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Perceptual Competences and the Primary/Secondary Quality Distinction


(Work in progress, in draft)

Abstract: My goal in this paper is to re-conceptualize the Early Modern distinction between primary and secondary qualities. The original distinction is metaphysical: primary qualities (e.g., shapes and sizes) are intrinsic or “real” properties of external objects, whereas secondary qualities (e.g., colors and smells) are perceiver-dependent in some way. My re-conceptualization is epistemological: I focus on the kinds of knowledge that different types of perceptual processing ground.  I propose that we understand primary qualities as the kind of properties that we can competently perceive and secondary qualities as the kind of properties that play an enhancement role in the competent perception of primary qualities. With this framework in place, we can tell a coherent and explanatorily robust story about (human) perceptual processing.

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