What's That Smell?


  • Clare Batty

    1. University of Kentucky
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      Clare Batty has been Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky since 2007. She works primarily in the philosophy of mind. Her current research is in the philosophy of perception and focuses on olfactory experience. Forthcoming publications include “Scents and Sensibilia” (American Philosophical Quarterly) and “Olfactory Experience” (Blackwell Philosophy Compass).


In philosophical discussions of the secondary qualities, color has taken center stage. Smells, tastes, sounds, and feels have been treated, by and large, as mere accessories to colors. We are, as it is said, visual creatures. This, at least, has been the working assumption in the philosophy of perception and in those metaphysical discussions about the nature of the secondary qualities. The result has been a scarcity of work on the “other” secondary qualities. In this paper, I take smells and place them front and center. I ask: What are smells? For many philosophers, the view that colors can be explained in purely physicalistic terms has seemed very appealing. In the case of smells, this kind of nonrelational view has seemed much less appealing. Philosophers have been drawn to versions of relationalism—the view that the nature of smells must be explained (at least in part) in terms of the effects they have on perceivers. In this paper, I consider a contemporary argument for this view. I argue that nonrelationalist views of smell have little to fear from this argument.