape of objects. He finds evidence for this in the example of a subject whose left foot is moved along the contours of a box by someone else (see p. 665). This subject would ‘‘discover’’ the shape of this box ‘‘through’’ intuiting the shape of the movement of its foot. However, O’Shaughnessy neglects the fact that this subject might also discover the shape of the box if his or her foot were fixed and someone else moved a box around its foot. Consider the more plausible situation in which one’s hand is fixed at the wrist and someone else moves the box in such a way that the inner surface of the box slides along the immobile hand. The hand, which is flexible in itself, does not move relative to the subject’s body at all; yet this subject would feel the continuous surface as it slides along his or her fingers and each consecutive corner, which is accompanied by a change of direction in the flow of the surface texture. This subject would also feel the curved surface of, say, a bucket, and perceive its roundness as the same uniform curvature continues while the inner or outer surface slides along his or her fingers.21 Clearly, even in these paradigm cases
This is not to deny that the normal case in which one freely moves one’s hand will always have an advantage over a fixed hand. Rather, it shows that limb-movements are not the essence of tactual perception. Consider also the situation in which one holds a long fine metal rod in one’s hand while the other end of the rod is in a small box or a coffee cup. By pushing the other end of the rod against the inner
21

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of limb-movement representationalism one’s own movements are not indispensable. A hand—with its fingers—perceives bends, edges, and corners without having to ‘‘mirror’’ their shape in a movement. What happens in tactile perception mainly happens between a highly flexible ‘‘hand-body’’ and the alternation of (ir)regularities in a solid object’s surface. Even tracing a circular path along the rim of a glass with one’s fingertip is a continual awareness of an incessant, uniform change of direction. Our acquaintance with visual circles and the simplicity of this uniform figure might be what is misleading here, as it lets one believe that we do intuit the overall shape through our movement. A continuous change of direction and a small number of sudden changes in direction correspond to a circle and a polygon, respectively. So it is not so much that movement representationalism proves to be peculiarly apt to explain the perception of circular and rectangular objects via the shape of our movements; rather, it is because these shapes can be so easily reconstructed from a simple pattern of significant hand-scale changes—e.g., continuous change or a small number of sudden changes in direction—that we are indeed able to imagine the shape of our own movement. This explains why limb-movement representationalism has such a limited range of application. It may seem to work for these and similarly simple cases, but it does not explain what really happens. As soon as one tests tactual shape exploration, one finds out that the primary ‘‘content’’ of tactual perception is the alternation of continuity and change in direction. Such changes are what one feels and the corresponding curvature is what one perceives as one follows a surface in order to continue contact with the object. Two important conclusions follow from this. First, feeling a change of direction or a changing degree of horizontality/verticality does not require much movement, and it certainly does not require that one intuit the shape of the movement of one’s limb. Second, such changes of direction and changes in verticality do not essentially depend on a body-relative framework of locations, as was clear from the example of the unmoving hand.

7 Conclusion: How to Use One’s Body We have seen that movement representationalism encounters several problems. The most important problem concerns the relation between the body, its movements, and their shape. As O’Shaughnessy himself seems to suggest, the body does not know
Footnote 21 continued surface and moving it around along the surface, one will discover the difference between a box and a cup—one will feel either continuous curvature or the inner corners. However, since the interior spaces are so small compared to the length of the stick, one’s hand hardly moves itself as it steers the stick around inside the respective object. Hence, it does not make sense to say that one should have to intuit the movement of one’s hand as a means to perceive the shape of the object. Moreover, even if one made larger gestures to perform this task, it is quite possible that one feels that the box is ‘‘rectangular’’ while one’s hand movement was rather circular. Or, if one grabs a large box and gropes across its surface in several directions with both hands simultaneously in order to determine its shape as quickly as possible, the combination of the shapes of the movements of both hands will not be, and does not have to be, cubelike at all.

