pp 1–24 | Cite as

Visual and bodily sensational perception: an epistemic asymmetry

  • Daniel MunroEmail author


This paper argues that, assuming some widely held views about how vision justifies beliefs, there is an important epistemic asymmetry between visual perception and the perception of bodily sensations. This asymmetry arises when we consider the epistemic significance of the distinction between low-level and high-level properties in perceptual experience. I argue that a distinction exists between low-level and high-level properties of bodily sensations which parallels that distinction in the objects of visual experience. I then survey evidence revealing systematic unreliability in an important dimension of our perception of low-level bodily sensational properties. I argue that this unreliability results in an epistemic asymmetry with vision. I conclude by sketching some implications of this asymmetry for developing a general, unified theory of perceptual justification.


Epistemology Perception Bodily sensations Vision 



For feedback on previous versions of this paper, thank you to Kathrin Glüer-Pagin, Lana Kuhle, Jennifer Nagel, Gerardo Viera, and audiences at Stockholm University, the Canadian Philosophical Association, and the American Philosophical Association. Thank you also to two anonymous reviewers for Synthese. This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


  1. Akins, K. (1996). Of sensory systems and the “Aboutness” of mental states. The Journal of Philosophy, 93(7), 337–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akins, K., & Hahn, M. (2015). Colour Perception. In M. Matthen (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy of perception (pp. 423–440). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Aydede, M. (2017). Pain: Perception or introspection? In J. Corns (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of philosophy of pain (pp. 221–232). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Bayne, T. (2016). Gist. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 116(2), 107–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bermúdez, J. L. (2018a). The phenomenology of bodily awareness. The bodily self (pp. 125–154). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bermúdez, J. L. (2018b). Bodily awareness and self-consciousness. The bodily self (pp. 155–182). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bermúdez, J. L. (2018c). Ownership and the space of the body. The bodily self (pp. 203–232). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. Briscoe, R. E. (2016). Multisensory processing and perceptual consciousness: Part I. Philosophy Compass, 11(2), 121–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cardinali, L., Brozzoli, C., & Farnè, A. (2009). Peripersonal space and body schema: Two labels for the same concept? Brain Topography, 21, 252–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carruthers, P. (2014). On central cognition. Philosophical Studies, 170, 143–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cholewiak, R. W., Brill, C. J., & Schawb, A. (2004). Vibrotactile localization on the abdomen: Effects of place and space. Perception and Psychophysics, 66(6), 970–987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Conson, M., Mazzarella, E., & Trojano, L. (2011). Self-touch affects motor imagery: A study on posture interference effect. Experimental Brain Research, 215, 115–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Coslett, H. B., & Lie, E. (2004). Bare hands and attention: Evidence for a tactile representation of the human body. Neuropsychologia, 42, 1865–1876.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De Vignemont, F. (2007). Habeus corpus: The sense of ownership of one’s own body. Mind and Language, 22(4), 427–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. De Vignemont, F. (2010). Body schema and body image: Pros and cons. Neuropsychologia, 48, 669–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Vignemont, F. (2012). Bodily immunity to error. In S. Prosser & F. Recanati (Eds.), Immunity to error through misidentification (pp. 224–246). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. De Vignemont, F. (2014). A multimodal conception of bodily awareness. Mind, 123(492), 989–1020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. De Vignemont, F. (2017). Pain and touch. The Monist, 100(4), 447–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dokic, J. (2003). The sense of ownership: An analogy between sensation and action. In N. Eilan & J. Roessler (Eds.), Agency and self-awareness: Mechanisms and epistemology (pp. 321–344). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Enns, J. T. (2009). Visual experience and immediate memory. In W. P. Banks (Ed.), Encyclopedia of consciousness (pp. 435–443). Oxford: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fiori, F., & Longo, M. R. (2018). Tactile distance illusions reflect a coherent stretch of tactile space. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(6), 1238–1243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fish, W. (2013). High-level properties and visual experience. Philosophical Studies, 162(1), 43–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fuentes, C. T., Longo, M. R., & Haggard, P. (2013a). Body image distortions in healthy adults. Acta Psychologica, 144, 344–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fuentes, C. T., Runa, C., Blanco, X. A., Orvalho, V., & Haggard, P. (2013b). Does my face FIT?: A face image task reveals structure and distortions of facial feature representation. PLoS ONE, 8(10), e76805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fulkerson, M. (2014). What counts as touch? In D. Stokes, M. Matthen, & S. Biggs (Eds.), Perception and its modalities (pp. 191–204). