Depiction is the form of representation distinctive of figurative paintings, drawings, and photographs. Accounts of depiction attempt to specify the relation something must bear to an object in order to depict it. Resemblance accounts hold that the notion of resemblance is necessary to the specification of this relation. Several difficulties with such analyses have led many philosophers to reject the possibility of an adequate resemblance account of depiction. This essay outlines these difficulties and argues that current resemblance accounts succumb to them. It then develops an alternative resemblance account, drawing on Grice's account of nonnatural meaning and its role in determining sentence meaning to argue that something depicts an object if it bears intention-based resemblances to the object that jointly capture its overall appearance. In addition to solving the metaphysical problem of what it is for something to depict an object, this account also sheds significant light on the epistemological issue of how we are able to work out that something depicts an object. This essay argues that our ability to work out that something depicts an object results from both our more general ability to identify intentions from the products of communicative behavior and our knowledge of stylistic conventions. This account avoids the difficulties that face rival attempts to analyze depiction in terms of resemblance. It also clarifies and explains the features that distinguish depictive from nondepictive representation.
Catharine Abell; Canny Resemblance. The Philosophical Review 1 April 2009; 118 (2): 183–223. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00318108-2008-041
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