Do we employ concepts in perception for every feature that we perceive? Discrimination between shades of color outruns memory -you can distinguish more shades than you can identify. But does that fact entail that you can experience a specific shade of red, without having a concept of that specific shade? These issues are sharpened by settling on what concepts are, and what it is to "employ" a concept in perception.
 In a recent issue of _EJAP_, Sean Kelly  defended the position that perceptual content is non-conceptual. More specifically, he claimed that John McDowell's view that concepts involved in perception can be understood as expressible through the use of demonstratives is ultimately untenable. In what follows, I want to look more closely at Kelly's position, as well as suggest possible responses one could make on McDowell's behalf.
According to John McDowell,<span class='Hi'></span> representational perceptual content is conceptual through and through.<span class='Hi'></span> This paper criticizes this view by claiming that there is a certain kind of representational and non-conceptual perceptual content that is sensitive to bodily skills.<span class='Hi'></span> After a brief introduction to McDowell's position,<span class='Hi'></span> Merleau-Ponty's notion of body schema and Gibson's notion of affordance are presented.<span class='Hi'></span> It is argued that affordances are constitutive of representational perceptual content,<span class='Hi'></span> and that at least some affordances,<span class='Hi'></span> the (...) so-called <span class='Hi'></span>'conditional affordances'<span class='Hi'></span>, are essentially related to the body schema.<span class='Hi'></span> This means that the perceptual content depends upon the nature of the body schema.<span class='Hi'></span> Since the body schema does not pertain to the domain that our conceptual faculties operate upon,<span class='Hi'></span> it is argued that this kind of perceptual content cannot be conceptual.<span class='Hi'></span> At least some of that content is representational,<span class='Hi'></span> yet it cannot feature as non-demonstrative conceptual content.<span class='Hi'></span> It is argued that if it features as demonstrative conceptual content,<span class='Hi'></span> it has to be captured by private concepts.<span class='Hi'></span> Since McDowell's theory does not allow for the existence of a private language,<span class='Hi'></span> it is concluded that at least some representational perceptual content is non-conceptual. (shrink)
Philosophers debate whether all, some or none of the represcntational content of our sensory experience is conccptual, but the technical term "concept" has different uses. It is commonly linked more or less closely with the notions of judgdment and reasoning, but that leaves open the possibility that these terms share a systematic ambiguity or indeterminacy. Donald Davidson, however, holds an unequivocal and consistent, if paradoxical view that there are strictly speaking no psychological states with representational or intentional content except the (...) propositional attitudes of language users, since thc source or fundamental bearer of intentionality is the employed sentence. Accordingly he claims that what has content in ordinary sense experience is not sensation, but propositional belief caused, but not justified, by sensation. John McDowell, sharing some ofDavidson's premises,holds a less paradoxical, but (l will argue) equivocal and incoherent view that post-infantile human sensory expcrience must have content in so far as it is what grounds perceptual belief but that this content is itself conceptual or propositional, dependent on language and culture. Reasons are givcn in the present article for rejecting both views, and their common premises. It is argued that perceptual or sensory states have intentional content which is no more conceptual or propositional than the world is. Recognition that perceptual content and conceptual content are, in a certain unsurprising way incommensurable allows for a more realistic understanding of the relationship between Language and the world as we experience it. (shrink)
Proponents of non-conceptual content have recruited it for various philosophical jobs. Some epistemologists have suggested that it may play the role of “the given” that Sellars is supposed to have exorcised from philosophy. Some philosophers of mind (e.g., Dretske) have suggested that it plays an important role in the project of naturalizing semantics as a kind of halfway between merely information bearing and possessing conceptual content. Here I will focus on a recent proposal by Jerry Fodor. In a recent paper (...) he characterizes non-conceptual content in a particular way and argues that it is plausible that it plays an explanatory role in accounting for certain auditory and visual phenomena. So he thinks that there is reason to believe that there is non-conceptual content. On the other hand, Fodor thinks that non-conceptual content has a limited role. It occurs only in the very early stages of perceptual processing prior to conscious awareness. My paper is examines Fodor’s characterization of non-conceptual content and his claims for its explanatory importance. I also discuss if Fodor has made a case for limiting non-conceptual content to non-conscious, sub-personal mental states. (shrink)
John McDowell rejects the idea that non-conceptual content can rationally justify empirical claims—a task for which it is ill-fitted by its non-conceptual nature. This paper considers three possible objections to his views: he cannot distinguish empty conception from the perceptual experience of an object; perceptual discrimination outstrips the capacity of concepts to keep pace; and experience of the empirical world is more extensive than the conceptual focusing within it. While endorsing McDowell’s rejection of what he means by non-conceptual content, and (...) appreciating his insight into the experiential synthesis of intuition and conception (in particular, its role in grasping objects), I will argue that Edmund Husserl presents an even more comprehensive account of perceptual experience that explains how we experience the contribution of receptivity and sensibility and how they cooperate in perceptual discrimination. Further, it reveals “horizons”—a unique kind of contents, surplus content (rather than independent non-conceptual content)—beyond the synthesis of intuitive and conceptual contents through which objects are grasped. Such horizons play a constitutive role, making experience with its conceptual dimensions and justificatory potential possible; they in no way function like a bare given that is to fulfill some independent justificatory role. Whereas McDowell focuses on how experience does not take place in isolation from the exercise of conceptual capacities, Husserl complements his view by situating experience in a more encompassing whole and by elucidating the surplus-horizons that exceed the conceptual content of experience; play an inseparable, constitutive role within it; and indicate the limits of conceptual comprehension. (shrink)
