Explaining depiction : recent debates in the philosophy of pictorial representation

  • Chi Kei, Solly LEUNG

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


This thesis begins with a succinct survey of theories of depiction and then turns to two highly influential contemporary philosophical accounts, namely, the aspect-recognition theory proposed by Dominic McIver Lopes, and Robert Hopkins’s experienced resemblance theory. The latter two theories of pictorial representation are presented in detail before objections to both accounts are presented and assessed.

One of the central contentions of the thesis is that the aspect-recognition theory succumbs to a number of serious objections. First of all, this account rests upon a philosophically problematic notion of semantic information and consequently fails to account adequately for the possibility of misrepresentation. Arguably the theory entails that all pictures are misrepresentational. It is also argued that Lopes’s claim that all pictures are belief-independent is unsound. Criticisms of Hopkins’s account of depiction developed in the thesis focus on problems raised by photographic depiction as well as ways in which the ambiguity of the notion of ‘experienced resemblance’ blurs the distinction between misrepresentation and indeterminacy of outline shape. It is also contended that a notion that is fundamental to Hopkins’s account--experienced resemblance in outline shape—leads to problems that are at least as serious as those it would appear to solve. The thesis concludes with a brief assessment of the state of the art of philosophical accounts of depiction. While progress has been made, especially with regard to the clarification of key questions, we still do not have anything like a comprehensive final theory of depiction.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Philosophy
SupervisorPaisley Nathan LIVINGSTON (Supervisor) & Anne Mette HJORT (Supervisor)

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