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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26173

Title: The Sense of Touch
Authors: Fulkerson, Matthew
Advisor: Matthen, Mohan
Department: Philosophy
Keywords: Touch
Issue Date: 15-Feb-2011
Abstract: My thesis is a collection of philosophical essays on the sense of touch. I argue first that touch is much like vision in being unisensory. (This has often been denied). But it is unlike vision in displaying a duality of the proximal and the distal, since it informs us both of the condition of our own bodies, and of the properties of external things. My account of this duality is unorthodox, since I argue that we do not sense distant objects in virtue of sensing the condition of our own bodies. Both forms of touch involve exploratory action—both are forms of haptic perception—but the nature of this involvement is unclear. I defend the view that haptic perceptions are haptic explorations. I first clarify this thesis, then distinguish it from other views, like those of Alva Noë and Susan Hurley, that posit a strong link between action and perception. Despite this interactive nature, touch may seem more constrained than vision and audition in requiring direct bodily contact with objects in the world. I argue against this view, and show that through touch we are capable of sensing objects that are not, and are not perceived as being, in direct contact with our bodies. Here again, touch is somewhat like vision. The development of this account requires conceptual analysis of a range of important issues in the philosophy of perception, including the nature of multisensory experience, the role of bodily awareness in perception, the relation between action and perception, and the structure of non-visual spatial perception. For instance, because touch involves both coordinated bodily movements and a range of distinct sensory receptors in the skin, it is often thought to be a multisensory form of awareness (especially by psychologists). However, this view relies on an implausible conception of multisensory interaction. In its place, I develop a nuanced hierarchy of multisensory involvement according to which touch is a single modality. This is because the various systems involved in touch all predicate or assign sensory properties to the same tangible objects: when we grasp a mug, for instance, many different tactual properties—shape, warmth, texture, etc.—are all felt to belong to the mug. This is similar to what happens in vision with visual objects: when we see an object, a range of different visual properties, largely processed in functionally-distinct systems—are seen as belonging to it. Another unique aspect of my view is the claim that through touch we can experience distal objects—objects not in direct or even apparent contact with our bodies. I develop a positive account of such touch, arguing that distal touch requires (1) a strong interactive connection between our bodies and the distal object (through tools or other such intermediaries) and (2) that distal objects are represented in touch as located in peripersonal space, the space immediately surrounding our bodies, defined by the limits of our exploratory engagement (by how far we can reach or move). This positive account allows for a more robust account of our embodied experience, and shows that touch—at least in some respects—is more like the other senses than typically supposed.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/26173
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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