"The main thing I'm interested in understanding is the nature of our sense-perceptual relationship to the world. We see, hear, taste, touch and smell and the question is, what exactly is it that we are doing when we are doing these things?"

Birds sing. Babies babble. Jazz musicians riff and wail.

Anyone reading those words can imagine the sounds described – but what exactly do we mean by "sound?" Physics students learn that sound is a wave and psychology students study how the tympanic membrane translates sound waves into neural impulses. Jason Leddington, an assistant professor of philosophy, brings a philosophical perspective to the understanding of sound. He argues that sounds are properties of events.

"For instance, when you clap your hands, an event occurs and it has a certain property," he said. "That property is the sound that it makes. This strikes me as a very intuitively plausible and straightforward view of what sounds are: properties of events."

As plausible as Leddington's view is, he said it has been overlooked by philosophers. He explored and developed arguments for the view over the summer as a research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.

The nature of sound is one part of Leddington's research into our perceptual engagement with the world.

"The main thing I'm interested in understanding is the nature of our sense-perceptual relationship to the world," Leddington said. "We see, hear, taste, touch and smell and the question is, what exactly is it that we are doing when we are doing these things?"

While empirical study can tell a lot about sensation and perception, Leddington argues that a philosophical understanding contributes a critical perspective. Moreover, when it comes to understanding the nature of sense-perception, the stakes are high.

"Sense-perception is our primary means of cognitive access to the world around us, the primary means by which we come to know thing about objects around us, about events around us, about each other," he said. "In this sense, if we fail to understand sense-perception, if we get it wrong, then what we fail to understand is what kinds of beings we are, our own nature and our place within and relation to the world in which we live."

Posted Sept. 22, 2008

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