A Causal-Pluralist Metatheory of Observation

Osvaldo Pessoa Jr 1
  • 1 University of São Paulo, , São Paulo, Brazil

Abstract

An extended definition of “observation” is developed in order to account for the usage in the physical sciences and in neuropsychology. An observation is initially defined as a perception that has a focus of attention and is guided by theoretical considerations. Since the focus may change, one adopts a pluralist position according to which the object of perception may involve any stage of the causal chain that leads to perception, such as the source of light or sound, the obstructions, the medium or even the receptor. The “neutral” observations of the empiricists are seen as involving only low-level or medium-level theorization. Examples are examined, such as a lunar eclipse, the rainbow, and observations mediated by instruments, whose “artifacts” are considered observations of the instrument itself. One also defines null-effect observations. Observations of photographs and drawings may be considered either the observation of a printed sheet of paper or the observation of the pictured object or people. This causal-pluralist metatheory of observation also accepts that one may “observe light”, observe the retina, and observe parts of the brain which are outside the region of the “sensorium”. Illusions and hallucinations are analyzed within this “observational materialism”, which considers that qualia are self-observations of the brain. Criticisms that the approach is too wide in scope are analyzed in the conclusion.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Carnap, Rudolf. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, edited by Martin Gardner. New York: Dover, 1995. [Original title: Philosophical Foundations of Physics. New York: Basic Books, 1966.]

  • Churchland, Paul M. “Perceptual Plasticity and Theoretical Neutrality: A Reply to Jerry Fodor.” Philosophy of Science 55: 167-87, 1988.

  • Cohen, Morris R. and Israel E. Drabkin, eds. A Source Book in Greek Science, London: Oxford University Press, 1948.

  • Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness Explained, New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1991.

  • ffytche, Dominic H., R.J. Howard, M.J. Brammer, A. David, P. Woodruff, and S. Williams. “The Anatomy of Conscious Vision: An fMRI Study of Visual Hallucinations.” Nature Neuroscience 1: 738-42, 1998.

  • Fodor, Jerry. “Observation Reconsidered.” Philosophy of Science 51: 23-43, 1984.

  • Fodor, Jerry. “A Reply to Churchland’s ‘Perceptual Plasticity and Theoretical Neutrality’.” Philosophy of Science 55: 188-98, 1988.

  • Hacking, Ian. Representing and Intervening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

  • Hanson, N. Russell. Patterns of Discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.

  • Hatfield, Gary. “Perception as Unconscious Inference.” In Perception and the Physical World, edited by Dieter Heyer and Rainer Mausfeld, 115-43. New York: Wiley, 2002.

  • Jammer, Max. The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics. New York: Wiley, 1974.

  • Mill, John Stuart. A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, vol. I. London: J.W. Parker, 1843.

  • Mosterín, Jesús. “Technology-Mediated Observation”. In Advances and Problems in the Philosophy of Technology, edited by Hans Lenk and Matthias Maring, 181-93. Münster: LIT Verlag, 2001.

  • Pessoa Jr., Osvaldo. “Uma Teoria Causal-Pluralista da Observação.” In Temas de filosofia do conhecimento, edited by Luiz Henrique de A. Dutra and Alexandre M. Luz, 368-81. Coleção Rumos da Epistemologia, vol. 11. Florianópolis, Brazil: NEL/ UFSC, 2011.

  • Pessoa Jr., Osvaldo. “Conciliando a Neutralidade e a Carga Teórica das Observações.” In Filosofía e Historia de la Ciencia en el Cono Sur, edited by Pablo Lorenzano et al., 143-48. Córdoba, Argentina: AFHIC, 2015.

  • Pessoa Jr., Osvaldo. How to measure a quale. Sofia (Vitória, Brazil) 8(1): 187-98, 2019.

  • Reichenbach, Hans. The Direction of Time, edited by Maria Reichenbach. Berkeley: University of California, 1971 [1953].

  • Rock, Irvin. The Logic of Perception. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press, 1983.

  • Sacks, Oliver. Hallucinations. New York: Knopf, 2012.

  • Scerri, Eric. “Have Orbitals Really Been Observed?” Journal of Chemical Education 77: 1492-94, 2000.

  • Shapere, Dudley. “The Concept of Observation in Science and Philosophy.” Philosophy of Science 49: 485-525, 1982.

  • Torretti, Roberto. “Observation.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 37: 1-23, 1986.

  • van Fraassen, Bas. “Constructive empiricism now.” Philosophical Studies 106: 151-70, 2001.

  • Walton, Kendall. “Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism.” Noûs 18: 67-72, 1984.

  • Whewell, William. Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, vol. II. [Later named Novum Organon Renovatum]. London: J.W. Parker, 1840.

OPEN ACCESS

Journal + Issues

Open Philosophy is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all areas of philosophy. The objective of Open Philosophy is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to the broadest philosophical spectrum.

Search