Sense and Sensibilia

AutorAustin, John Langshaw, 1911-1960
PealkiriSense and sensibilia : reconstructed from the manuscript notes / J. L. Austin ; reconstructed from the manuscript notes by C. J. Warnock
IlmunudLondon [etc.] : Oxford University Press, 1970. Reprint [1962]
ViideAustin, John L. 1970. Sense and sensibilia. Reconstructed from the manuscript notes by C. J. Warnock. London: Oxford University Press.

Somtimes the plain man would prefer to say that his senses were deceived rather than he was deceived by his senses - the quickness of the hand deceives the eye, &c. But there is actually a great multiplicity of these cases here, at least at the edges of which it is no doubt uncertain (and it would be typically scholastic to try to decide) just which are and which are not cases where the metaphor of being 'deceived by the senses' would naturally be employed. But surely even the plainest of men would want to distinguish (a) cases where the sense-organ is deranged or abnormal or in some way or other not functioning properly; (b cases where the medium - or more generally, the conditions - of perception are in some way abnormal or off-colour; and (c) cases where a wrong inference is made or a wrong construction is put on things; e.g. on some sound that he hears. Of course these cases do not exlude each other.) And again there are the quite common cases of misreadings, mishearings, Freudian over-sights, &c., which don't seem to belong properly under any of these headings. That is to say, once again there is no neat and simple dichotomy between things going right and things going wrong; things may go wrong, as we really all know quite well, in lots of different ways - which don't have to be, and must not be assumed to be, classifiable in any general fashion. (Austin 1970: 13)
These notions seem better than the simple distinction between insensitivity and distortion used in experiments with schizophrenics in the recognition of emotional meanings (e.g. Turner 1964: 130).
We have here, in fact, a typical case of a word, which already has a very special use, being gradually stretched, without caution or definition to any limit, until it becomes, first perhaps obscurely metaphorical, but ultimately meaningless. One can't abuse ordinary language without paying for it. (Austin 1970: 15)
Especially if one abuses it without realizing what one is doing. Consider the trouble cause by unwitting stretching of the word 'sign', so as to yield - apparently - the conclusion that, when the cheese is in front of our noses, we see signs of cheese. (Austin 1970: 15; footnote 1)
Apparently Austin considers the intrinsic sign to be stretching of the meaning of the word sign. It is true that a proper sign refers to something else, but this issue is as yet unresolved.
Lastly, reflections. When I look at myself in a mirror 'my body appears to be some distance behind the glass'; but it cannot actually be in two places at once; thus, my perceptions in this case 'cannot all be veridical'. But I do see something; and if 'there really is no such material thing as my body in the place where it appears to be, what is it that I am seeing?' Answer - a sense-datum. (Austin 1970: 22)
This is an interesting question, but a common-sensical answer would be "you are seeing your reflection", meriting a special category of perceptions that involve light reflecting on surfaces. At this point it seems that Austin is concerned with nothing more than some unnecessary conundrum within language, but the notion of sense-datum deserves keeping in mind, as this is more appropriate for some uses than the Saussurean concept or idea.
Delusions, on the other hand, are something altogether different from this [illusions]. Typical case would be delusions of persecution, delusions of grandeur. These are primarily a matter of grossly disordered beliefs (and so, probably, behaviour) and may well have nothing in particular to do with perception. But I think we might also say that the patient who sees pink rats has (suffers from) delusions - particularly, no doubt, if, as would probably be the case, he is not clearly aware that his pink rats aren't real rats. (Austin 1970: 23)
While illusions (especially optical) are of little import to nonverbalism, delusions on the other hand could relate to distortions in perception.
I can see my own body 'indirectly', sc. in the mirror. I can also see the reflection of my own body or, as some would say, a mirror-image. And a mirror-image (if we choose this answer) is not a 'sense-datum'; it can be photographed, seen by any number of people, and so on. (Of course there is no question here of either illusion or delusion.) And if the question is pressed, what actually is some distance, five feet say, behind the mirror, the answer is, not a sense-datum, but some region of the adjoining room. (Austin 1970: 31)
Here one must differentiate the reflection as an objective phenomenon (a mirror-image that can be photographed) and a subjective phenomenon (a sense-datum that can be perceived).
'Real' is an absultely normal word, with nothing new-fangled or technical or highly specialized about it. It is, that is to say, already firmly established in, and very frequently used in, the ordinary language we all use every day. Thus in this sense it is a word which has a fixed meaning, and so can't, any more than can any other word which is firmly established, be fooled around with ad lib. Philosophers often seem to think that they can just 'assign' any meaning whatever to any word; and so no doubt, in an absolutely trivial sense, they can (like Humpty-Dumpty). (Austin 1970: 62)
Newfangled (written together) means new-fashioned, modern or quite recent. This brief note on the word 'real' and the philosopher's language deserves to be quoted because it is applicable to semioticians also with their contention that "reality is mediated by signs" (as Thomas Sebeok has reportedly said).
Another philosophically notorious dimension-word, which has already been mentioned in another connexion as closely comparable with 'real', is 'good'. 'Good' is the most general of the very large and diverse list of more specific words, which share with it the general function of expressing commendation, but differ among themselves in their aptness to, and implications in, particular contexts. It is a crucial point, of which Idealist philosophers used to make much at one time, that 'real' itself, in certain uses, may belong to this family. 'Now this is a real carving-knife!' may be one way of saying that this a good carving-knife. And it is sometimes said of a bad poem, for instance, that it isn't really a poem at all; a certain standard must be reached, as it were, even to qualify. (Austin 1970: 73)
This makes perfect sense to me in relation to slogans such as "real hip-hop".
A soldier will see the complex evolutions of men on a parade-ground differently from soneone who knows nothing about the drill; a painter, or at any rate a certain kind of painter, may well see a scene differently from someone unversed in the techniques of pictorial representation. Thus, different ways of saying what is seen will quite often be due, not just to differences in knowledge, in fineness of discrimination, in readiness to stick the neck out, or in interest in this aspect or that of the total situation; they may be due to the fact htat what is seen is seen differently, seen in a different way, seen as this rather than that. And there will sometimes be no one right way of saying what is seen, for the additional reason that there may be one right way of seeing it. It is worth noticing that several of the examples we have come across in other contexts provide occasions for the use of the 'see . . . as' formula. Instead of saying that, to the naked eye, a distant star looks like a tiny speck, or appears as a tiny speck, we could say that it is seen as a tiny speck; instead of saying that, from the auditorium, the woman with her head in a black bag appears to be headless, or looks like a headless woman, we could say that she is seen as a headless woman. (Austin 1970: 101-102)
Differences in perception and description.


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