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Levin, Janet, , . Molyneux’s Question and the Amodality of Experience
2018, Inquiry 61: 590-610.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Simon Prosser

Abstract: A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience purports to have answered a question posed to Locke in 1688 by his friend William Molyneux, namely, whether ‘a man born blind and made to see’ would be able to identify, immediately and by vision alone, objects previously known only by touch. The answer, according to the researchers – and as predicted by Molyneux, as well as Locke, Berkeley, and others – is ‘likely negative. The newly sighted subjects did not exhibit an immediate transfer of their tactile shape knowledge to the visual domain’. Since then, however, many commentators have argued that the answer is still not clear. Moreover, in the contemporary literature on Molyneux’s Question, and more generally on cross-modal perception and the individuation of the senses, it is sometimes hard to determine what question is being investigated. In this paper, I distinguish a number of different questions about the relation between visual and tactual perception that can arise when considering Molyneux’s problem.

Comment: Background reading on Molyneux’s question and spatial perception.
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Thompson, Judith Jarvis, , . Molyneux’s Problem
1974, Journal of Philosophy 71: 637-650.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Simon Prosser

Introduction: I am inclined to think that what was in Molyneux’s mind, because of which he drew that conclusion from those premises, was this: that what affects one’s touch so or so could have affected one’s sight such and such instead of so or so—i.e., that what feels so or so could have looked such and such instead of so or so. Thus, for example, that what standardly feels like a globe could have standardly looked like a cube instead of like a globe, and vice versa. Certainly anyway, if you did think this, it would seem to you plausible to say that if a man hasn’t had the experience of how things that feel so or so look, he can’t tell by sight, i.e., from how a thing looks, how it feels. And plausible, then, to reason, as Molyneux does, that, if a man hasn’t had the experience of how things that feel so or so look, he can’t tell by sight, i.e., from how a thing looks, whether it feels like, and so is, a globe, or whether it feels like, and so is, a cube. The best he can do is guess.

It’s a proposal worth looking at, in any case, whether it is Molyneux’s or not. Or rather, under some interpretations of it, it’s a proposal worth looking at.

Comment: Classic article on Molyneux’s problem; maybe not the main reading these days, but important background/further reading.

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