The First Sense

The First Sense

A Philosophical Study of Human Touch

By Matthew Fulkerson

An empirically informed philosophical account of human touch as a single, unified sensory modality that plays a central role in perception.





An empirically informed philosophical account of human touch as a single, unified sensory modality that plays a central role in perception.

It is through touch that we are able to interact directly with the world; it is our primary conduit of both pleasure and pain. Touch may be our most immediate and powerful sense—“the first sense” because of the central role it plays in experience. In this book, Matthew Fulkerson proposes that human touch, despite its functional diversity, is a single, unified sensory modality. Fulkerson offers a philosophical account of touch, reflecting the interests, methods, and approach that define contemporary philosophy; but his argument is informed throughout by the insights and constraints of empirical work on touch. Human touch is a multidimensional object of investigation, Fulkerson writes, best served by using a variety of methods and approaches.

To defend his view of the unity of touch, Fulkerson describes and argues for a novel, unifying role for exploratory action in touch. He goes on to fill in the details of this unified, exploratory form of perception, offering philosophical accounts of tool use and distal touch, the representational structure of tangible properties, the spatial content of touch, and the role of pleasure in tactual experience.

Fulkerson's argument for the unique role played by exploratory action departs notably from traditional vision-centric philosophical approaches to perception, challenging the received view that action plays the same role in all sensory modalities. The robust philosophical account of touch he offers in The First Sense has significant implications for our general understanding of perception and perceptual experience.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262019965 240 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 2 figures


  • This is a really interesting book….what [Fulkerson] has to say about touch, both in itself and in relation to other sensory modalities, is generally very persuasive and well-supported by experimental and phenomenological evidence….Anyone interested in the philosophy of perception should take the time to read it.

    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews


  • This fascinating and original book exemplifies empirically informed philosophy at its best. Fulkerson has produced the most comprehensive philosophical study of touch to date. Anyone with an interest in touch, or in the senses more generally, ought to read it.

    Matthew Ratcliffe

    Department of Philosophy, Durham University

  • This first book-length study of touch is likely to become a new focal point in the literature. Matthew Fulkerson's views on the nature of tactual perception, tangible qualities, and distal touch are required reading for anyone interested in the philosophy of perception.

    Richard Gray

    Cardiff University

  • The First Sense is mandatory reading for anybody whose interest in perception goes beyond vision. It covers major issues in contemporary philosophy of perception and, in particular, the relationships between touch and multimodality, action, bodily awareness, and emotion.

    Frederique de Vignemont

    Institut Jean Nicod, Paris

  • Matthew Fulkerson's The First Sense is an engaging, empirically informed, philosophical account of touch. Fulkerson successfully illuminates both the diversity and unity of touch. The book will reward careful attention and announces the entry of a strong voice among philosophers producing detailed accounts of the non-visual senses.

    Wayne Wu

    Associate Professor, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University