Reid’s Direct Realism and Visible Figure

Wilson, Keith A. (2013). ‘Reid’s Direct Realism and Visible Figure’. The Philosophical Quarterly, 63 (253): 783–803.


In his account of visual perception, Thomas Reid describes visible figure as both ‘real and external’ to the eye and as the ‘immediate object of sight’. These claims appear to conflict with Reid’s direct realism, since if the ‘immediate’ object of vision is also its direct object, then sight would be perceptually indirect due to the role of visible figure as a perceptual intermediary.

I argue that this apparent threat to Reid’s direct realism may be resolved by understanding visible figure as the set of geometrical properties that holds between an object’s visible surfaces and some particular perspective or point of view. On this relational interpretation of visible figure, and once an ambiguity over the use of the term ‘object’ is resolved, Reid’s account of vision is both epistemically and perceptually direct, as well as consistent with his account of the other senses and doctrine of signs.

Wilson 2013 - Direct Realism and Visible Figure.pdf