Pure Appearances? Study Sections

    In my last post, I discussed the connection between appearances and theories of the world. Many of our appearances are also theories of the world. There are no appearances that we could have that are not also theories of the world – at least in part.

    If there are some appearances that are not also theories of the world, then those appearances must contain the raw sense data favored by empiricists. If no such things exist, then empiricism is false – as understood by modernists. So this debate is important for how we understand knowledge.

    The clearest and most obvious case of pure appearances would be colors. We can imagine a particular color – such as red – and that appearance seems to be a pure appearance. No other case is more obvious as this one and if colors are not really pure appearances, then nothing is a pure appearance.

    But there are several reasons to believe that colors are not pure appearances. The first is that distinguishing one color from another is something that can be trained. Some people will recognize the difference between two shades of red while others will see no difference between them. But knowledge that results from a trained ability is not a pure appearance. The trained ability counts as a theory of the world put into practice.

    The second reason to believe that colors are not pure appearances is that some people do not distinguish between two colors because they are color-blind. If they are red-green colorblind, then they cannot distinguish between red and green. They may come to believe that different features of the world have different colors even if they cannot see the difference. But this sort of knowledge also counts as a theory of the world rather than a pure appearance. Also, the appearance of red to someone who is color-blind cannot be the same as it is to someone who is not colorblind. But if colors are pure appearances, there is no way to distinguish between these two appearances.

    The third and final reason to believe that colors are not pure appearances is that our ability to see colors is something that develops as we grow up. We gain the ability to see in colors. If such an ability were something that saw pure appearances, it would appear all at once. It would either be present or absent. But that is not what happens. It is possible to have the ability to see grow incorrectly so red things are not seen if they appear as horizontal bars. It is also possible to have the ability to see trained so that we can recall what we have previously seen.

    These reasons all support the thesis that no sensation that we have in life is ever a pure appearance detached from our theories of the world. Our theories of the world form our sensations and our sensations form our theories. Next, I will discuss how we can compare various theories.

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