Perceptual Experience and the First-Person Perspective: A Phenomenological Enquiry

Student thesis: Phd


This work articulates the main commitments of a theory of perception that takes our first-person perspective at face value. The first part of the thesis focuses on its metaphysical commitments. I defend a Representational account over a Relational one. First, I argue that the widespread assumption that Relational accounts best capture our ‘naïve’ conception of veridical perceptual experience is false. Instead, I identify the main features of such a conception and argue that Representationalism is compatible with them. I then argue that, while Relational views are committed to posing severe limits to the powers of our introspective knowledge when it comes to some non-veridical experiences, Representationalism can accommodate introspective evidence across the board. Second, I argue, against a widespread argument for the Relational view, that Representationalism is better suited to explain how perception allows us to apply our conception of mind-independence to the objects we perceive. The second part focuses on the objects of perception. First, I consider the plausibility of the claim that asking how much of an ordinary, opaque object we can see (at one time) leads to the conclusion that we can only ‘strictly speaking’ see the facing surfaces of opaque objects. I call this view the ‘Surface View’. I argue that the Surface View entails that, if asked to describe our experience from the first-person perspective, we should not mention opaque objects but, at most, their facing surfaces. However, I argue that this claim is incompatible with introspective evidence. Therefore, I suggest that asking how much of an object we can see at a time changes our perceptual situation, making it the case that only its facing surface fixes how things look. I conclude by developing a double phenomenological distinction between perception/visual awareness and proper/improper appearance that accommodates two claims: that, in ordinary circumstances, opaque objects fix how things look from our first-person perspective; that different parts of an opaque object play different perceptual roles. Finally, I sketch a possible strategy for accommodating these distinctions into a Representationalist framework.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJoel Smith (Supervisor) & Sean Crawford (Supervisor)


  • Naive Realism
  • Husserl
  • Representationalism
  • Perception
  • Phenomenology

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