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shapes. For example, I do not sense, from within my body, that my legs are straight while my skull is round. I do not sense that my eyes and mouth form a triangle, and I can hardly tell the shape of an object that contacts my skin. Yet, as a matter of fact, I can discover these shapes by touch. According to movement representationalism, I can ‘‘discover’’ these shapes because I immediately ‘‘body-sense’’ the shape of my limb-movement which ‘‘mirrors’’ the shape of the object. But it remains unclear in what this idea’s explanatory power consists, since it is unclear why my own movements would have a shape for me. If another subject draws an ‘‘S’’ in the air with its finger, I can say that I ‘‘see’’ the S-shape of the path of its finger tip. However, if I could not see, how would I come to ascribe an S-shape to a movement. The problem is this: in a strictly tactual world, one cannot say that movements have a shape based on the perception of the shape of a movement, since, according to the theory, the tactual perception of the shape of something else’s movement presupposes that my movement has a shape for me. Therefore, this can only be true in a derivative sense. I do not originally apperceive my own body’s purposive actions as themselves having a specific shape. Rather, if we can occasionally infer the shape of an object from the shape of a familiar movement, this presupposes that I have learned to relate (the imaginary path of) the movement of the tip of a body part to the shapes of things. One can say that movement representationalism gives a role to the body that is much too literal. Does this mean that we have found a fundamental criticism that applies to this theory, but not to Husserl’s idea of the body as an organ? Things are not that black-and-white. That the above criticism seems to leave Husserl’s account undisturbed is only due to the fact that the core of Husserl’s theory does not specify the content of tactual perception. Husserl does not itemize what we perceive by the sense of touch. O’Shaughnessy and Martin, on the other hand, assume that what needs to be explained is how we tactually perceive spatial properties, the size and shape of an object in particular. In so doing, they align themselves with a centuriesold conviction that considers the sense of touch to be the most appropriate access to the world’s primary qualities. Devoid of the perspectival foreshortenings that typify visual perception, the act of touching offers the means to measure out an object’s dimensions. Bringing the body into contact with an object, one finds out how many digits, how many thumbs, how many handbreadths, or how many feet an object really is. Similarly, one can rely on our body’s ability to trace figures in order to represent shapes as a technique that is not affected by perspectival deformation. In this way, the idea that one’s movements ‘‘mirror’’ the properties of objects is a natural extension of the idea that one ‘‘measures’’ the spatial properties of objects against one’s body. But here what is implausible about this suggestion becomes apparent. To use body parts to measure out an object is to rely on an invariant unit that, therefore, can be used to measure any distance. The respective body part becomes itself the standard. Bodily movements, however, cannot gain this status because they are not invariant in the same way. One cannot perform the identical movement twice, just as one cannot draw exactly the same line more than once. Therefore, S-shaped objects are a template for S-shaped movements, rather than the other way around. After all, a template is a physical object that helps one draw a certain shape over and

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over again, as one moves around it. So, the epistemic status of the body’s representational role is essentially different in this case. Nevertheless, since the cutaneous sense field is not adept at perceiving shapes, the evident solution is to invoke the body’s ability to trace figures for the perception of shapes. In principle, movement representationalism would perfectly fulfil this task. However, as a matter of fact, it does not; in fact, it cannot. The factual nature of our tactual abilities compels me to conclude that, against the background of visual perception, the sense of touch can hardly be considered apt for shape perception. ‘‘If a man were by feeling to find out the figure of the peak of Tenerife, or even of St. Peter’s church at Rome,’’ Thomas Reid (1764, p. 78) asserts, ‘‘it would be the work of a lifetime.’’ I think Reid is mistaken. I believe this man would never succeed. Or better, he would never start. Overall shape is not a perceptual goal for touch as it is for vision. The fact that body contact is perfect for measurement is only half the story. Pacing off a distance, hand after hand, or foot by foot, works perfectly precisely because it requires no spatial representation; the only complementary operation needed is counting. Still, it cannot be denied that we sometimes succeed in finding out something about the shape of objects through touch. Since the cutaneous sense field is almost shape-blind, movements must play some role. But the idea of sterile contour following cannot explain how we perceive shapes. On the other hand, if one adheres, like Husserl, to the contrast between bodily movements and—in analogy with vision—a tactual field, one has to admit that the cutaneous field cannot function in the same way as the visual field. Here Martin’s premises seem more promising. He accepts that there is something like a sense field; however, touch does not depend on it as vision does. Yet, like O’Shaughnessy, Martin tends to orient the contents of touch in line with visual properties. Clearly, what it is like to touch is different from what it is like to see, and still we can agree that we discover the same circularity of a given object through sight and touch. However, to say that in touch we do something different than in sight is only one step in the right direction. One also has to abandon the idea that the phenomenal tactual quality must correspond to the phenomenal visual quality. To put it very simply, visual shape is not a tactual property—the examples that favor movement representationalism may be, at best, exceptions. As was to be expected, the human hand plays a complex role in tactual perception. It cannot be denied that (in a minimal sense) it functions as a peculiar sense field; it has a certain extension. At the same time, this sense field can itself change shape—it can open and close, and fingers can move apart or clench together. In this way, the hand is both a sense field and a template, and it introduces motion. A hand’s grasp discloses the spatial nature of an object locally. Different grasps at different places complete the picture. The hand is indeed essentially different from the visual field; however, this does not imply that it would not stand in a similar relation to voluntary movements. Even if one rejects the idea of a tactual sense field, and therefore neglects the fact that this sense field stands in a functional relation to voluntary bodily movements, one has to recognize that a hand does not ‘‘do’’ the same as one’s limbs or the rest of one’s body. Consequently, tactual perception depends much less on body centred movements to disclose spatial properties than one might expect.

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