Abstract Both parties in the active philosophical debate concerning the conceptual character of perception trace their roots back to Kant's account of sensible intuition in the Critique of Pure Reason. This striking fact can be attributed to Kant's tendency both to assert and to deny the involvement of our conceptual capacities in sensible intuition. He appears to waver between these two positions in different passages, and can thus seem thoroughly confused on this issue. But this is not, in fact, the (...) case, for, as I will argue, the appearance of contradiction in his account stems from the failure of some commentators to pay sufficient attention to Kant's developmental approach to philosophy. Although he begins by asserting the independence of intuition, Kant proceeds from this nonconceptualist starting point to reveal a deeper connection between intuitions and concepts. On this reading, Kant's seemingly conflicting claims are actually the result of a careful and deliberate strategy for gradually convincing his readers of the conceptual nature of perception. (shrink)
According to the Generality Constraint, mental states with conceptual content must be capable of recombining in certain systematic ways. Drawing on empirical evidence from cognitive science, I argue that so-called analogue magnitude states violate this recombinability condition and thus have nonconceptual content. I further argue that this result has two significant consequences: it demonstrates that nonconceptual content seeps beyond perception and infiltrates cognition; and it shows that whether mental states have nonconceptual content is largely an empirical matter determined by the (...) structure of the neural representations underlying them. (shrink)
Conceptualism is the thesis that, for any perceptual experience E, (i) E has a Fregean proposition as its content and (ii) a subject of E must possess a concept for each item represented by E. We advance a framework within which conceptualism may be defended against its most serious objections (e.g., Richard Heck's argument from nonveridical experience). The framework is of independent interest for the philosophy of mind and epistemology given its implications for debates regarding transparency, relationalism and representationalism, demonstrative (...) thought, phenomenal character, and the speckled hen objection to modest foundationalism. (shrink)
Hubert Dreyfus has recently invoked the work of Maurice Merleau?Ponty in criticizing the ?Myth of the Mental?. In criticizing that supposed myth, Dreyfus argues for a kind of foundationalism that takes embodied coping to be a self?sufficient layer of human experience that supports our ?higher? mental activities. In turn, Merleau?Ponty?s phenomenology is found, in Dreyfus?s recent writings, to corroborate this foundationalism. While Merleau?Ponty would agree with many of Dreyfus?s points, this paper argues that he would not, in fact, agree with (...) the foundationalism. Furthermore, when understood in the right way, Merleau?Ponty?s early phenomenology supports the idea, opposed to Dreyfus?s foundationalism, that conceptual activities are tied up with our coping activities. The paper ends by considering the upshot of this reading of Merleau?Ponty?s work for Dreyfus?s phenomenology. (shrink)
This commentary discusses Pylyshyn's model of perceptual processing in the light of the philosophical distinction between the conceptual and the nonconceptual content of perception. Pylyshyn's processing distinction maps onto an important distinction in the phenomenology of visual perception.
 Recent philosophy of mind and epistemology has seen an important and influential trend towards accounting for at least some features of experiences in content-involving terms. It is a contested point whether ascribing content to experiences can account for all the intrinsic properties of experiences, but on many theories of experiences there are close links between the ascription of content and the ways in which experiences are ascribed and typed. The issues here have both epistemological and psychological dimensions. On the (...) one hand, a theory of experiential content has a fundamental role in explaining how knowledge of the world can be acquired through experience. On the other hand, there are important psychological questions about the phenomenology of experiences and the conditions under which content ascriptions are made. (shrink)
I take it for granted that sense experiential states provide reasons for empirical beliefs; indeed this claim forms the first premise of my central argument for (CC). 1 The subsequent stages of the argument are intended to establish that a person has such a reason for believing something about the way things are in the world around him only if he is in some mental state or other with a conceptual content: a conceptual state. Thus, given that sense experiential states (...) do provide reasons for empirical beliefs, they must have conceptual content. (shrink)
The notion of nonconceptual content in Dienes & Perner's theory is examined. A subject may be in a state with nonconceptual content without having the concepts that would be used to describe the state. Nonconceptual content does not seem to be a clear-cut case of either implicit or explicit knowledge. It underlies a kind of practical knowledge, which is not reducible to procedural knowledge, but is accessible to the subject and under voluntary control.
