The Phenomenology of Person Perception

Recent discussions of social cognition in philosophy of mind and cognitive science have focused on the role of perception in facilitating social understanding. Some theorists, drawing upon phenomenological philosophy, argue that perception is our primary mechanism for understanding others. Call this the “direct perception” (DP) approach to social cognition. DP rests on the claim that, in most circumstances, we have direct perceptual contact with another person’s thoughts, emotions, intentions, etc., within their expressive behavior. DP proponents often frame their view as an alternative to Theory of Mind (ToM) explanations in philosophy and cognitive science. ToM explanations appeal to extra-perceptual mechanisms like theoretical inference and/or simulation to explain how we access another’s mental life and interpret and predict their behavior. From the perspective of DP, however, these extra-perceptual mechanisms are by and large unnecessary. Perception alone is generally “smart” (Gallagher 2008) enough to allow us to get on smoothly with others
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Shannon Spaulding (2015). On Direct Social Perception. Consciousness and Cognition 36:472-482.

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