Perceiving Persistence Conditions
Evan Wellchance

part of: 26th Annual Oxford Graduate Philosophy Conference
November 13, 2022, 10:30am - 11:30am
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Lecture Room
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford OX2 6GG
United Kingdom

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  • Aristotelian Society
  • Royal Institute of Philosophy
  • Analysis Trust
  • Faculty of Philosophy


Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University
Oxford University

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I maintain that we are justified in believing that rocks can survive motion because we perceive  rocks in motion. So I think that perceptual experience can justify claims about the persistence  conditions of ordinary objects. While this thesis might seem obvious, it is incompatible with almost  every way that contemporary metaphysicians justify persistence claims; most metaphysicians  justify persistence claims by appealing to some mix of conceptual or linguistic analysis. Call this  approach to the justification of persistence claims 'conceptualism'. I argue that we should abandon  conceptualism. In its stead, I defend a view – 'perceptualism' – according to which perception  justifies persistence claims about objects. 

Amie Thomasson defends the most well-developed variant of conceptualism. On her view,  persistence claims like “Rocks can survive motion” are true in virtue of the fact that the term ‘rock’  comes pre-packaged with certain rules of use. These rules of use guarantee that expressions like  ‘that rock’ are appropriately applied before and after motion. This allows us to justifiably claim  “Rocks can survive motion”. But consider incars, objects that are essentially co-located with cars  inside of garages. Thomasson’s view entails that claims like “There are incars” and “Incars cannot  survive leaving garages” are true. This is counter-intuitive, for we do not see incars. So we should  be on the lookout for another justificatory story. 

I defend a justificatory story for persistence claims that accords perception a central role. Around  rocks in motion, we form beliefs like . This belief is formed on the basis of a  perceptual link with a rock, and beliefs formed on the basis of a perceptual link are justified. So  the claim “That’s moving” is justified. And if “That’s moving” is justified, then so is “That  survives over the course of its motion”. Since the perceptual demonstrative in the belief is about a rock, the demonstrative ‘that’ in “That survives over the course of its motion”  refers to a rock. And if we know what rocks are, we can infer “That rock survives over the course  of its motion”. This immediately implies “Rocks can survive motion”. Therefore, “Rocks can  survive motion” is justified. 

This justificatory story does not secure justification for claims like “There are incars”, or “Incars  cannot survive leaving garages”. This is because we do not enter into perceptual links with incars.  As such, perception does not justify beliefs about incars. 

I close by highlighting three advantages that perceptualism displays over conceptualism. First,  perceptualism accounts for conceptualism's explanatory shortcomings. Second, perceptualism  secures an epistemic asymmetry between ordinary and extraordinary objects that conceptualism  cannot capture. Most imporantly, conceptualists justify persistence claims about cars in just the  same way as they justify persistence claims about incars. But this means that conceptualists fail to  register obvious epistemological differences between cars and incars. Finally, perceptualism  avoids deflationary views about persistence and ontology. I conclude that we should reject  conceptualism and endorse perceptualism.

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