Sounds and Perception: New Philosophical Essays


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Matthen, ed. Biggs, M. Matthen and D.

Sounds and Perception: New Philosophical Essays

Stokes, eds. Nudds, M.

A Cultural History of the Senses. Skip to main content Skip to navigation I joined the Warwick Philosophy Department as Head of Department in , having previously taught at the University of Edinburgh Research My research is in philosophy of mind and the philosophy of perception. Teaching and Supervision I have successfully supervised many PhD students and would welcome applications from students who are interested in working in any of the areas related to my research.

Chair of the Faculty of Social Sciences Office: 1. In his essay devoted to music, Andy Hamilton compellingly argues that even proper musical experience requires both acousmatic and non-acousmatic hearing; we properly hear musical sounds as coming from their sources such as instruments as well as in musical terms e.

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Thus it seems an open question whether the acousmatic experience is a feature of ordinary auditory perception. It doesn't help that the empirical evidence Scruton cites to support his view depends on musical, not ordinary, sonic stimuli.

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While I think Scruton's argument for his positive view is underdeveloped, his arguments against taking physicalism for granted deserve close consideration and not just by theorists of sounds. Scruton's essay comes closest, among those on ordinary sounds, to addressing methodological questions concerning the first premise in the schema given above -- questions about how we ought to go about trying to correctly characterize the nature of auditory perception.

I found myself wishing for more such reflection, since without it, it is difficult to adjudicate between the different claims made about the nature of auditory perception and thus to judge the strength of the arguments that depend on them. Distal theorists, for example, unsurprisingly deny that our auditory experience is acousmatic, as Scruton characterizes it.

Nudds claims that our 'normal ways of individuating sounds' are best served by the view that they are 'particularized types or abstract individuals' 76 , a claim at least implicitly rejected by the other theorists in the volume. There is also dispute over whether our auditory phenomenology is of hearing sounds distally. The different kinds of evidence marshaled to defend positions on these issues compounds concerns about methodology. For instance, distal theorists rely on ordinary responses to sounds, such as our looking in the direction of the source of a sound, while Nudds an aspatial theorist relies on empirical psychological data to argue that we do not hear sounds to be spatially located.

Two of the essays on speech perception, by contrast, are very explicitly methodological. Robert E. Remez and J. Trout argue, with minor qualifications, that philosophers or at least traditional philosophical methods ought to get out of the business of theories of speech perception altogether.

In this final essay in the volume, they point out that despite the evidence that introspection and phenomenological analysis are fallible, these methods are still given disproportionate weight in theories of speech perception. For instance, they argue that the main reason theories of speech perception tend to be based on the idea that speech is constituted out of discrete phonemes is that we can distinguish minimal pairs of phonemes.

The sound of music. - Durham Research Online

But the empirical evidence shows that such distinctions are the exception, and that ordinary speech is 'coarticulated' throughout -- each sound a combination of phonemes in the immediate vicinity. Though Remez and Trout reserve their criticisms for theorists of speech perception, it is not difficult to imagine the same points redirected at many of the arguments about ordinary sounds and auditory perception earlier in the book.

However, apart from a section of the introduction, there is not much more than token consideration of such issues elsewhere. Christopher Mole's essay on the popular 'Motor Theory' of speech perception is a textbook example of philosophical critique of empirical theorizing. He attacks the theory from two directions. First, he argues that the phenomena the theory is supposed to explain are for the most part not phenomena restricted to speech perception.

Thus no theory that is restricted to speech perception, as the Motor Theory is, will count as a good explanation of those phenomena. Second, he argues that the Motor Theory, though first formulated in the s and substantially revised in the s, is either trivial or obviously false. It is trivial if it claims merely that the objects of speech perception are 'intended phonemic gestures', since any theory of speech perception is a theory that takes such things as its object; it is obviously false if it implies that listeners hear speech under concepts of intended phonemic gestures.

Mole's essay is not wholly negative, however. He suggests that Motor Theorists gave up too easily on the original formulation, according to which speech-production mechanisms are involved in speech comprehension, moving to a revised theory according to which models of production mechanisms are involved in comprehension.

After arguing that no such model-theory could work, he argues that the reasons for giving up on the original theory -- that people lacking certain productive abilities could nonetheless comprehend what they could not produce -- were insufficient. Such an objection would only be devastating to a theory according to which there was complete overlap between mechanisms of production and comprehension, but one need not accept so strong a formulation.

In juxtaposition with the essays on ordinary sounds, these two essays suggest more the distance between the two areas of study, in terms of both central issues and the amount of extant work in the field.

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Smith's essay on speech perception, by contrast, is a nice example of how the two areas can be fruitfully connected. Smith is concerned with refuting a McDowellian theory of meaning as 'on the surface' of speech and thus communicated quite literally from speaker to audience.


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Employing a wealth of empirical data on speech perception, he argues rather that listeners contribute much of what they hear in speech, from missing phonemes and word-boundaries to the meanings of the resulting reconstituted linguistic items. His theory of the subject's voice as a special sound source is then used to explain away the main motivation for the McDowellian view: the direct 'meeting of minds' we seem to experience when listening to speech.

The following is a common argument schema used to defend these various theories, invoking the methodological principle described earlier: 1. The essays in this book all show that the philosophy of sound and auditory perception can be as complex, interesting, difficult, rewarding, and important as the much more commonly explored topics of physical objects and vision. The volume should be of interest to anyone interested in ontology or perception, whether or not they have thought seriously about sounds before. Rather than substantive objections, the few critical comments I have made above are really a plea for more work to be done in the area -- particularly on methodological questions.


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