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In an answer to this question How to start Philosophy and find the branches that are related to my questions?, an article by Searle came up http://www.klemens.sav.sk/fiusav/doc/organon/prilohy/2012/2/9-22.pdf, in which he defends "direct realism".

My question is: If we know that our senses are all mediated through the mechanism of their operation, does that not refute Searle's direct realism? I'm a realist myself, but it seems to me that Searle goes too far. Here's the section of the article where he purports to address this issue:

The story goes that the neurobiological events that lead from the sensory receptors to the conscious experience determine that all that we can ever be aware of is the conscious experience. I hope it is obvious that this is the same fallacy: the fact that one can give a causal account of how the conscious experience occurs does not show that one does not see the objects and states of affairs on the other end of the conscious experience. To suppose that is to suppose that the experience itself is the object of perception. And that is the Bad Argument all over again.

From my perspective that's a dodge, ignoring the "mediation" part:

1) "all we can ever be aware of is the conscious experience" is a False Dichotomy. We can be aware of the real objects but only in a mediated fashion, "through a glass darkly" as it were.

2) "does not show that one does not see the objects" just elides out the "direct" part of his earlier argument. Again he seems to be doing an all-or-nothing dance. "Either our perception extends all the way to the object-in-itself, or else the only other option is that we perceive only our internal experiences." What about extending to the object but being inherently mediated?

If pressed, would Searle have to admit that our observation that our own senses are mediated is itself an illusion? Or what? Am I completely off base, is he, are we both, or neither?

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    "We can be aware of the real objects but only in a mediated fashion" is not very clear. If we think of "mediation" as processing then real objects are the inputs and what we are aware of is the output, if not, what exactly is "mediation?" Searle is basically saying that the "processing" is only a rational reconstruction of what happens in one language, while in alternative language it is a holistic direct intake. Neither is an illusion or "the truth", both are different perspectives of the same elephant. – Conifold Oct 10 at 20:07
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    "Illusory" is no better than "mediated". We can decompose resultant forces, which are the ones that act, into components, does it mean that the components are "illusory"? Or that the resultant force is? And we can describe an image in terms more holistic than a table of pixel values. It does not mean that either terms are "illusory", or that one description is more "real" than the other. – Conifold Oct 10 at 23:37
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    I like Wallace's take on it in Everett and Structure, what he calls the fallacy of exactness, that either things must enter a physical theory formally, or they are illusions. But... "tigers are unquestionably real in any reasonable sense of the word, but they are certainly not part of the basic ontology of any physical theory". – Conifold Oct 12 at 8:48
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    The Cartesian idea of turning representations of real objects into separate objects that wall us off from them is called reification of the mental, or phenomenological fallacy, "the mistake of supposing that when the subject describes... how things look, sound, smell, taste, or feel to him, he is describing the literal properties of objects and events on a peculiar sort of internal cinema... and only secondarily, indirectly and inferentially objects and events in our environments", see Gusman. Dennett derided it as "Cartesian theater". – Conifold Oct 12 at 8:51
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    It isn't so simple. If they are supposed to be intermediaries between us and the "real objects" it wouldn't make much of a difference if they are physical. Sense data theories are also accused of the reification, and their data is perfectly physical. And if they are not intermediaries then there is no point in postulating them, it would multiply entities without necessity. – Conifold Oct 12 at 10:08
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1) "all we can ever be aware of is the conscious experience" is a False Dichotomy. We can be aware of the real objects but only in a mediated fashion, "through a glass darkly" as it were.

I don't see where what Searle says is incompatible with that. In the background here is Searle's theory of intentionality, which is what he is ultimately defending. In his theory, he distinguishes between content and object of an intentional relation. The dispute here is what the terminus of an intentional relation is. He is arguing here that the terminus ad quem of the intentional relation is the object itself, and not some mental representation of the object. Take, for example, an act of perception: seeing a tree. Searle's point is that the perception is a direct encounter with the physical, wooden tree itself.

2) "does not show that one does not see the objects" just elides out the "direct" part of his earlier argument. Again he seems to be doing an all-or-nothing dance. "Either our perception extends all the way to the object-in-itself, or else the only other option is that we perceive only our internal experiences." What about extending to the object but being inherently mediated?

