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Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
The smell of freshly baked bread, the flavor of chocolate cake, the feeling of a cool breeze ona hot day: these are paradigmatic pleasant sensations. My question is this: what makes theseobjects pleasant? In other words, what kind of property is sensory pleasantness? I focus mydiscussion on pleasant smells and pleasantness attributed to objects (as opposed toexperiences). I canvass four views. Two views are objectivist: physicalism and primitivism. Onthese views, pleasantness is an experience-independent property. The other two views aresubjectivist: projectivism and the relational view. On these views, pleasantness is anexperience-dependent property. I argue that physicalism is circular and cannot explain a coreaspect of pleasantness. I argue that primitivism leads to unacceptable pleasantness propertyproliferation. I conclude that pleasentess must be a subjective property. However, I argue thatprojectivism won’t work because the view cannot explain why we would have evolved systemsto sense the pleasantness of objects. I conclude that pleasantness must be a relationalproperty. On this view, we can explain core aspects of pleasantness in a non-circular waywithout undesired property proliferation, while also explaining why we evolved systems tosense pleasantness. In particular, I argue that pleasantness is the property of objects thatdispose us to classify certain information in particular ways.
What does the expert have that the novice does not? One component of expertise may be perceptual, involving a change in what we are able to perceive. Experts develop the ability to taste the subtle flavours of a wine, hear minute variations in pitch imperceptible to novices, or distinguish shades of red that are indistinguishable to novices. More controversially, experts perceive a bird to be a northern flicker, a shadow on an x-ray to be a tumour, or a painting to be beautiful. This is controversial because a competing explanation is that experts merely apply their extensive background knowledge to selectively attend to the relevant aspects of their perceptual experience, and then make such judgments in cognition. On this explanation there is no substantive change in perceptual experience between novice and expert. In this dissertation I argue against this alternate explanation of expert ability and defend the perceptual expertise thesis: through perceptual learning experts come to perceive high-level properties imperceptible to novices. I do this in part by appealing to empirical studies of perceptual learning and perceptual expertise. The positive account of perceptual expertise I build here allows for the resolution of a puzzle in aesthetics regarding the role of training, and a clarification of the epistemic significance of perceptual learning.