Philosophical Studies

, Volume 162, Issue 2, pp 401-419

First online:

Sniffing and smelling

  • Louise RichardsonAffiliated withChrist Church, University of Oxford Email author 

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In this paper I argue that olfactory experience, like visual experience, is exteroceptive: it seems to one that odours, when one smells them, are external to the body, as it seems to one that objects are external to the body when one sees them. Where the sense of smell has been discussed by philosophers, it has often been supposed to be non-exteroceptive. The strangeness of this philosophical orthodoxy makes it natural to ask what would lead to its widespread acceptance. I argue that philosophers have been misled by a visuocentric model of what exteroceptivity involves. Since olfaction lacks the spatial features that make vision exteroceptive the conclusion that olfaction is nonexteroceptive can appear quite compelling, particularly in the absence of an alternative model of exteroceptivity appropriate to olfaction. I offer a model according to which odours seem to be external to the body because they seem to be brought into the nose from without by sniffing and breathing through the nostrils. I argue that some natural-seeming objections to this model rely on substantive assumptions about how the senses are distinguished from one another, and how perceptual experience is put together out of its modality-specific parts, that require defence.


Perception Perceptual experience Distinguishing the senses Olfactory experience Visuocentricism