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fulkerson, M. (Forthcoming). Sensory Interactions and the Epistemology of Haptic Touch. In B. Brogaard, & D. Gatzia (Eds.), The Epistemology of Non-Visual Perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Goldman, A. (2008). Immediate justification and process reliabilism. In Q. Smith (Ed.), Epistemology: New essays (pp. 63–82). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hanley, J. R. (2015). Color categorical perception. Encyclopedia of color science and technology (pp. 125–154). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  29. Harrar, V., & Harris, L. R. (2009). Eye position affects the perceived location of touch. Experimental Bran Research, 198(2–3), 403–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Helton, G. (2016). Recent issues in high-level perception. Philosophy Compass, 11(12), 851–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kennett, S., Taylor-Clarke, M., & Haggard, P. (2001). Noninformative vision improves the spatial resolution of touch in humans. Current Biology, 11(15), 1188–1191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Linkenauger, S. A., Wong, H. Y., Geuss, M., Stefanucci, J. K., McCulloch, K. C., Bülthoff, H. H., et al. (2014). The perceptual homunculus: The perception of the relative proportions of the human body. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 144(1), 103–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Longo, M. R. (2017). Distorted body representations in healthy cognition. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70(3), 378–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Longo, M. R., & Haggard, P. (2011). Weber’s illusion and body shape anisotropy of tactile perception on the hand. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 37(3), 720–726.Google Scholar
  35. Longo, M. R., & Haggard, P. (2012). A 2.5-D representation of the human hand. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 38(1), 9–13.Google Scholar
  36. Longo, M. R., Mattioni, S., & Ganea, N. (2015). Perceptual and conceptual distortions of implicit hand maps. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, 656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Macpherson, F. (2015). Cognitive penetration and nonconceptual content. In J. Zeimbekis & A. Raftopoulos (Eds.), The cognitive penetrability of perception: New philosophical perspectives (pp. 331–358). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Mancini, F., Bauleo, A., Cole, J., Lui, F., Porro, C. A., Haggard, P., et al. (2014). Whole-body mapping of spatial acuity for pain and touch. Annals of Neurology, 75(6), 917–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mancini, F., Longo, M. R., Iannetti, G. D., & Haggard, P. (2011). A supramodal representation of the body surface. Neuropsychologia, 49, 1194–1201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Margolis, A. N., & Longo, M. R. (2015). Visual detail about the body modulates tactile localisation biases. Experimental Brain Research, 233, 351–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Martin, M. G. F. (1995). Bodily awareness: A sense of ownership. In J. L. Bermúdez, A. Marcel, & N. Eilan (Eds.), The body and the self (pp. 267–290). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  42. O’Callaghan, C. (2014). Not all perceptual experience is modality specific. In D. Stokes, M. Matthen, & S. Biggs (Eds.), Perception and its modalities (pp. 133–165). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pryor, J. (2000). The skeptic and the dogmatist. Nous, 34(4), 517–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schütz-Bosbach, S., Musil, J. J., & Haggard, P. (2009). Touchant-touché: The role of self-touch in the representation of body structure. Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 2–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schweizer, R., Braun, C., Fromm, C., Wilms, A., & Birbaumer, N. (2001). The distribution of mislocalizations across fingers demonstrations training-induced neuroplastic changes in somatosensory cortex. Experimental Brain Research, 139, 435–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schweizer, R., Maier, M., Braun, C., & Birbaumer, N. (2000). Distribution of mislocalizations of tactile stimuli on the fingers of the human hand. Somatosensory and Motor Research, 174(4), 309–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Siegel, S. (2011). The contents of visual experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Steenbergen, P., Buitenweg, J. R., Trojan, J., Klaassen, B., & Veltnik, P. H. (2012). Subject-level differences in reported locations of cutaneous tactile and nociceptive stimuli. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stone, K. D., Keizer, A., & Dijkerman, H. C. (2018). The influence of vision, touch, and proprioception on body representation of the lower limbs. Acta Psychologica, 185, 22–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Talsma, D. (2015). Predictive coding and multisensory integration: An attentional account of the multisensory mind. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 9, 19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tipper, S. P., Phillips, N., Dancer, C., Lloyd, D., Howard, L. A., & McGlone, F. (2001). Vision influences tactile perception at body sites that cannot be viewed directly. Experimental Brain Research, 139, 160–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tye, M. (2006). Nonconceptual content, richness, and fineness of grain. In T. S. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Perceptual experience (pp. 504–530). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Van Stralen, H. E., van Zandvoort, M. J. E., & Dijkerman, H. C. (2011). The role of self-touch in somatosensory and body representation disorders after stroke. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 366, 3142–3152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Werner, P. (2018). An epistemic argument for liberalism about perceptual content. Philosophical Psychology, 32(1), 1–17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations