Austin and the inferential account of perception

O SET THE STAGE for the discussion[1], I will rehearse and clarify a well-known dispute between A. J. Ayer and J. L. Austin concerning whether perceptual judgments are inferences. Both in his Sense and Sensibilia[2] and in his "Other Minds,"[3] Austin carefully distinguishes recognizing that p from inferring that p. For the purpose of comparing his position to Ayer's, we might put his basic claim in this way: given the way words such as "recognize" and "infer" are used outside philosophical discussions, one clearly distinguishes instances of recognizing from instances of inferring. Yet Ayer does not dispute that, but replies that while non-philosophers do make a sharp distinction between the two, it is arbitrary for philosophical purposes.[4] Claims based upon one's having recognized something are sufficiently like claims based upon one's having inferred, Ayer supposes, that it is useful to treat them as instances of a common category. So the issue is not whether the distinction is recognized outside philosophical circles, but whether it is a defensible and useful one to make. Clearly, Austin insists upon the distinction because he supposes that failing to make it will promote philosophical confusion; indeed, he argues that one traditional problem of skepticism is largely due to this confusion.[5] In his "Other Minds," Austin tries to suggest how recognizing differs from inferring by showing how the sorts of questions or challenges brought to bear differ between the two sorts of claim:[6] for inferences, one wants a rehearsal of the pieces of evidence and an account of their connections to the judgment; for perceptual claims of recognition, one explores whether the observer had the opportunity to see what he claimed to have seen, whether he had acquired the expertise to recognize the sort of thing he claimed to have seen, and whether the circumstances were free of evident distraction and defect. But his readers' appreciation of these things depends
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