Image, Illusion, and Understanding

  • Dam Ziska, Jens (PI)

Project Details


It is often said that with the advent of photography and other modern means of pictorial representation, we now live in an age shaped by images more so than words. This development can seem at once forbidding and promising. On the one hand, critical theorists have associated the ascent of images with a society of voyeurism, surveillance, mass deception, consumerism, and inauthenticity. On the other hand, philosophers of science have long argued that insights gained from novel ways of picturing the world often play a key role in the advancement of science.

It would seem, therefore, that to understand both some of the pitfalls of modern society as well as some of its means of progress, we would do well to reach for a deeper understanding of pictures and the potential use to which they may be put. Some even talk of a pictorial turn which the human sciences must take if they are to come to grips with this reality. Yet, anyone who tries to come to a deeper appreciation of pictures soon comes to realise that it is not at all clear what it is for some marks on a surface to depict an object. As one prominent theorist writes:

we still do not know exactly what pictures are, what their relation to language is, how they operate on observers and on the world, how their history is to be understood, and what is to be done with or about them.

My project will provide the resources for answering these questions in a way which is sensitive to the misgivings which many have about a pictorially mediated society while also explaining how pictures can be sources of cognitive value. I shall do so by: (i) developing a novel norm-relative account of pictorial representation which bridges the seeming inconsistencies between contemporary theories of depiction; (ii) use this account to show that there is a sense in which pictures are inherently illusory even though they frequently purport to present the world as it is; and (iii) offset this worry by explaining how pictures can help us understand the world even though they cannot sustain a wholly truthful reflection of the world.
Effective start/end date1/07/2030/06/23


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