According to survey from 2020 Representationalism has the most supporters, Qualia theory not so much and Sense-datum has only 5%. All of these theories can be classified as Indirect realism as far as I know.

What is the difference between all of these views? And why isn't Direct realism included in the survey? Also Qualia seems to be more of a concept in the philosophy of mind, not perception, that confused me.

1 Answer 1


Yes, the three theories you discuss are variants of indirect realism. There is a good reason that indirect realism is the predominant view of perception. Our scientific method basically presupposes indirect realism. Quarks, electrons, the time-space continuum -- the valence theory of chemistry -- none of these are DIRECTLY experienced. Yet we consider them true, due to the success of indirect inference to reality. Further, the field of neurology has revealed that there are massive disconnects between what our sensory nerves detect, and what our conscious perceptions are -- see Incognito by David Eagleman for an interesting discussion about how our perceptions are a Grand Illusion.

Not all philosophers ARE indirect realists. Disjunctivism is the direct realist option included in the survey. See the discussion here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/perception-problem/#NaiRea

As for the differences between the three options you listed, here is a good discussion of the differences between Qualia theory and Representationalism: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11098-008-9274-5 With more resources for qualia theory here: http://cognet.mit.edu/book/case-qualia

My first link provided a good discussion of sense datum theory as well. Note the objections to it are primarily ideological, in that it tends to be readily compatible with dualism, but hard to reconcile with physicalism.

Representationalism is more compatible with algorithmic identity theory in theory of mind than either of the other two are, and is therefore MORE compatible with physicalism. Note the critiques of representationalism in the linked paper, echo the critiques of functionalism, and functionalism's neglect of experience and qualia. Qualia theory as described is a more complex model -- in which representation and functionalism would only partially characterize what perception consists of.

  • Searle is a direct realist too. WP lists the following in "Naive Realism": "Among contemporary analytic philosophers who defended direct realism one might refer to, for example, Hilary Putnam,[6] John McDowell,[7][8] Galen Strawson,[9] John R. Searle,[10] and John L. Pollock.[11]"
    – J D
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 19:02
  • Thank you for recommendations! Just a quick question, is the qualia in this context the same concept as qualia in philosophy of mind?
    – ArAj
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 17:19
  • @ArAj -- yes. Perception, and what it consists of, is closely correlated with solutions to mind/body. And the issues and data that both address highly overlap. Perception is often taken as a sub-question in philosophy of mind.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 17:32

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