I start out by reviewing the semantics of ?seem?. As ?seem? is a subject-raising verb, ?it seems? can be treated as a sentential operator. I look at the semantic and logical properties of ?it seems?. I argue that ?it seems? is a hyperintensional and contextually flexible operator. The operator distributes over conjunction but not over disjunction, conditionals or semantic entailments. I further argue that ?it seems? does not commute with negation and does not agglomerate with conjunction. I then show that (...) the mental states expressed by perceptual uses of ?seem? have non-conceptual, yet perspectival contents. In the final part of the paper I argue that while the content of the mental states expressed by perceptual uses of ?seem? are non-conceptual, having a mental state of this type requires possessing conceptual abilities corresponding to what the mental state represents. (shrink)
Perceptual experiences provide an important source of information about the world. It is clear that having the capacity of undergoing such experiences yields an evolutionary advantage. But why should humans have developed not only the ability of simply seeing, but also of seeing that something is thus and so? In this paper, I explore the significance of distinguishing perception from conception for the development of the kind of minds that creatures such as humans typically have. As will become clear, it (...) is crucial to pay careful attention to the different kinds of information that are involved in perceiving and conceiving (including the way such information is gathered and transmitted). By identifying such kinds of information and the role they play, we can then understand an important feature of why creatures like us have the kind of consciousness and mental processes we do. (shrink)
Perceptual experiences justify beliefs—that much seems obvious. As Brewer puts it, “sense experiential states provide reasons for empirical beliefs” (this volume, xx). In Mind and World McDowell argues that we can get from this apparent platitude to the controversial claim that perceptual experiences have conceptual content: [W]e can coherently credit experiences with rational relations to judgement and belief, but only if we take it that spontaneity is already implicated in receptivity; that is, only if we take it that experiences have (...) conceptual content. (1994, 162) Brewer agrees. Their view is sometimes called conceptualism; nonconceptualism is the rival position, that experiences have nonconceptual content. One initial obstacle is understanding what the issue is. What is conceptual content, and how is it different from nonconceptual content? Section 1 of this paper explains two versions of each of the rival positions: state (non)conceptualism and content (non)conceptualism; the latter pair is the locus of the relevant dispute. Two prominent arguments for content nonconceptualism—the richness argument and the continuity argument—both fail (section 2). McDowell’s and Brewer’s epistemological defenses of content conceptualism are also faulty (section 3). Section 4 gives a more simple-minded case for conceptualism; finally, some reasons are given for rejecting the claim—on one natural interpretation—that experiences justify beliefs. (shrink)
In this paper I aim to situate the Naiyayika theory of perception in contemporary philosophy of mind. Following the ancients, I suggest we reconsider the taxonomy and the assumed interactions between kinds of perceptual content. This reclassification will lead us to reconsider some aspects of the Cartesian conception of mind that continue to influence the work of contemporary theorists. I focus attention on different accounts of sensory perception favoured by ancient Indian Naiyayika philosophers and Descartes as a starting point for (...) reconsidering contemporary accounts of perceptual content.I show that Descartes' account of sensory perception provides the impetus for a causal-explanatory account of conceptual content in terms of its non-conceptual counterpart. Though contemporary philosophers claim to have cast off their Cartesian heritage, my discussion reveals that some of its tenets continue to influence the work of contemporary philosophers. I offer reasons for rejecting yet another Cartesian influence and recommend that we follow the Nyaya taxonomy of perceptual states. (shrink)
Not all research in machine consciousness aims to instantiate phenomenal states in artefacts. For example, one can use artefacts that do not themselves have phenomenal states, merely to simulate or model organisms that do. Nevertheless, one might refer to all of these pursuits -- instantiating, simulating or modelling phenomenal states in an artefact -- as 'synthetic phenomenality'. But there is another way in which artificial agents (be they simulated or real) may play a crucial role in understanding or creating consciousness: (...) 'synthetic phenomenology'. Explanations involving specific experiential events require a means of specifying the contents of experience; not all of them can be specified linguistically. One alternative, at least for the case of visual experience, is to use depictions that either evoke or refer to the content of the experience. Practical considerations concerning the generation and integration of such depictions argue in favour of a synthetic approach: the generation of depictions through the use of an embodied, perceiving and acting agent, either virtual or real. Synthetic phenomenology, then, is the attempt to use the states, interactions and capacities of an artificial agent for the purpose of specifying the contents of conscious experience. This paper takes the first steps toward seeing how one might use a robot to specify the non- conceptual content of the visual experience of an (hypothetical) organism that the robot models. (shrink)
