Propositional and nonpropositional perceiving

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 35 (December):201-210 (1974)

The general theory of perception proposed by Roderick Chisholm in his book Perceiving: A Philosophical Study1 has gained considerable acceptance among contemporary philosophers of perception. In this paper, I will review and evaluate one part of this theory and show where I believe an important modification is necessary. Chisholm distinguishes what he thinks are two importantly different senses of “perceive,” a propositional and a nonpropositional sense, and then proposes a definition of each. The propositional sense of “perceive” is expressed in contexts in which what is perceived is referred to by a propositional clause, as in 1. George perceives that this is a door. The nonpropositional sense is expressed in contexts in which the perceptual object is referred to by a noun or noun phrase, as in 2. George perceives the door. The problem areas I will deal with are, first and foremost, the adequacy of the definitions Chisholm gives of these two senses, and second, the ways in which these senses are related to one another. In the first section, dealing with the propositional sense, I will not be concerned with propositional perceivings in their entirety. Specifically, I will not be concerned with them as instances of knowing that something is such and such, which is a central feature of Chisholm’s definition. Rather, I will be concerned mainly with the mental state, qua mental, which is involved in these perceptions, that is, the mental state considered apart from any relation it may have to the object it is about. I will assume that the mental state involved in a propositional perceiving is a conceptual state, i.e., one which involves the exercise of concepts or thoughts, together with an accompanying propositional attitude. The key locution Chisholm uses to describe this conceptual mental state is “S takes something to have some property.” I will argue that Chisholm’s definition of taking will not do the job it is intended to do in these perceptual contexts. In the second section, I will explore what Chisholm calls the “simplest” nonpropositional sense of “perceive,” which he defines wholly in terms of a causal relation existing between the object perceived and the subject’s sensory state. Significantly, this definition does not make any reference to a taking or to any propositional state on the part of the subject, but only to the subject’s sensory state. Consequently, if one accepts the idea, as I believe Chisholm would, that sensing is a nonconceptual state, then Chisholm’s nonpropositional sense of “perceive” would not refer to any conceptual fact at all. I will consider Chisholm’s definition, and raise the question of whether nonpropositional perceptual contexts should ever be construed as having a propositional meaning, that is, as including the idea that the subject exhibits some thought. As we shall see, Chisholm makes allowance for such a possibility.
Keywords Epistemology  Perceiving  Proposition  Chisholm, R
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DOI 10.2307/2106632
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