Hearing and hallucinating silence

Ian Phillips*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

10 Citations (Scopus)


Tradition has it that although we experience darkness, we can neither hear nor hallucinate silence. At most, we hear that it is silent, in virtue of lacking auditory experience. This cognitive view is at odds with our ordinary thought and talk. Yet it is not easy to vouchsafe the perception of silence: Sorensen’s recent account entails the implausible claim that the permanently and profoundly deaf are perpetually hallucinating silence. To better defend the view that we can genuinely hear and hallucinate silence, we must reject the austere picture of conscious experience that underpins the cognitive theory. According to that picture, conscious experience is a simple relation between subjects and objects. In the absence of an object, there is no relation, and so no experience. By enriching this picture, we can find room for the experience of silence. I explore this idea in two phases. First, I defend the thought that we can hear and hallucinate certain forms of silence, such as pauses, in virtue of experiencing contrastive sounds. Second, I draw on Moore’s analysis of sensation to suggest that simply experiencing silence is a special form of objectless consciousness. I offer two ways of fleshing out this idea. According to the first, auditory experience possesses a temporal field within which the absence of sounds can be perceived. According to the second, purely Moorean account, it is our capacity to listen in the absence of sounds that underlies the phenomenon of experiencing silence.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHallucination
Subtitle of host publicationPhilosophy and Psychology
PublisherMIT Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9780262315050
ISBN (Print)9780262019200
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Psychology(all)


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