Representation: The Philosophical Contribution to Psychology

  • Richard Wollheim


It is now, I hope, accepted as the outmoded view that it is that philosophy and psychology are totally independent disciplines. It seems to me that there are many philosophical questions that cannot be answered unless we know the relevant psychology, and there are many psychological questions answers to which await upon the relevant philosophy. I think that one of the many reasons why the topic of representation is so interesting is that it illustrates extremely well the interdependence of the two subjects. I shall be content if, in this paper which is necessarily schematic, I can make this view seem worth taking seriously.


Sensation Theory Linear Perspective Pictorial Perception Semiotic Theory Aristotelian Society 


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  1. For the Figurative thesis, see e.g. Monroe Beardsley, Aesthetics (New York 1958). However, the thesis is also a commonplace in thinking about 20th century art and in 20th century art-educational theory.Google Scholar
  2. I have argued for this in my Art and its Objects (New York, 1968: London 1969) and in ‘On Drawing an Object’ reprinted in my On Art and the Mind (London 1973).Google Scholar
  3. For the distinctions involved in the Existential thesis and the Portrayal thesis, see e.g. Errol Bedford, ‘Seeing Paintings’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Vol. 40 (1966) pp. 47–62:Google Scholar
  4. Hide Ishiguro, ‘Imagination’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Vol. 41 (1967) pp. 37–56:Google Scholar
  5. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis and New York 1968):Google Scholar
  6. David Kaplan, ‘Quantifying In’ in Words and Objections, eds. D. Davidson and J. Hintikka (Dordrecht 1969):Google Scholar
  7. Robert Howell, ‘The Logical Structure of Pictorial Representation’, Theoria, Vol. XL (1974) pp. 76–109:Google Scholar
  8. Kendall L. Walton, ‘Are Representations Symbols?’ The Monist, Vol. 58 (1974) pp. 236–54.Google Scholar
  9. For the discussion whether representation is natural or conventional, see e.g. Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception (London 1956):Google Scholar
  10. E. H. Gombrich, ‘The Evidence of Images’ in Interpretation: theory and practice, ed. Charles S. Singleton (Baltimore 1969), and ‘The What and the How: Perspectival Representation and the Phenomenal World’ in Logic and Art: Essays in Honour of Nelson Goodman, ed. R. Rudner and I. Scheffler (Indianapolis and New York 1972).Google Scholar
  11. It is because of this requirement that I have not included in my list of theories of representation the causal theory, according to which a representation is of what has played an appropriate causal role in its production. For it seems to me that, as things stand, this theory accounts exclusively for portraiture, and has to account for other forms of representation independently. Some adherents of the theory (David Wiggins, private communication) hold to the belief that ultimately the causal theory can account for all kinds of representation, non-portraiture being exhibited as somehow derivative from portraiture. For the theory, see e.g. Hide* Ishiguro, op. cit: David Kaplan, op. cit. Google Scholar
  12. For the Illusion theory, see e.g. S. K. Langer, Feeling and Form (London 1953): E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion (London 1960). Art and Illusion, however, also contains other theories of representation.Google Scholar
  13. For the Arousal of Sensation theory, see e.g. J. J. Gibson, ‘A Theory of Pictorial Perception’, Audio-Visual Communications Review, Vol. 1 (1954) pp. 3–23,Google Scholar
  14. And J. J. Gibson, ‘Pictures, Perspective and Perception’, Daedalus, Vol. 89 (1960) pp. 216–27.Google Scholar
  15. For the Semiotic theory, see e.g. G. Kepes, Language of Vision (Chicago 1944):Google Scholar
  16. Richard Rudner, ‘On Semiotic Aesthetics’, Journal of Art and Art Criticism, Vol. X (1951) pp. 67–77:CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Nelson Goodman, op. cit: John G. Bennett, ‘Depiction and Convention’, The Monist, Vol. 58 (1974), pp. 255–68.Google Scholar
