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The Sensation of the Object: Critical Review of Bertrand Russell's Ideas

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Imagine you are in the room and you see the things over their like window, bed, table, flower vase and such other things and you have your own perception about all that things and maybe the person after you come in the room see all the same things but with a different point of view then you. To be more specific we choose a table in the room and to be seen visually it will look a hard table with brown color and when one will touch it feels smooth but hard at the same time and when one gone hit the table with the hand it will give the wooden sound. All people will agree with these properties of the table but when one will describe the table more precisely then the confusion arises. (Russell 5). As the table looks brown but it is not brown all over at some parts it reflects the light and at some parts the color is bright and if you change your position it will change the reflection so the color of the table, therefore, two people cannot see the same color at two different positions. There is a difference between what one person sees at a particular time and what is the reality of that thing. The thing is not only changed by color but the shape too as we change our location the shape of the table is also changing. (Russell 5). If we see it from far it will look small and from very closely it will look big and with naked eyes, it will look smooth but if we see it with a microscope the shape is not smooth but we see many up and down so, we cannot trust what we see even through a microscope or a naked eye. The touch of the table is also different and it will depend on how much force we applied when we touch the table thus the sound is also varying with a force we hit the table the sound will be as loud as the large force we hit the table. “Whenever we see a color, we have a sensation of the color, but the color itself is a sense-datum, not a sensation.” (Russell 7). It means what we see not the thing but the memory the thing that we had in our mind which reflects the thing that we see and makes the shape, color, and such other things of the thing to be visible.

“It is plain that if we are to know anything about the table, it must be by means of the sense-data -brown color, oblong shape, smoothness, etc. -- which we associate with the table; but, for the reasons which have been given, we cannot say that the table is the sense-data, or even that the sense-data are directly properties of the table.” (Russell 7). This is the definition given by the philosopher Bertrand Russell who do not believe in what we see but focuses on our sensation toward things. As in the whole above example of the table, one can define the sense data as a part of metaphysics which has different properties as it is private and cannot be shared publicly as one cannot show what he sees as they cannot share same position and the sense data is constantly changing with the change of time and place (Schmor). The sense data is indexed by spatial location & time and cannot by similar to anything in the universe. From all the above explanation one can understand why Russell perceive sense data and then infer the existence of physical objects because sense data can explain the nature of the object better as compared to the physical object. (Schmor). In the physical object we see the appearance of the object that one can see and feel through one point but the sense data is the reality behind the appearance of the object that will show the lawlike patterns of the objects. There is some principle that helps to relate the sense data to the physical object and also show and reflects the properties of the object by using the appearance and reality of the object related to sense data and physical object. The main reason behind posting sense data over the physical object by Russell is that because one cannot describe the physical objects and their properties without including the sense data to it as described in the example of the table as one cannot describe how the table look, what’s the color of the table at a different location, what sound it makes when it hits with different forces and such other things which is described with the use of sense data.

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To the opposite of Russell’s point of view Philips who was a professor of philosophy who claims that there is nothing known as sense data and he says that the only thing, that matter is the physical object as it is the only thing that will help to know about the thing. He supports his claim by giving an example of an apple. Philips says that “If I am imagining an apple, my experience makes no contact with a real apple, the very access which seems to be denied by me.” (Phillips 80). In these lines, he argues that one cannot imagine a thing or sense a thing without in real life seeing the thing. In my point of view, Philips is not clear about his viewpoint as he does not describe the theory properly. As in Russel’s theory he does not says that one can see the thing without actually seeing it through sense data but he says that sense data plays an important role to describe an object that we see and describing the properties of the object.

Russel's point of view toward sense data is reasonable as he gives examples to prove his point while Philip's point of view is not that clear as I cannot understand what he wants to say in his theory and most of the part is off the topic and he do not talk about the importance of the physical object and the reason not to believe in sense can describe the importance of sense data with the help of the example of illusion effect in the desert. When one person is traveling in the desert he got the illusion that there is water nearby and when he goes over that place there is no water but sand all around. If we apply Philip's theory then that cannot be possible as there is no physical object so that is not real but a fake thing but the person sees that water illusion because he is in the desert for long time and due to heat and because he is thirsty his mind made him to see that illusion of water which can be best described by Russell’s theory of sense data as in sense data the thing is not the only one which can be seen through naked eyes or can be touched but also all the things which can be felt through your mind and can observe through sensation.

In the last one can say that Phillip is unable to prove his theory with an example but on the other hand Russell not only describes his theory but also prove it with examples. I think one cannot describe things only by seeing them or touching them but all that thing is described by the sensation that we got from that object which we called as sense-data or one can say Russell’s sense theory.

Work Cited

  1. Schmor, Kent “The Problems of Philosophy” PHIL 205, Columbia College. Received Winter 2019. Course handout.
  2. Schmor, Kent “What Can I Know?” PHIL 205, Columbia College. Received Winter 2019. Course handout.
  3. Schmor, Kent. “Phil 205: Week 4: Metaphysics.” Philosophy 205, Feb. 8, 2020, Winter 2020, Columbia College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.
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The Sensation of the Object: Critical Review of Bertrand Russell’s Ideas. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“The Sensation of the Object: Critical Review of Bertrand Russell’s Ideas.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
The Sensation of the Object: Critical Review of Bertrand Russell’s Ideas. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
The Sensation of the Object: Critical Review of Bertrand Russell’s Ideas [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from:
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