Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

What is distinctive about the senses?

By Louise Fiona Richardson


For the most part, philosophical discussion of the senses has been concerned with what distinguishes them from one another, following Grice’s treatment of this issue in his ‘Remarks on the senses’ (1962). But this is one of two questions which Grice raises in this influential paper. The other, the question of what distinguishes senses from faculties that are not senses, is the question I address in this thesis. Though there are good reasons to think that the awareness we have of our bodies is perceptual, we do not usually think of bodily awareness as a sense. So in particular, I try to give an account of what it is that is distinctive about the five familiar modalities that they do not share with bodily awareness.\ud I argue that what is distinctive about vision, touch, hearing, taste and smell, is that perception in all these modalities has enabling and disabling conditions of a certain kind. These enabling and disabling conditions are manifest in the conscious character of experience in these modalities, and exploited in active perceptual attention— in looking, listening, and so on. Bodily awareness has no such enabling conditions. The five familiar senses having this distinctive feature, and bodily awareness lacking it is not a merely incidental difference between them.\ud Nevertheless, I do not claim that having these enabling conditions is necessary and sufficient for counting some faculty as a sense, or, correlatively, for something being an instance of sense-perception. Rather, we can see why it would serve certain (contingent) human interests for us to think of the faculties that involve these enabling conditions as instances of a single kind of thing, of which bodily awareness is not an instance

Topics: B1
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (1917). A discussion of a certain type of negative proposition. doi
  2. (1993). A Materialist Theory of the Mind. (Revised edition). doi
  3. (1910). A New Theory Of Vision : And Other Writings, Everyman's library.
  4. (1997). A representational theory of pains and their phenomenal character. doi
  5. (2005). Acoustic specification of object properties.
  6. (1963). Action, Emotion and the Will. London and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul. doi
  7. (1997). An Inquiry Into The Human Mind : On The Principles Of Common Sense Edinburgh: doi
  8. (2006). Anthropology From A Pragmatic Point Of View. New York: doi
  9. (1994). Auditory Scene Analysis: the Perceptual Organization of Sound. doi
  10. (2001). Available from: (accessed 18/12/2008).
  11. Bodily awareness: a sense of ownership.
  12. (1962). Bodily sensations, Studies in philosophical psychology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. doi
  13. Bodily sensations. doi
  14. (1995). Body image and body schema in a deafferented subject.
  15. (1999). Categorising qualitative states: some problems.
  16. (1990). Categorizing the senses. Mind and Language. doi
  17. (1996). Causality, Interpretation, and the Mind. doi
  18. (2000). Causation by disconnection. doi
  19. (1986). Causation, doi
  20. (1988). Children's understanding of perceptibility.
  21. (2008). Children's working understanding of the knowledge gained from seeing and feeling. doi
  22. (1996). Coding of modified body schema during tool use by macaque postcentral neurones. doi
  23. (1989). Color as a secondary quality. doi
  24. (2000). Consciousness and the world. doi
  25. (2000). Consciousness, Color, And Content, doi
  26. (1993). De Anima. doi
  27. (1970). Distinguishing the Senses. doi
  28. (1992). Experience and its objects. doi
  29. (2001). Experiencing the production of sounds. doi
  30. (2007). Feeling Pain And Being In doi
  31. (2005). Future sense: doors of perception.
  32. (1988). Haptically perceiving the distances reachable with hand-held objects. doi
  33. (1996). How it is: entities, absences and voids. doi
  34. (1948). Human Knowledge — Its Scope And Limits. London: Allen243 and Unwin. doi
  35. (1959). Individuals : An Essay In Descriptive Metaphysics. doi
  36. (1983). Intentionality : An Essay In The Philosophy Of Mind. Cambridge: doi
  37. (1999). Kant and The Critique Of Pure Reason, Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks. doi
  38. (1994). Knowledge and “inner sense”: lecture 1: the object perception model. doi
  39. (1994). La Philosophie Du Son. Nîmes: Éditions Jacqueline Chambon.
  40. (1999). Making Sense Of Taste : Food & Philosophy. doi
  41. (2002). Making sense of the senses: Individuating modalities in humans and other animals. doi
  42. (1995). Naturalizing The Mind. doi
  43. (1952). Negative things. doi
  44. (2004). Neuroimaging studies of cross-modal integration for emotion.
  45. (1982). Objects and events in space and time. doi
  46. (1990). Of primary and secondary qualities. Philosophical Review. doi
  47. (1981). On sensations of position. doi
  48. (2005). On the concept of a sense. doi
  49. (2008). Perceiving Temporal Properties, doi
  50. (1977). Perception : A Representative Theory. Cambridge: doi
  51. (2003). Perception and agency. In Agency doi
  52. (1961). Perception and the Physical World. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. doi
  53. (1999). Perception, Introspection and Attention. doi
  54. (1998). Perceptual intentionality, attention and consciousness. doi
  55. (2001). Preschool children's difficulty understanding the types of information obtained through the five senses. doi
  56. (1995). Pride and a Daily Marathon. doi
  57. (1988). Principles of Human Knowledge and Three Dialogues Between Hylas And Philonous. doi
  58. (2005). Proprioception as basic knowledge of the body. In Basic Belief And Basic Knowledge : Papers In Epistemology. Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag. doi
  59. (2001). Qualia and the senses. Philosophical Quarterly. doi
  60. (2002). Reference and Consciousness. doi
  61. reference and selective attention. Aristotelian Society: Supplementary Volume 71:55–98. doi
  62. (2007). Referral of tactile stimuli to action points in virtual reality with reaction force. doi
  63. (2005). Seeing, Doing, And Knowing : A Philosophical Theory Of Senseperception. doi
  64. (2001). Segmentation, attention and phenomenal visual objects. doi
  65. (2002). Sensation and Perception (sixth edition):
  66. (2001). Sensation at the tips of invisible tools.
  67. (1983). Sense And Content : Experience, Thought, And Their Relations. doi
  68. (1993). Sense modalities and spatial properties.
  69. (1983). Sensing The World. doi
  70. (1967). Sensory Inhibition. Princeton N.J.: doi
  71. (1993). Sensory Qualities. doi
  72. (1992). Sight and touch. doi
  73. (1997). Smell : The Secret Seducer. doi
  74. (1962). Some Remarks About the Senses. In Analytic Philosophy,
  75. (2005). Sounds. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall
  76. Space and Self. doi
  77. (1998). Strawson on the concept of perception.
  78. (2000). Stream Of Consciousness: Unity And Continuity In Conscious Experience. doi
  79. (1995). Ten Problems Of Consciousness : A Representational Theory Of The Phenomenal Mind. doi
  80. (1999). The Aesthetics Of Music. doi
  81. (1996). The binding problem. doi
  82. (2003). The intentional structure of consciousness. In Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives,
  83. (1991). The Problem Of Consciousness : Essays Towards A Resolution. doi
  84. (2002). The Problem Of Perception. doi
  85. (2006). The Psychology of Attention. doi
  86. (2006). The reality of absences.
  87. (1989). The sense of touch. doi
  88. (1974). The senses of martians. doi
  89. (2003). The significance of the senses. doi
  90. (2002). The transparency of experience. doi
  91. (1952). The visual field and the visual world — a reply to Boring. doi
  92. (1980). The Will. Cambridge: doi
  93. (1996). Three varieties of visual field. doi
  94. (1955). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. doi
  95. (2000). Truthmakers for negative truths. doi
  96. Uncovering Appearances. Available from: (accessed 19/12/2008).
  97. (1999). What is sound? doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.