Cognitive penetration and implicit cognition

In J. Robert Thompson (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Implicit Cognition. Routledge (forthcoming)

Abstract

Cognitive states, such as beliefs, desires and intentions, may influence how we perceive people and objects. If this is the case, are those influences worse when they occur implicitly rather than explicitly? Here we show that cognitive penetration in perception generally involves an implicit component. First, the process of influence is implicit, making us unaware that our perception is misrepresenting the world. This lack of awareness is the source of the epistemic threat raised by cognitive penetration. Second, the influencing state can be implicit, though it can also be or become explicit. Being unaware of the content of the influencing state, we argue, does not make as much difference to the epistemic threat as it does to the epistemic responsibility of the agent. Implicit influencers cannot be examined for their accuracy and justification, and cannot be voluntarily accepted by the perceiver. Conscious awareness, however, is not sufficient for attributing blame to the agent. An equally important condition is the degree of control that they can exercise to change the contents that influence perception or stop their influence. Here we suggest that such control can also result from social influence, and that cognitive penetrability of perception is therefore also a social issue.

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