Depictive Verbs and the Nature of Perception


This paper shows that direct-object perceptual verbs, such as "hear", "smell", "taste", "feel", and "see", share a collection of distinctive semantic behaviors with depictive verbs, among which are "draw'', "paint", "sketch", and "sculpt". What explains these behaviors in the case of depictives is that they are causative verbs, and have lexical decompositions that involve the creation of concrete artistic artifacts, such as pictures, paintings, and sculptures. For instance, "draw a dog" means "draw a picture of a dog", where the latter occurrence of "draw" denotes a creative activity. While perceptual verbs are not obviously causatives, they have analogous decompositions involving noun phrases that denote modality-specific sense-objects, such as a sounds, smells, flavors, touches, and sights. Thus, "hear a trumpet" means "hear the sound of a trumpet", and the same holds, mutatis mutandis, for verbs denoting the other sensory modes. If we take this analogy at face value, our perceptual reports will commit us to a form of the sense-datum theory of perception. While the analogy can be resisted, resistance requires taking on unexpected commitments

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This paper was published in PhilPapers.

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