Theory of Knowledge


Additional Information




We now come to the final theory of perception, that of Phenomenalism. Like Idealism, Phenomenalism argues that our knowledge about the world comes through our senses. Furthermore, it also shifts knowledge about the world away from any talk of "the object itself" and replaces it with our experiences of it.

This is a little bit more difficult to grasp than the previous theories, mainly because it is a theory of truth and not just an account of perception. We shall look at definitions of truth, knowledge and belief in the next unit, so we shall only touch upon this theory here.

Statements about the World

The Phenomenalist view argues that when we talk about a thing - such as a tree - we are actually talking about our perceptions of it. So, instead of saying, "The leaves on the tree are green," I say, "I have a perception of a tree with green leaves." This might seem to be a trifling difference, but notice that by doing so we are not saying anything about the tree, only our perception of it.

In this way, by talking only about our perception and experience of things, we are not led into saying things that cannot be backed by the evidence of our senses.


Which of the following statements would a phenomenalist say could be backed up by experience?

Backed up by Experience?
I see a tree with green leaves
All swans are white
2 + 2 = 4
Maths is beautiful
Shakespeare is a great writer

How did you do? Click here to see my answers.

Sense and Nonsense

What do you think? Can all of these statements be backed up by experience? If not, what status do they then have? Phenomenalists, such as the 20th century English philosopher A. J. Ayer, thought that they were literally non-sensical. We shall look at this view in more detail in the next unit.



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