In the past twenty years, issues about the relationship between perception and thought have largely been framed in terms of the question of whether the contents of perception are nonconceptual. I argue that this debate has rested on an ambiguity in `nonconceptualcontent' and some false presuppositions about what is required for concept possession. Once these are cleared away, I argue that none of the arguments which have been advanced about nonconceptualcontent do much to (...) threaten the natural view that perception and thought are relations to the same kind of content. (shrink)
This paper provides a general account of what nonconceptualcontent is, and some considerations in favor of its existence. After distinguishing between the contents and objects of mental states, as well as the properties of being conceptual and being conceptualized, I argue that what is phenomenologically distinctive about conceptual content is that it is not determined by, and does not determine, the intuitive character of an experience. That is, for virtually any experience E with intuitive character I, (...) there is no conceptual content C such that undergoing E entails that one is entertaining C, and that for virtually any conceptual content C, there is no experience E with intuitive character I such that entertaining C entails that one is undergoing E. I then argue that while perceptual states and conceptual states can, and in certain cases must, have the same objects, they have different sorts of intentional contents. Perception, I argue, has two kinds of mutually dependent contents that can be varied independently of any conceptual content: intuitive content and horizonal content. I finish by distinguishing between the manner in which intuitive contents “fulfill” conceptual contents in epistemic fulfillment, and the manner in which they fulfill empty horizonal contents in intuitive fulfillment. (shrink)
Self-consciousness can be defined as the ability to think 'I'-thoughts. Recently, it has been suggested that self-consciousness in this sense can (and should) be accounted for in terms of nonconceptual forms of self-representation. Here, I will argue that while theories of nonconceptual self-consciousness do provide us with important insights regarding the essential genetic and epistemic features of self-conscious thought, they can only deliver part of the full story that is required to understand the phenomenon of self-consciousness. I will (...) provide two arguments to this effect, drawing on insights from the philosophy of language and on structural differences between conceptual and nonconceptual forms of representation. Both arguments rest on the intuition that while self-consciousness requires explicit self-representation, nonconceptualcontent can at best provide implicit self-related information. I will conclude that in order to explain the emergence of self-conscious thought out of more basic forms of representations one has to explain the transition between implicit self-related information and explicit self-representation. (shrink)
In recent times the question of whether or not there is such a thing as nonconceptualcontent has been the object of much serious attention. For analytical philosophers, the locus classicus of the view that there is such a phenomena is to be found in Evans remarks about perceptual experience in Varieties of Reference. John McDowell has taken issue with Evans over his claim that "conceptual capacities are first brought into operation only when one makes a judgement of (...) experience, and at that point a different species of content comes into play" (McDowell 1994: 48). In contrast, he proposes that "A judgement of experience does not introduce a new kind of content, but simply endorses the conceptual content, or some of it, that is already possessed by the experience on which it is grounded" (McDowell 1994: 48-49). Ironically, in light of the ambitions of Mind and World, this sits very happily with the firmly embedded views of many traditional classical cognitivists. It has been a long-standing article of faith that, even in its most basic forms, perceptual content must be conceptual. But those who adopt this position have a heavy burden when it comes to explaining the origin and development of concepts (cf. Peacocke 1992a: 9). In line with the proposal that at least some primitive concepts must be innate, theorists like Fodor make appeal to the intrinsic character of such concepts to explain more complex conceptual contents and their essential characteristics (Fodor 1998: 130). Primitive concepts and their properties as simply assumed because of an explanatory need despite that fact that making this assumption has a paradoxical consequence --which, in this case, is revealed by Fodor's claim that all concepts must be acquired inductively (cf. Fodor 1998: 130-132). The good news is that if we opt for a nonconceptualist approach then we need not assume that any concepts are innate. There is a plausible programme afoot, initiated by Cussins, which hopes explain "the construction of cognitive properties out of non-cognitive properties" (Cussins 1990: 374). He encourages us to suppose "that the mind/world distinction is a phylogenetic or ontogenetic achievement" (Cussins 1990: 409). However, some advocates of nonconceptualcontent believe that providing this explanation will be a relatively straightforward, although clearly difficult, task given that a contentful base of nonconceptual informational states, of the kind Evans envisioned, is presupposed. My aim is to defend Evans but if if nonconceptualcontent is to play the important role assigned to it of helping to explain the development of concepts then we must explicate the nature of such content in such a way that does not presuppose that it is truth-conditional. We must also be able to say exactly what part nonconceptual responses play in judgement making and conceptual development. It is the burden of this paper to provide a sketch of how both these ends might be achieved and to offer some reasons for thinking the project is a viable one. I do this in two stages. The first is to advocate a modest biosemantic theory of nonconceptualcontent and the second is to show how this can shore up a Davidsonian understanding of the possession conditions for concepts. (shrink)
In Mind and World, John McDowell argues against the view that perceptual representation is non-conceptual. The central worry is that this view cannot offer any reasonable account of how perception bears rationally upon belief. I argue that this worry, though sensible, can be met, if we are clear that perceptual representation is, though non-conceptual, still in some sense 'assertoric': Perception, like belief, represents things as being thus and so.
