, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 63-89

On the Diversity of Auditory Objects

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Abstract

This paper defends two theses about sensory objects. The more general thesis is that directly sensed objects are those delivered by sub-personal processes. It is shown how this thesis runs counter to perceptual atomism, the view that wholes are always sensed indirectly, through their parts. The more specific thesis is that while the direct objects of audition are all composed of sounds, these direct objects are not all sounds—here, a composite auditory object is a temporal sequence of sounds (whereas a composite visual object is a spatial composite). Many composite objects are directly heard in the sense just mentioned. There is a great variety of such composite auditory objects—melodies, harmonies, sequences of phonemes, individual voices, meaning-carrying sounds, and so on. This diversity of auditory objects has an important application to aesthetics. Perceivers do not naturally or easily attend simultaneously to auditory objects that overlap in time. Yet, aesthetic appreciation depends on such an allocation of attention to overlapping objects.

Many thanks to Nicolas Bullot and Casey O’Callaghan for detailed written comments and extensive discussion of issues covered in this article. A short version of the paper was delivered to the Australasian Association of Philosophy (New Zealand Division) in December 2007. Comments from the audience were very helpful.