In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Senses

  • Introduction
  • Individuating the Senses
  • Contrasting the Senses

Philosophy The Senses
Keith A. Wilson, Fiona Macpherson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0368


Philosophers and scientists have studied sensory perception and, in particular, vision for many years. Increasingly, however, they have become interested in the nonvisual senses in greater detail and the problem of Individuating the Senses in a more general way. The Aristotelian view is that there are only five external senses—Smell, Taste, Hearing, Touch, and Vision. This has, by many counts, been extended to include internal senses, such as balance, proprioception, and kinesthesis (see Bodily Awareness); Pain; and potentially Other Human Senses and Nonhuman Senses. This “multisensory turn” has been driven partly by developments in contemporary Psychology and Neuroscience, which have revealed a host of complex interrelations and interactions between sensory modalities previously thought to be distinct. Contrasts between modalities (see Contrasting the Senses) and other Crossmodal Phenomena, including multisensory integration, Synesthesia, and Sensory Substitution, have also begun to receive more attention in a burgeoning scientific and philosophical literature on Multisensory Perception and Other Crossmodal Phenomena. This article focuses on recent empirically informed contributions to the Philosophy of perception, as well as key scientific works that provide important background information and insights into the nature of the senses and sensory perception. Indeed, one of the lessons of the multisensory turn, and of contemporary philosophy of mind more generally, is that philosophers ignore this body of empirical research at their peril because many human and animal senses turn out to be richer and more complex than philosophers and scientists had previously imagined, making this a fruitful area for interdisciplinary interaction and research. The authors would like to thank David Bain, Clare Batty, Jennifer Corns, Robert Cowan, Ophelia Deroy, Alistair Isaac, Barry Smith, Charles Spence, Dustin Stokes, and an anonymous reviewer for Oxford Bibliographies for their comments and suggestions. This work was supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, grant number AH/L007053/1.

Anthologies and Reference

In keeping with the multidisciplinary nature of the study of the senses, key reference works in Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience, and History and Anthropology have been included that may be of interest to philosophers working in this area. Anthologies and books that relate primarily to individual Sensory Modalities, Crossmodal Phenomena, and animal perception are referenced under the relevant sections.

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