Materialism and the fallibility of sense perception

Nate asked:

The fundamental objection to materialism is that sense perception is unreliable, so our empirical knowledge of the world is faulty. true or false?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

Your premise is false, because you adopt a false perspective on the matter. Sense perception is, on the contrary, highly efficient. If it were not the case, you would not be alive to ask the question. The fact that hallucinations are possible does not negate it. Being human means making mistakes. We only realise when we make mistakes that there are such things as mistakes. Otherwise humans would be gods.

So our knowledge of the empirical world is perfectly reliable. It is survival knowledge. It does not necessarily mean that the world is exactly as we perceive it. But once you familiarise yourself with the miracle of sense perception, you will clap your hands in wonder, instead of making such feeble assumptions as your question presupposes. For example, our senses, in addition to being very competent, also produce phenomena in our mind which enable us to make good images of our empirical surroundings which are meaningful. There are certain types of radiation that are not coloured; but your senses and mind collude in making you see colours to help your orientation.

So it would much better for you to learn some astonishment at the richness of the empirical world which, for example, a deaf and blind person cannot experience. Try imagining what kind of a life you would have living in permanent silence and blackness!


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