Ensemble representation and the contents of visual experience

Tim Bayne, Tom McClelland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The on-going debate over the ‘admissible contents of perceptual experience’ concerns the range of properties that human beings are directly acquainted with in perceptual experience. Regarding vision, it is relatively uncontroversial that the following properties can figure in the contents of visual experience: colour, shape, illumination, spatial relations, motion, and texture. The controversy begins when we ask whether any properties besides these figure in visual experience. We argue that ‘ensemble properties’ should be added to the list of visually admissible properties. Ensemble properties are features that belong to a set of perceptible objects as a whole as opposed to the individuals that constitute that set. They include such features as the mean size of an array of shapes or the average emotional expression of an array of faces. Recent work in vision science has yielded compelling evidence that the visual system routinely encodes such properties. We argue that epistemological considerations provide strong reasons to think that these properties figure in visual experience. Judgements about ensemble properties are immediately warranted by our perceptual experience, and the only plausible way that a perceptual experience could confer this warrant is if it confers awareness of ensemble properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)733-753
Number of pages21
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Contents of consciousness
  • Ensemble perception
  • High-level content
  • Perceptual warrant
  • Visual perception

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