, Volume 195, Issue 4, pp 1705–1713 | Cite as

Sensory malfunctions, limitations, and trade-offs

  • Todd GansonEmail author


Teleological accounts of sensory normativity treat normal functioning for a species as a standard: sensory error involves departure from normal functioning for the species, i.e. sensory malfunction. Straightforward reflection on sensory trade-offs reveals that normal functioning for a species can exhibit failures of accuracy. Acknowledging these failures of accuracy is central to understanding the adaptations of a species. To make room for these errors we have to go beyond the teleological framework and invoke the notion of an ideal observer from vision science. The notion of an ideal observer also sheds light on the important distinction between sensory malfunction and sensory limitation.


Sensory error Representation Visual illusion Sensory malfunction Dretske Matthen Sensory limitation Sensory trade-off Sensory ecology 



This paper has been significantly improved thanks to expert feedback from two anonymous referees. I greatly appreciate their advice and patience. I also wish to thank Marc Artiga and Ben Bronner for valuable written comments on an earlier version of this paper. Finally, thanks to Dorit Ganson for encouragement and discussion of the issues.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyOberlin CollegeOberlinUSA

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