The theory of intentionality so stated does not anywhere rule this out. What it argues against would be von Helmholztian interpretations of the matter. The very question is whether or not the mediation of the sensory process on the incoming signals rules out any resemblance of the resulting perceptual contents to their external causes. Followers of von Helmholtz, such as Hohwy, Frith, Metzinger, and others, argue that this limits our perceptual content to a neural representation: we don't extend out to the objects. This is a principle known as environmental seclusion. Others argue for rich perceptual processing, and yet deny environmental seclusion.

In a sense, Searle's move is to deny environmental seclusion by distinguishing in the background theory between content (mediator) and object (terminus ad quem) of an intentional relation. This is done to open up space for a realism with the mediation of perceptual content. The von Helmholtzians make it out as if a mental representation was on the other side of the "arrow" of conscious intentionality, and Searle is arguing against that.

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My question is: If we know that our senses are all mediated through the mechanism of their operation, does that not refute Searle's direct realism?

Short answer? No, it does not.

First, perceptual intentionality is not advocating Cartesian duality, but trying to resolve it. What Searle is doing in this article is arguing against the skeptical Argument from Illusion (AfI) and the related Argument from Science (AfS) that consciousness doesn't immediately apprehend visual experience. AfI/AfS claim consciousness-mediated senses prevent "direct" awareness. Searle argues against this by claiming that "direct" awareness isn't what AfI/AfS claims because there is a difference between constituitive and intentional experience.

1) "all we can ever be aware of is the conscious experience" is a False Dichotomy. We can be aware of the real objects but only in a mediated fashion, "through a glass darkly" as it were.

It's not a false dichotomy; it's a tautology. Experience is vaguely defined by an immediate awareness, and awareness is vaguely defined by experience. In plain language, only that which is aware can experience in the literal sense. Rocks have histories like people, but only aware people have experience. In a narrower sense experience is that which we have first-hand history with. An experienced plumber knows and is aware of plumbing differently than a tyro.

"Either our perception extends all the way to the object-in-itself, or else the only other option is that we perceive only our internal experiences." What about extending to the object but being inherently mediated?

Here's the pith of his argument. There is a dichotomy between language and intentionality as a whole because language is built on something more broadly than truth. Conscious experience (which is subjectively holistic) is composed of many sources of experience. Where as past desire and belief and memories are epistemically indirect because they represent symbolic correspondences to external states of affairs, the aspect of conscious experience called visual experience IS direct even if other forms (that is linguistic or representational) are not. This directness Searle calls presentation. From pg. 14:

"[Visual experience] has a special form of intentionality that I call presentational intentionality Perceptual experiences, visual or otherwise, are in the intentionality sense, directed... Beliefs and desires are typically representations... and states of affairs... But when I see something I do not just have a representation; I have a direction presentation of the object.

Then he goes on to speak about the differences between presentations and representations. The gist of it is that a representation is generally linguistic and symbolic and follows the correspondent theory of truth defined by semantics and linguistic convention, where as a presentation has different conditions of satisfaction.

"The present features of the object I am seeing are [emphasis mine] the conditions of satisfaction - what makes the visual experience 'veridical' - but they are experienced immediately... So there is a causal self-reflecxivity to perceptual experience... Memories and prior intentions... are not direct presentations. You are not immediately aware of the object you remember in way that you are if you actually see it.

Hence, seeing is believing. What Searle is doing is breaking down what he sees as an oversimplification of experience by stating that consciousness supervenes on sensation in a different way than on memories and intentionality generally.

Epistemologically there are five generally recognized sources of knowledge (consciousness/introspection, memory, perception, testimony, and reason); intentionality of perception is different than general intentionality (introspection). In fact, he labels his article Perceptual Intentionality to make clear that his personal theory of intetionality includes gradations among epistemic sources. And this makes sense intuitively, doesn't it? Do you go about considering what is testimonial proof in the same way you do in regards to memory or direct perception? Of course not. So, since there are differences in the sources of knowledge, there too should be differences in the theories.

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