From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of perception, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of perception. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on the philosophy of perception in no particular order.
Perception: A Very Short Introduction – Brian Rogers
Publisher description: Perception is one of the oldest and most deeply investigated topics in the field of psychology, and it also raises some profound philosophical questions. It is concerned with how we use the information reaching our senses to guide and control our behavior as well as to create our particular, subjective experiences of the surrounding world.
In this Very Short Introduction, Brian J. Rogers discusses the philosophical question of what it means to perceive, as well as describing how we are able to perceive the particular characteristics of objects and scenes such as their lightness, color, form, depth, and motion. What we perceive, however, does not always correspond to what exists in the world and, as Rogers shows, the study of illusions can be useful in telling us something about the nature and limitations of our perceptual processes. Rogers also explores perception from an evolutionary perspective, explaining how evolutionary pressures have shaped the perceptual systems of humans and other animals. He shows that perception is not necessarily a separate and independent process but rather part of a “perceptual system,” involving both the extraction of perceptual information and the control of action.
Philosophy of Perception : A Contemporary Introduction – William Fish
Publisher description:The philosophy of perception investigates the nature of our sensory experiences and their relation to reality. Raising questions about the conscious character of perceptual experiences, how they enable us to acquire knowledge of the world in which we live, and what exactly it is we are aware of when we hallucinate or dream, the philosophy of perception is a growing area of interest in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind.
William Fish’s Philosophy of Perception introduces the subject thematically, setting out the major theories of perception together with their motivations and attendant problems. While providing historical background to debates in the field, this comprehensive overview focuses on recent presentations and defenses of the different theories, and looks beyond visual perception to take into account the role of other senses.
Vision and Mind: Selected Readings in the Philosophy of Perception – Noe & Thompson
Publisher description: The philosophy of perception is a microcosm of the metaphysics of mind. Its central problems―What is perception? What is the nature of perceptual consciousness? How can one fit an account of perceptual experience into a broader account of the nature of the mind and the world?―are at the heart of metaphysics. Rather than try to cover all of the many strands in the philosophy of perception, this book focuses on a particular orthodoxy about the nature of visual perception. …
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception – Mohan Matthen
Publisher description: The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Perception is a survey by leading philosophical thinkers of contemporary issues and new thinking in philosophy of perception. It includes sections on the history of the subject, introductions to contemporary issues in the epistemology, ontology and aesthetics of perception, treatments of the individual sense modalities and of the things we perceive by means of them, and a consideration of how perceptual information is integrated and consolidated. New analytic tools and applications to other areas of philosophy are discussed in depth. Each of the forty-five entries is written by a leading expert, some collaborating with younger figures; each seeks to introduce the reader to a broad range of issues. All contain new ideas on the topics covered; together they demonstrate the vigour and innovative zeal of a young field. The book is accessible to anybody who has an intellectual interest in issues concerning perception.
The Problems of Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
Publisher description: Bertrand Russell was one of the greatest logicians since Aristotle, and one of the most important philosophers of the past two hundred years. As we approach the 125th anniversary of the Nobel laureate’s birth, his works continue to spark debate, resounding with unmatched timeliness and power.
The Problems of Philosophy, one of the most popular works in Russell’s prolific collection of writings, has become core reading in philosophy. Clear and accessible, this little book is an intelligible and stimulating guide to those problems of philosophy which often mistakenly lead to its status as too lofty and abstruse for the lay mind. Focusing on problems he believes will provoke positive and constructive discussion, Russell concentrates on knowledge rather than metaphysics, steering the reader through his famous 1910 distinction between “knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description,” and introducing important theories of Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Hume, Locke, Plato, and others to lay the foundation for philosophical inquiry by general readers and scholars alike.
The Phenomenology of Perception – Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Publisher description: First published in 1945, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s monumental Phénoménologie de la perception signalled the arrival of a major new philosophical and intellectual voice in post-war Europe. Breaking with the prevailing picture of existentialism and phenomenology at the time, it has become one of the landmark works of twentieth-century thought. This new translation, the first for over fifty years, makes this classic work of philosophy available to a new generation of readers.
Phenomenology of Perception stands in the great phenomenological tradition of Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre. Yet Merleau-Ponty’s contribution is decisive, as he brings this tradition and other philosophical predecessors, particularly Descartes and Kant, to confront a neglected dimension of our experience: the lived body and the phenomenal world. Charting a bold course between the reductionism of science on the one hand and “intellectualism” on the other, Merleau-Ponty argues that we should regard the body not as a mere biological or physical unit, but as the body which structures one’s situation and experience within the world.
The Problem of Perception – A. D. Smith
Publisher description: In a major contribution to the theory of perception, A. D. Smith presents a truly original defense of direct realism–the view that in perception we are directly aware of things in the physical world.
The Problem of Perception offers two arguments against direct realism–one concerning illusion, and one concerning hallucination–that no current theory of perception can adequately rebut. Smith then develops a theory of perception that does succeed in answering these arguments; and because these arguments are the only two that present direct realism with serious problems arising from the nature of perception, direct realism emerges here for the first time as an ultimately tenable position within the philosophy of perception.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Debates in Philosophy of Perception – Harvard University
- Perceptual Evidence – Rutgers University
- Philosophy of Perception – Umeå University
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Epistemological Problems of Perception
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Epistemology of Perception
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on the Philosophy of Mind
- The Best Books on Epistemology
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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