Assess Whether We have to Accept a Sense Data Theory Essay

Assess Whether We Have To Accept A Sense Data Theory Essay

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Sense Data is, according to the theory of Representative Realism, the medium through which we perceive the entire world. According to this theory, we can never perceive objects directly, as all we perceive is sense data. There are a number of arguments used to prove that w do only perceive sense data. One example is the argument from phenomenal variability, which is best explained by the example of Russell’s Table. Essentially, we look at a table, and it appears
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to us to be a table with certain properties. If we change the conditions under which we view the table, the properties of the table also appear to have changed. It may have changed colour, shape, or size, but it will not look the same as when we first viewed it. Russell states that, as it cannot be the object itself that changes, it must be some intermediary that does, namely sense data. This argument, however, is seriously flawed.
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If it is true that we can only gain knowledge of objects via their sense data, and we can have no direct knowledge of the object itself, then how does Russell propose to argue that the object is not changing shape? He quite clearly cannot know what the object itself is doing, and so can offer no empirical proof as to why the object may not change shape. He therefore has no grounds upon which to base the claim that
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the object does not change, and so the argument from phenomenal variability fails. Russell attempted to back up his variability argument with another, which centres on something happening, and it not becoming noticeable for a period of time. The most common form of this argument is the dead star argument. This simply says that, as light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach Earth, if the sun went out, and we all looked up, for another eight minutes we
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would still be able to see the sun. But we cannot be seeing the sun, as it is no longer there. Instead, we must be seeing sense data. This argument is also flawed, but in a less obvious way. This argument is attempting to state that we can have no direct knowledge of physical objects. This then makes any and all of our knowledge of physical objects doubtful, as it is not direct. As such, how can we be asked
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to consider an object, of which we effectively know naught, exploding? The argument relies on sense data representing the object to us, and yet makes an assumption that cannot be backed up by any form of evidence whatsoever, namely that the star exists, and then explodes. This argument fails because the grounds upon which it is based do not support the outcome. Because of these flaws, the Representative Realism Theory appears to be unusable. However, its competitors do not appear
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to fare so well, as we shall see. Realism is a theory which holds that we do perceive objects directly, there is no such thing as sense data, and what we see is how the world is. This theory, too, has some major flaws. Firstly, there are optical illusions. These show us things that are simply not true, and yet, we see them. For
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