This note aims to clarify which arguments do, and which arguments do not, tell against Conceptualism, the thesis that the representational content of experience is exclusively conceptual. Contrary to Sean Kelly's position, conceptualism has no difficulty accommodating the phenomena of color constancy and of situation-dependence. Acknowledgment of nonconceptualcontent is also consistent with holding that experiences have nonrepresentational subjective features. The crucial arguments against conceptualism stem from animal perception, and from a distinction, elaborated in the final section (...) of the paper, between content which is objective and content which is also conceived of by its subject as objective. (shrink)
This paper provides a novel argument against conceptualism, the claim that the content of human experience, including perceptual experience, is entirely conceptual. Conceptualism entails that the content of experience is limited by the concepts that we possess and deploy. I present an argument to show that such a view is exceedingly costly—if the nature of our experience is entirely conceptual, then we cannot account for concept learning: all perceptual concepts must be innate. The version of nativism that results (...) is incompatible with naturalistic accounts of concept learning. This cost can be avoided, and concept learning accounted for if nonconceptualcontent of experience is admitted. (shrink)
This commentary discusses Pylyshyn's model of perceptual processing in the light of the philosophical distinction between the conceptual and the nonconceptualcontent of perception. Pylyshyn's processing distinction maps onto an important distinction in the phenomenology of visual perception.
The development and deployment of the notion of pre-objective or nonconceptualcontent 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)
The notion of nonconceptualcontent in Dienes & Perner's theory is examined. A subject may be in a state with nonconceptualcontent without having the concepts that would be used to describe the state. Nonconceptualcontent 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.
Macpherson (2006) argues that the square/regular diamond figure threatens representationalism, which holds that the phenomenal character of experience is either identical, or supervenes on, the nonconceptualcontent of experience (NCC). Her argument is that representationalism is committed to the thesis that differences in the phenomenal experience of ambiguous figures, the gestalt switch, should be explained by differences in the NCC of perception of these figures. However, with respect to the square/regular diamond figure such differences in NCC do not (...) explain the gestalt switch. I examine Macpherson’s claims and argue that representationalism can account for the experience of ambiguous figures by explaining differences in the phenomenal content of experience by means of differences in the NCC of that same experience. The thrust of my argument is that Macpherson’s account of what happens when subjects, upon viewing a tilted A and an A, report their experience by using the concept-term “A”, mistakes seeph with seedox. If this confusion is cleared, then representationalism can offer a coherent account of the gestalt switch in the diamond/square figure on the basis of the NCC of that experience. (shrink)
I suppose that substantive philosophical theses are much like second marriages. The philo- sophical thesis I wish to discuss in this paper is the thesis that experiences have nonconceptualcontent. I shall not attempt to argue that _all_ experiences have nonconceptualcontent nor that the only contents experiences have are nonconceptual. Instead, I want to ? esh out the thesis of nonconceptualcontent for experience in more detail than has been offered hithertofore and (...) to provide a variety of motivations for the view. (shrink)
I elaborate on Pylyshyn's definition of the cognitive impenetrability (CI) of early vision, and draw on the role of concepts in perceptual processing, which links the problem of the CI or cognitive penetrability (CP) of early vision with the problem of the nonconceptualcontent (NCC) of perception. I explain, first, the sense in which the content of early vision is CI and I argue that if some content is CI, it is conceptually encapsulated, that is, it (...) is NCC. Then, I examine the definitions of NCC and argue that they lead to the view that the NCC of perception is retrieved in a stage of visual processing that is CI. Thus, the CI of a state and content is a sufficient and necessary condition for the state and its content to be purely NCC, the CI?≡?NCC thesis. Since early vision is CI, the purely NCC of perception is formed in early vision. I defend the CI?≡?NCC thesis by arguing against objections raised against both the sufficient and the necessary part of the thesis. (shrink)
One of the current debates in philosophy of mind is whether the content of perceptual experiences is conceptual or nonconceptual. The proponents of nonconceptualcontent, or nonconceptualists, typically support their position by appealing to the so-called Fineness of Grain Argument, which, in rough terms, has as its conclusion that we do not possess concepts for everything we perceive. In his Mind and World, John McDowell tried to give a response to the argument, and show that we (...) do possess concepts for everything we perceive. His response is based on the idea that we have a capacity to recognize all that we perceive. However, a good number of people took this proposal as being empirically false. My aim in this paper is to show that McDowell’s proposal is not only not empirically false, but likely to be empirically true. We do have the capacity to recognize all that we perceive, but such recognition capacity is dependent on information stored in short-term memory, and not in longterm memory, as McDowell’s critics have mistakenly supposed. (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)
One of the promising approaches to the problem of perceptual consciousness has been the representational theory, or representationalism. The idea is to reduce the phenomenal character of conscious perceptual experiences to the representational content of those experiences. Most representationalists appeal specifically to non-conceptual content in reducing phenomenal character to representational content. In this paper, I discuss a series of issues involved in this representationalist appeal to non-conceptual content. The overall argument is the following. On the face (...) of it, conscious perceptual experience appears to be experience of a structured world, hence to be at least partly conceptual. To validate the appeal to non-conceptual content, the representationalist must therefore hold that the content of experience is partly conceptual and partly non-conceptual. But how can the conceptual and the non-conceptual combine to form a single content? The only way to make sense of this notion, I argue, leads to a surprising consequence, namely, that the representational approach to perceptual consciousness is a disguised form of functionalism. (shrink)
