Special Relativity and the Time-Lag Argument

John Kardosh


The time-lag argument in the philosophy of perception is often used as an argument against the Direct Realist theory of perception. In short, it is usually argued that because it takes time for the light transmitted (emitted or reflected) from the object of perception to reach the perceiver, perception cannot be of present stages of objects; rather, it must be the case that in perception what we perceive are past, presently non-existent stages of objects. Some Direct Realists, such as George Pitcher (1971) accept the consequences of the time-lag argument but insist that for Direct Realism all that is necessary is that perception is of external physical objects; and nothing for the Direct Realist, Pitcher argues, hangs on perception being of existent stages of those objects. More recently, R.W. Houts (1980) has argued that Pitcher’s concession to the time-lag argument has unfavorable consequences for the Direct Realist. Houts claims that if we maintain a Pitcher-type response to the time-lag argument, then it is impossible for us to be spatially related to the objects we perceive. In this paper, I contend that R.W. Houts’ argument against Pitcher’s response is uninformed. I show that Houts fails to formulate his argument in accordance with the laws of special relativity (STR), and this renders his position implausible. I also display that the STR rule of the ‘relativity of simultaneity’ has similar consequences in the philosophy of perception to those that arise out of the time-lag argument. I argue that Pitcher’s response is the only response available to the Direct Realist grappling with the implications of STR.


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