Sense and Sensibility: Empirical and Philosophical Investigations on the Five Senses

January 17, 2013 - January 18, 2013
Research Centre in Experimental and Applied Epistemology, San Raffaele University


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Clotilde Calabi
State University of Milan
Maurizio Ferraris
University of Turin
Vittorio Gallese
Università degli studi di Parma
Daniela Perani
San Raffaele University
Elisabetta Sacchi
San Raffaele University
Barry Smith
Birkbeck College, University of London
Claudio de’ Sperati
San Raffaele University

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As Erwin Straus claimed in The Primary World of Senses “ sensory fields seem to have a kind of passionate sympathy for everything morphic; they are always ready to take shape”. Unfortunately, his attempted “vindication of sensory experience” (as the subtitle of his book says) is yet to be done. To promote a thorough exploration of the world of senses and sensory experiences from both a phenomenological, a cognitive, and a neurobiological point of view is thus the aim of this conference. This conference will bring together researchers of different areas in order to stimulate a constructive interdisciplinary dialogue on the issue of the nature and individuation of the senses. The interaction between science and philosophy in this area is indeed crucial: on the one hand, science has informed the debate in various ways by providing data as well as scientific interpretations of them that any philosophical theory of experience has to address; on the other hand, also scientists need philosophical reflections in order to achieve a deeper understanding of the nature of our experience in all its different modalities. Some central questions in the debate are the following:

  • What is the nature of the senses?
  • How do the different senses operate? In particular, can each sense modality be understood in isolation from any other such modality or in order to fully understand each sense modality we need to understand how that modality relates to the others?
  • Are our perceptual experiences representational states? And in the positive case what and how do they represent? Moreover, what relation is there between the representational features of our sense experiences and their phenomenal qualities?
  • Apart from modal experiences are there also “crossmodal” ones and, in the positive case, how do they differ from the modal ones?
  • How to account for the multi-modality of sensory experience and how the information gathered from different sensory modalities is bound together in such a way as to account to the fact that our experiences are phenomenally unified?

Answers to these questions are of intrinsic interest, but they have a wider significance too, both from a philosophical and a scientific point of view. We shall investigate these issues by focusing on different sense modalities: visual, tactual, auditory, olfactory and gustatory. Particular attention, in the field of human auditory experience, will be given to the musical experience which will be investigated from both a phenomenological and a neurological perspective (according to the “music and the brain” research project pursued in neuropsychology).

Conference programme:

January 17th:

10.00 10.30 MICHELE DI FRANCESCO (Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, San Raffaele University), ROBERTA DE MONTICELLI (San Raffaele University)

10.30 11.30 BARRY SMITH (University of London): Matters of Taste and Tasting

11.30 11.45 Coffee Break

11.45 12.25 ROBERTA LOCATELLI (University Paris 1): In Defence of Phenomenal Disjunctivism: An Elucidation

12.25 13.05 ALBERTO VOLTOLINI (University of Turin): The Mark of the Mental

14.30 15.30 MAURIZIO FERRARIS (University of Turin): Why Does Perception Matter

15.30 16.30 DANIELA PERANI (San Raffaele University): Brain, Music and Emotions

16.30 16.45 Coffee Break

16.45 17.25 SARAH SONGHORIAN (San Raffaele University): How Do We Understand Others? Empathy and the Theory of Mind as Two Different, but Cooperative, Mechanism for Sensibility

17.25 18.05 ARIANNA UGGÉ (San Raffaele University): Representationalism and Ambiguous Figures

18.05 18.45 FRANCESCA FORLÉ (San Raffaele University): What we See Depends on How we Move. The Embodied Roots of Visual Perception

January 18th:

9.30 10.30 VITTORIO GALLESE (University of Parma): Embodied Simulation and Touch: The Sense of Touch in Social Cognition

10.30 11.30 CLAUDIO DE’ SPERATI and REGINA GREGORI GRGIC (San Raffaele University): Psychophysics Phenomenologized? Sensation and Decision in Visual Motion Perception

11.30 11.45 Coffee Break

11.45 12.25 EDOARDO FUGALI (University of Messina): The Role of Tactility in the Constitution of Embodied Experience

12.25 13.05 ALBERTO GUALANDI (University of Bologna): “Sensing Voices”. A Theoretical Comparison between the Aesthesiological Approach to Schizophrenia and Some Contemporary Phenomenological and Neuropsychiatric Models

14.30 15.30 CLOTILDE CALABI (Milan State University): Amodal Completion, Perception and Imagery

15.30 16.30 ELISABETTA SACCHI (San Raffaele University): The Content and the Phenomenology of Percentual Experience

16.30 16.45 Coffee Break

16.45 17.25 ANDREA ZHOK (Milan State University): On the Reality of Percepts: Husserl and Gibson

17.25 18.05 SUSI FERRARELLO (Loyola University): Active and Passive Analysis of Practical Intentions within Husserl’s Phenomenology

18.05 Concluding Session

The conference is related to the third issue of the journal Phenomenology and Mind. Presentations accepted for the conference will be published in the journal.

Organized by the Research Unit “Person, social cognition and normativity” (Prin 2008), the Research Centre in Phenomenology and Sciences of the Person ( and the Research Centre in Experimental and Applied Epistemology at San Raffaele University (, Milan.

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