Andreas Sandner - ‘Visible Odours? On the Issue of Visuocentricism in “Olfactory Austerity”

Season four of the BSP Podcast continues with a paper from Andreas Sandner, Department of Philosophy at University of Koblenz-Landau. The recording is taken from our 2019 Annual Conference, ‘The Theory and Practice of Phenomenology’.


ABSTRACT: It is widely held in analytic philosophy of mind and cognition that olfactory perception – first and foremost – represents odours if it represents anything at all. Despite some controversies on the very nature of those odours we encounter in olfactory perceptual experience, the vast majority of today’s philosophers hold that the intentional objects of olfactory perception are the odorous emanations of so-called source objects – ordinary concrete things. So, broadly speaking, most discussants account for some version of the principle of ‘olfactory austerity’: When we smell we perceive nothing but odours, and never do we (directly) smell particular objects. After depicting the main reasons for adopting such a view especially within a chiefly representationalist framework, I will examine one of the alleged benefits a bit more carefully. Namely I will address the anti-visuocentricism in austere theories of olfactory objects. It has been argued frequently that the view of olfactory austerity reveals our visuocentric biases and guides us to overcome them in theorising perception. In short, the idea goes pretty much as follows: Those who think that we could smell ordinary objects in olfactory experience just like we can see these objects in visual experience simply disregard the missing aspects of objecthood in what is really smelled there, particularly the missing spatial structure. To attribute such aspects to pure olfactory experience then would mean to fall for the supremacy of vision and to only infer the particular source object by the smelled odour from memory or recollection. The main goal of my talk will come down to contrasting the so reproached visuocentricism of a source-object-theory of olfactory objects with the visuocentricism within the view of olfactory austerity itself, as it is still at work at the very core of this approach in that the criteria of ‘objecthood’ are obviously stipulated by means of the ordinary objects in visual perception. What is at stake in this comparison is to extrapolate visuocentricism as a crucial structure of perceptual consciousness – at least for the sighted – and hence accounting for the supremacy of vision as a fact instead of a fallacious bias.


BIO: From 2007 to 2015 I studied philosophy, sociology and communication science at the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena. I received a bachelor's degree in 2011 with a thesis on the theory of causes in Plato's Phaedo and a master's degree in 2015 with a thesis on Kant's criticism of Berkeley's immaterialism. Since 2016 I have been a research assistant at the Institute of Philosophy in Landau where I hold seminars and am writing a dissertation on the phenomenology of olfactory perception. In this context, I also organized a small international conference on perception and the senses in continental and analytic philosophy last year.


The ‘British Society for Phenomenology Annual Conference 2019 – the Theory and Practice of Phenomenology’ was held at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester, UK, 5 – 7 September, 2019:


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