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Descartes and CartesianismEssays in Honour of Desmond Clarke$
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Stephen Gaukroger and Catherine Wilson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198779643

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.001.0001

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Truth in Perception

Truth in Perception

Causation and the ‘Quasinormative’ Machine

(p.79) 5 Truth in Perception
Descartes and Cartesianism

Catherine Wilson

Oxford University Press

What is a ‘veridical visual experience’? This irreducibly normative notion confusingly suggests a ‘match’ between experiences and an unseen or unperceivable reality. And although the notion of an ‘optical illusion’ appears in technical discussions of the processing of sensory stimuli, it is obvious that natural science cannot supply criteria for veridicality. The Meditations seems to tell us both that all our visual experiences are radically false and that we can trust them as mostly true, but I argue that Descartes grasped the problem of understanding veridicality and provided the framework for a solution, which I develop in this chapter. Two key ideas are required: the notion of a ‘quasinormative’ animal machine whose experiences are not ‘matched’ to the world but to the behavioural outputs it needs to live, and the notion of a circumstantial ‘defeater’ of the organism’s efforts on some occasion.

Keywords:   René Descartes, perception, veridicality, animal machine, sensory stimuli

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