  18. For the Resemblance theory, see e.g. Monroe Beardsley, op. cit: Ruby Meager, ‘Seeing Paintings’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Vol. XL (1966) pp. 63–84.Google Scholar
  19. For the Information theory, see J. J. Gibson ‘The Information Available in Pictures’, Leonardo, Vol. 4 (1971) pp. 27–35:CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. John M. Kennedy, A Psychology of Picture Perception, (San Francisco 1974).Google Scholar
  21. The Illusion theory is criticised in Errol Bedford, op. cit: Goran Hermeren, Representation and Meaning in the Visual Arts, (Lund 1969): and in my ‘Reflections on Art and Illusion’ reprinted in my On Art and the Mind. The Arousal of Sensation theory is criticised in Nelson Goodman, op. cit: J. J. Gibson, ‘The Information Available in Pictures’: and John M. Kennedy, op. cit. The Semiotic theory is criticised in my ‘Nelson Goodman’s Languages of Art’ reprinted in my On Art and the Mind. The point that this theory must be incorporated in any sound theory is made in that article very generally; some of the detail required for working it out is provided in Kent Bach, ‘Part of What a Picture Is’, British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 10 (1970) pp. 119–37, and some in a forthcoming article by T. G. Roupas, ‘Information and Pictorial Representation’, to appear in The Arts and Cognition, eds. David Perkins and Barbara Leondar. The Resemblance theory is criticised in Errol Bedford, op. cit: Nelson Goodman, op. cit: my Art and its Objects: and Max Black, ‘How do Pictures Represent?’ in E. H. Gombrich etc., Art, Perception and Reality, (Baltimore 1970). The Information theory is criticised in Nelson Goodman, ‘Professor Goodman’s New Perspective’, Leonardo, Vol. 4 (1971) pp. 359–60, and (more sympathetically) in T. G. Roupas, op. cit. Google Scholar
  22. For this theory, see my Art and its Objects. There, however, the theory is stated in terms of the Wittgensteinian notion of ‘seeing as’ rather than in terms of ‘seeing in’, which I have now come to see is more perspicuous. I owe this insight largely to Richard Damann. The theory is restated in various essays in my On Art and the Mind.Google Scholar
  23. E.g. W. Hudson, ‘Pictorial depth perception in sub-cultural groups in Africa’, Journal of Social Psychology, Vol. 52 (1960) pp. 183–208,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. And W. Hudson ‘Pictorial perception and educational adaptation in Africa’, Psychologia Africana, Vol. 9 (1962) pp. 226–39:Google Scholar
  25. A. C. Mundy-Castle, ‘Pictorial depth perception in Ghanaian children’, International Journal of Psychology, Vol. 1 (1966) pp. 290–300, which is (in part) reprinted in Cross-Cultural Studies, ed. D. R. Price-Williams, (London 1969).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. This point seems to have been appreciated in M. Wober, ‘On cross-cultural psychology’, Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, Vol. 25 (1972) pp. 203–5.Google Scholar
  27. E.g. Jan B. Deregowski, ‘Illusion and Culture’ in Illusion, eds. R. L. Gregory and E. H. Gombrich (London 1973).Google Scholar
  28. I have argued for this in my ‘Reflections on Art and Illusion’. The point receives empirical support in M. H. Pirenne, Optics, Painting and Photography (London 1970)Google Scholar
  29. And M. H. Pirenne is used interestingly in Michael Polanyi, ‘What is a Painting?’ British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 10 (1970) pp. 225–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. The indifference shown by many perceptual psychologists between real-scene perception and representational perception is inveighed against in R. L. Gregory, The Intelligent Eye (London 1970). The point is taken account of in Julian Hochberg, ‘The Representation of Things and People’, in E. H. Gombrich and others, Art, Perception and Reality (Baltimore and London 1972) pp. 47–94.Google Scholar
  31. Cf. Fred Dubery and John Willats, Drawing Systems, (London 1972) The point is disputed in Jan B. Deregowski, op. cit. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Wollheim

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