Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 813–833 | Cite as

No such look: problems with the dual content theory

  • Walter Hopp


It is frequently alleged that a round plate viewed from an oblique angle looks elliptical, and that when one tree is in front of another that is the same intrinsic size, the front one looks larger than the rear one. And yet there is also a clear sense in which the plate viewed from an angle looks round, and a clear sense in which the two trees look to be the same size. According to the Dual Content Theory (DCT), what explains these and other similar phenomena is that perceptual experiences present us with two different sorts of spatial properties: intrinsic and perspectival spatial properties. I will argue that the Dual Content Theory is false because it rests on flawed phenomenological descriptions of the experience of spatial properties. The only conditions under which a plate tilted away and an ellipse look alike, or two objects which are different in size look the same size, is when at least one of the objects being compared is misperceived. I will consider several responses to the arguments I present, and conclude by suggesting that abandoning DCT would constitute an improvement upon Noë’s enactive theory of perception.


Perception Perspective Appearance Space Enactivism Direct realism 


  1. Briscoe, R. (2008). Vision, action, and make-perceive. Mind and Language, 23, 457–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Crane, T. (1988). The waterfall illusion. Analysis, 48, 142–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Harman, G. (1990). The intrinsic quality of experience. Philosophical Perspectives, 4, 31–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Huemer, M. (2001). Skepticism and the veil of perception. Lanham: Rowman &Littlefield.Google Scholar
  5. Hume, D. (1978). In P. H. Nidditch (Ed.), A treatise of human nature. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  6. Husserl, E. (2001). Analyses concerning passive and active synthesis. Boston: Kluwer. A. J. Steinbock (trans).Google Scholar
  7. Jagnow, R. (2008). Disappearing appearances: on the enactive approach to spatial perceptual content. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 46, 45–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jagnow, R. (2012). Representationalism and the perspectival character of experience. Philosophical Studies, 157(2), 227–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kelly, S. D. (2004). Seeing things in Merleau-Ponty. In T. Carmen & M. B. N. Hansen (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Merleau-Ponty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Kelly, S. D. (2008). Content and constancy: phenomenology, psychology, and the content of perception. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 76, 682–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kelly, S. D. (2010). The normative nature of perceptual experience. In B. Nanay (Ed.), Perceiving the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. C. Smith (trans.).Google Scholar
  13. Noë, A. (2004). Action in perception. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Overgaard, S. (2010). On the looks of things. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 91, 260–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Schellenberg, S. (2008). The situation-dependency of perception. The Journal of Philosophy, 105, 55–84.Google Scholar
  16. Shepard, R. N. (1990). Mind sights. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  17. Siewert, C. (2006). Is the appearance of shape protean? Psyche 12(3)Google Scholar
  18. Simons, D. J., & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception, 28, 1059–1074.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Smith, A. D. (2008). Husserl and externalism. Synthese, 160, 313–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Tye, M. (2000). Consciousness, color, and content. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Wittgenstein, L. (1958). Philosophical investigations. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. translated by G.E.M. Anscombe.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBoston UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations