Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Nicholas J. Griffin
This thesis is an examination and evaluation of the development of Russell's theory of perception and its relation to the external world from 1905 to 1919. During this period Russell attempted a reductionist analysis of empirical knowledge, the foundations of which are sense-data with which we have direct acquaintance in perception. In the course of its development, Russell's theory of perception underwent considerable changes and modifications. I show that these changes and modifications do not seriously alter his main epistemological position which I identify as realism.
The explicit treatment of Russell's realist theory of perception during the stipulated period had two clearly distinguishable subsidiary stages. The first stage, replacing his pre-"On Denoting" absolute realism, was between 1905 and 1912. Immediately after the publication of The Problems of Philosophy in 1912 there was a transitional period of scepticism which ultimately gave rise to the theory of logical construction. This period was between 1912 and 1919. These two stages represent what I take to be the periods of significant change and modification within Russell's realism. However, only during the first stage can Russell properly be called a committed representative realist.
The first chapter introduces the issues to be addressed in this thesis. Chapters two and three cover the foundational aspects of Russell's theory of perception. In chapter two Russell's theory of acquaintance is thoroughly examined. The items discussed are the nature, objects and principle of acquaintance. I show that it is with regard to the objects of acquaintance that Russell's theory of acquaintance underwent considerable changes and revisions. I also present a detailed discussion of the principle of acquaintance and its role in Russell's epistemology, and suggest that it performs two important functions, one epistemological and the other semantical. Both of them are seen to run hand in hand.
Chapter three is devoted to the doctrine of sense-data which, according to Russell, is the foundation of empirical knowledge during the stipulated period. Some obvious difficulties in interpreting sense data are seen to disappear on closer inspection. I defend Russell from a certain amount of misunderstanding regarding the sensibilia theory. I also trace and present the justification for a major modification of his notion of the judgment of perception from Principia Mathematica volume I to The Problems of Philosophy and from The Problems of Philosophy to subsequent works. It is suggested that such a modification is required for the internal consistency of Russell's theory of perception.
Chapters four and five are devoted to the relation of perception to our knowledge of the external world. In chapter four the Problems of Philosophy view of the existence and nature of physical objects is investigated. I explain why Russell was right to hold that the naive realist's view is contradictory. I also show that after rejecting naive realism Russell explicitly committed himself to representative realism by holding a causal theory of perception. It is also shown that the epistemological dimension of the theory of descriptions allows him to overcome restrictions arising from the principle of acquaintance. The last part of this chapter explains the transition between Russell's pre-constructionist and constructionist approaches to the relation of perception to physical objects. I show conclusively that Russell became a constructionist as early as 1912.
In chapter five the construction of physical objects is discussed. The emphasis is placed on Russell's epistemological motivation for such construction. I defend much of what Russell says about sensibilia and argue that the inclusion of unsensed sensibilia in construction violates neither the spirit of logical construction nor Occam's razor. I also defend Russell from the charge of phenomenalism. I argue that his constructionism does not commit him to phenomenalism and that he always remained a realist.
Chapter six examines the construction of space and time. I concede that Russell's attempt to construct a six-dimensional space is a failure but suggest that he does not need a six-dimensional space to give an account to the problem of perception. Regarding the construction of time, I show that Russell is for the most part correct in his construction of instants out of experienced events.
In chapter seven I evaluate Russell's theory of perception. I show that Russell is neither completely consistent nor successful in his construction of physical objects. At the same time, I show that there is a consistency of purpose and direction which motivated Russell to introduce logical constructions. The purpose was to secure empirical knowledge from possible sceptical attack and to strike a compromise between his realism and his empiricism. The direction is towards the goal of establishing a bridge between perception and physics. I suggest that the constructionist view is a better approach towards, and a viable solution to, the problem of perception.
Miah, Md. Sajahan, "Russell's Theory of Perception (1905-1919)" (1987). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2084.