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The First Sense

A Philosophical Study of Human Touch

Matthew Fulkerson

Publication Year: 2013

It is through touch that we are able to interact directly with the world; it is our primary conduit of both pleasure and pain. Touch may be our most immediate and powerful sense -- "the first sense" because of the central role it plays in experience. In this book, Matthew Fulkerson proposes that human touch, despite its functional diversity, is a single, unified sensory modality. Fulkerson offers a philosophical account of touch, reflecting the interests, methods, and approach that define contemporary philosophy; but his argument is informed throughout by the insights and constraints of empirical work on touch. Human touch is a multidimensional object of investigation, Fulkerson writes, best served by using a variety of methods and approaches. To defend his view of the unity of touch, Fulkerson describes and argues for a novel, unifying role for exploratory action in touch. He goes on to fill in the details of this unified, exploratory form of perception, offering philosophical accounts of tool use and distal touch, the representational structure of tangible properties, the spatial content of touch, and the role of pleasure in tactual experience. Fulkerson's argument for the unique role played by exploratory action departs notably from traditional vision-centric philosophical approaches to perception, challenging the received view that action plays the same role in all sensory modalities. The robust philosophical account of touch he offers in <I>The First Sense</I> has significant implications for our general understanding of perception and perceptual experience.

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Human touch is a highly complex sensory modality, involving numerous interacting systems and exploratory capacities. Through touch we are able to interact directly with the world around us, feeling a wide variety of distinct properties, including warmth, solidity, roughness, and elasticity. We often incorporate tools to expand our reach and abilities. We use touch...

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pp. xv-xvi

Many people deserve thanks for their assistance and feedback while I worked on this book. I would like especially to thank my great teachers: Mohan Matthen, Diana Raffman, and Evan Thompson. Mohan deserves special recognition for his generous and tireless efforts as my thesis advisor at the University of Toronto, where I first began working on...

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1. What Is Touch?

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pp. 1-16

This is a book on the theoretical issues raised by the sense of human touch. Like many works of philosophy, it begins with a seemingly basic question: what is touch? It’s true that a philosophical book on vision probably would not begin in similar fashion, asking what vision is. However, this is because visual awareness, for all its complexity and mystery, is a...

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2. The Unity of Human Touch

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pp. 17-44

This chapter is a continuation and development of the worries outlined in the previous chapter. In particular, it concerns the critical question of whether we ought to consider touch to be a single sense or something multisensory. Providing an answer to this question requires saying something in detail about what it means for an experience to be...

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3. Exploratory Action in Touch

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pp. 45-76

As I argued in the previous chapter, I believe that sensory modalities can be fruitfully divided up in multiple ways, depending on our explanatory interests. This sensory pluralism allows that for some explanatory purposes, we may for instance be primarily interested in the functional relations between the constituent systems involved in the generation of...

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4. Touch and Bodily Awareness

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pp. 77-110

In the previous chapters I argued that there were strong reasons for linking together the various components of touch into a single unified modality. This allows us to group together in a principled way those systems that code for thermal, vibration, pressure, and texture features. So far so good. However, touch seems unlike vision and the other senses in possessing a...

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5. Tangible Qualities

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pp. 111-136

Perceptual experience seems comprised (at least in part) by basic sensory qualities. Consider the way that a spoken language can be reduced to a set of distinctive, fundamental phonemes. All the beauty and wonder of Shakespeare’s plays can be reduced to a relatively small set of basic English sounds. Much the same seems true for perceptual experience. Our experience...

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6. Distal Touch

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pp. 137-164

In this chapter I argue that we can and do experience objects through touch, even when those objects are not in contact with the apparent limits of our bodies. And we can do so without explicit awareness of the proximal points of contact (as argued in chapter 4). I first discuss the nature of demonstrative content in perception and introduce the important distinction...

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7. Pleasant Touch

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pp. 165-188

In previous chapters we have considered whether touch is a single sense or inherently multisensory, examined the relation it bears to bodily awareness, offered an account of the structure and interaction of its basic sensible qualities, and considered how tactual awareness can stretch out beyond the limits of our body to objects and features located in the distal environment. In...


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pp. 189-202


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pp. 203-214


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pp. 215-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780262318471
E-ISBN-10: 0262318474
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262019965

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013