This article considers the following question: What is the best foundation for a theory of presence? After establishing criteria for a philosophy of presence, the article applies these criteria to a set of articles on the philosophy of presence by Sheridan (1999), Mantovani and Riva (1999), and others. Although we share common goals, it is suggested that these articles advance a philosophy of presence that may be ill suited to support theory and research on presence.
Several arguments are advanced to support this judgment. J. J. Gibson's work may be misinterpreted to accommodate relativistic models of physical reality. By directly referencing Gibson's writings, especially his concepts of ecological invariants, the article details how Gibson's work could not be used to support cultural, relativistic, or “engineering” arguments about “different realities”, perceptual or otherwise, without significant modification of Gibson's work and violation of his apparent intent.
Another source of problems for a philosophy of presence is traced. There appears to be a terminological and theoretical confusion about the difference between epistemology and ontology. This article proposes that ontological debates about divine presence represented by these authors may be inappropriate or sterile for three reasons: (1) although perceptual presence (that is, phenomenal states of distal attribution) and “divine presence” (that is, immanence of God) share the term presence, they are fundamentally different philosophical problems; (2) the concept of divine presence and Sheridan's associated “estimation paradigm” is framed at such a level of generality to be incapable of supporting specific, actionable, and researchable theories about perceptual presence; and (3) any theory about “virtual reality”, a technology with a misleading oxymoronic term, provides no more ontological insight into reality than does theory and research on any other communication medium such as photography, film, or sound recording.
Finally, the article proposes a remedy. The philosophy of presence might be most fruitfully approached via the philosophy of mind. Specifically, it is suggested that presence opens the door to related problems in the science of human consciousness, notably the mind-body problem. The article also suggests that the problem of presence bridges the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of technology on the issue of mediated embodiment, that is, the fuzzy boundary between the body and technological extensions of the body.