The paper argues that the reference of perceptual demonstratives is fixed in a causal nondescriptive way through the nonconceptualcontent of perception. That content consists first in spatiotemporal information establishing the existence of a separate persistent object retrieved from a visual scene by the perceptual object segmentation processes that open an object-file for that object. Nonconceptualcontent also consists in other transducable information, that is, information that is retrieved directly in a bottom-up way from the (...) scene (motion, shape, etc). The nonconceptualcontent of the mental states induced when one uses a perceptual demonstrative constitutes the mode of presentation of the perceptual demonstrative that individuates but does not identify the object of perceptual awareness and allows reference to it. On that account, perceptual demonstratives put us in a de re relationship with objects in the world through the non-conceptual information retrieved directly from the objects in the environment. (shrink)
In this article we question the utility of the distinction between conceptual and nonconceptualcontent in cognitive science, and in particular, in the empirical study of visual perception. First, we individuate some difficulties in characterizing the notion of “concept” itself both in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Then we stress the heterogeneous nature of the notion of nonconceptualcontent and outline the complex and ambiguous relations that exist between the conceptual/nonconceptual duality and other (...) pairs of notions, such as top–down/bottom-up and modular/nonmodular. Finally we look in greater detail at the proposal developed by Jacob and Jeannerod (Ways of seeing. The scopes and limits of visual cognition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003 ), who apply the notion of nonconceptualcontent to empirical research on visual perception. After reconstructing their point of view on concepts, we try to reject their major arguments in support of the conceptual/nonconceptual distinction, i.e. the compositionality of thought and the fineness of grain of percepts. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that, to make intentional actions fully intelligible, we need to posit representations of action the content of which is nonconceptual. I further argue that an analysis of the properties of these nonconceptual representations, and of their relation- ships to action representations at higher levels, sheds light on the limits of intentional control. On the one hand, the capacity to form nonconceptual representations of goal-directed movements underscores the capacity to acquire executable concepts (...) of these movements, thus allowing them to come under intentional control. On the other hand, the degree of autonomy these nonconceptual representations enjoy, and the specific temporal constraints stemming from their role in motor control, set limits on intentional control over action execution. (shrink)
 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)
In giving an account of the content of perceptual experience, several authors, including Fred Dretske, Gareth Evans, Christopher Peacocke, and Michael Tye, have employed the notion of nonconceptual representational content..
First the rationalist tradition and then the cognitive revolution put limits on the philosophy and social sciences with regard to the analysis of emotion, of irrationality in mental events and actions, to the reduction of our representations to conceptual elements, and so on. This fact caused an increasing interest in these topics. In this paper, we intend to claim the significant relations among these three issues: emotion, selfdeception and non-conceptual content, with two aims: i) to analyse the relation between (...) non-conceptual content of emotion and the phenomenon of self-deception; and ii) to explain how self-deception canbe overcome by the conceptualization of some non-conceptual elements of emotion. (shrink)
profile deforms as we move about it. As perceivers we are masters of the patterns of sensorimotor contingency that shape our perceptual interaction with the world. We expect changes in such things as apparent size, shape and color to occur as we actively explore the environment. In encountering perspective-dependent changes of this sort, we learn how things are quite apart form our particular perspective. Our possession of these skills is constitutive of our ability to see (and generally to perceive). This (...) is confirmed by the fact that we can disrupt a person. (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 nonconceptualcontent. I further argue that this result has two significant consequences: it demonstrates that nonconceptualcontent seeps beyond perception and infiltrates cognition; and it shows that whether mental states have nonconceptualcontent is (...) largely an empirical matter determined by the structure of the neural representations underlying them. (shrink)
Macpherson (Nous 40(1):82–117, 2006) argues that the square/regular diamond figure threatens representationalism, construed as the theory which holds that the phenomenal character is explained by the nonconceptualcontent of experience. Her argument is the claim that representationalism is committed to the thesis that differences in the experience of ambiguous figures, the gestalt switch, should be explained by differences in the NCC of perception of these figures. However, with respect to the square/regular diamond and some other ambiguous figure representationalism (...) fails to offer a unified account of how representational content makes them ambiguous. In this paper, I aim, first, to offer a representationalist account of ambiguous figures and, second, to examine and rebut Macpherson’s arguments. My main point is that in each ambiguous figure Macpherson discusses there are differences in representational content that can explain differences in phenomenal character or content. The representational differences are due to the ways the Cartesian frame of reference in which perceptual content is always cast cuts the figure, underlying different properties of the figure with respect to the axes of the Cartesian frame of reference. (shrink)