The development and deployment of the notion of pre-objective or nonconceptual content for the purposes of intentional explanation of requires assistance from a practical and theoretical understanding of computational/robotic systems acting in real-time and real-space. In particular, the usual "that"-clause specification of content will not work for non-conceptual contents; some other means of specification is required, means that make use of the fact that contents are aspects of embodied and embedded systems. That is, the specification of non-conceptual content should use (...) concepts and insights gained from android design and android epistemology. (shrink)
According to Conceptualists like John McDowell and Bill Brewer, the representational content of perceptual experiences is wholly conceptual. One of the main!and only!arguments they advance for this claim has to do with the epistemological role of perceptual experiences. I focus on Bill Brewers "1999# version of the argument. I show why Brewer fails to satisfactorily motivate the premises of his argument, and suggest that opponents of Conceptualism could accept these premises without thereby endorsing the conclusion. Finally, I consider whether the (...) conclusion really supports Conceptualism. (shrink)
Conceptualist accounts of the representational content of perceptual experiences have it that a subject _S_ can experience no object, property, relation, etc., unless _S_ "i# possesses and "ii# exercises concepts for such object, property, or relation. Perceptual experiences, on such a view, represent the world in a way that is conceptual.
A recent debate in Kant scholarship concerns the role of concepts in Kant’s theory of perception. Roughly, proponents of a "conceptualist" interpretation argue that for Kant, the possession of concepts is a prior condition for perception, while "nonconceptualist" interpreters deny this. The debate has two parts. One part concerns whether possessing empirical concepts is a prior condition for having empirical intuitions. A second part concerns whether Kant allows empirical intuitions without a priori concepts. Outside of Kant interpretation, the contemporary debate (...) about Conceptualism concerns whether perception requires empirical concepts. But, as I argue, the debate about whether Kant allows intuitions without empirical concepts does not show whether Kant is a conceptualist. Even if Kant allows intuitions without empirical concepts, it could still be a priori concepts are required. While the debate could show that Kant is a conceptualist, I argue it does not. Finally, I sketch a novel way that the conceptualist interpreter might win the debate: roughly, by arguing that possessing a priori concepts is a prior condition for having appearances. (shrink)
We seem perfectly able to perceive fine-grained shades of colour even without possessing precise concepts for them. The same might be said of shapes. I argue that this is in fact not the case. A subject can perceive a colour or shape only if she possesses a concept of that type of colour or shape. I provide new justification for this thesis, and do not rely on demonstrative concepts such as THIS SHADE or THAT SHAPE, a move first suggested by (...) John McDowell, but rejected by Christopher Peacocke and Richard Heck among others.1. (shrink)
Some have claimed that people with very different beliefs literally see the world differently. Thus Thomas Kuhn: ‘what a man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual—conceptual experience has taught him to see’ (Kuhn 1970, p. ll3). This view — call it ‘Perceptual Relativism’ — entails that a scientist and a child may look at a cathode ray tube and, in a sense, the first will see it while the second won’t. The (...) claim is not, of course, that the child’s experience is ‘empty’; but that, unlike the scientist, it does not see the tube as a cathode ray tube. One way of supporting this claim is to say that one cannot see something as an F unless one has the concept F. Since the child plainly lacks the concept of a cathode ray tube, it cannot see it as a cathode ray tube. Although Perceptual Relativism is hard to believe, this supporting suggestion is not so implausible. After all, when we see (and more generally, perceive) the world, the world is presented to us in a particular way; so how can we see it as being that way unless we have some idea or conception of the way it is presented? We need not be committed to a representative theory of perception to think that perceptions in some sense represent the world. We can express this by saying that perceptions have content. Now it is a commonplace that the contents of beliefs and the other propositional attitudes involve concepts. The belief that this thing is a cathode ray tube involves, in some sense, the concept cathode ray tube. So the line of thought behind Perceptual Relativism may be expressed thus: seeing an F as an F is a state with content. (shrink)
Though it enjoys widespread support, the claim that perceptual experiences possess nonconceptual content has been vigorously disputed in the recent literature by those who argue that the content of perceptual experience must be conceptual content. Nonconceptualism and conceptualism are often assumed to be well-defined theoretical approaches that each constitute unitary claims about the contents of experience. In this paper I try to show that this implicit assumption is mistaken, and what consequences this has for the debate about perceptual experience. I (...) distinguish between two different ways that nonconceptualist (and conceptualist) proposals about perceptual content can be understood: as claims about the constituents that compose perceptual contents or as claims about whether a subject. (shrink)