, Volume 194, Issue 8, pp 2949–2971 | Cite as

Inscrutability and visual objects

  • Ben Phillips


The thesis that the visual system represents objects has garnered empirical support from a variety of sources in recent decades. But what kinds of things qualify as “objects” in the relevant sense? Are they ordinary three-dimensional bodies? Are they the facing surfaces of three-dimensional bodies? I argue that there is no fact of the matter: what we have are equally acceptable ways of assigning extensions to the relevant visual states. The view I defend bears obvious similarities to Quine’s thesis that linguistic reference is inscrutable. Importantly, though, I argue that even if Quine was wrong about inscrutability as a thesis about language and thought, the case for the inscrutability of visual reference remains strong.


Perception Inscrutability Visual objects Indeterminacy Visual reference Multiple-object tracking 



I would like to thank the following people for helpful input on various versions of this paper: Ryan DeChant, Uriah Kriegel, Jesse Prinz, Jake Quilty-Dunn, David Rosenthal, and three anonymous referees. I would also like to thank Laura Larocca for her help with the figures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Graduate CenterCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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