Erkenntnis 65 (2):245-276 (2006)

Thomas Crowther
University of Warwick
Though it enjoys widespread support, the claim that perceptual experiences possess nonconceptual content has been vigorously disputed in the recent literature by those who argue that the content of perceptual experience must be conceptual content. Nonconceptualism and conceptualism are often assumed to be well-defined theoretical approaches that each constitute unitary claims about the contents of experience. In this paper I try to show that this implicit assumption is mistaken, and what consequences this has for the debate about perceptual experience. I distinguish between two different ways that nonconceptualist proposals about perceptual content can be understood: as claims about the constituents that compose perceptual contents or as claims about whether a subject’s undergoing experiences with those contents requires them to possess the concepts that characterize those contents. I maintain that these ways of understanding conceptualism and nonconceptualism are orthogonal to one another. This is revealed by the conceptual coherence of positions in which the contents of experiences have both conceptual and nonconceptual features; positions which possess their own distinctive sources of philosophical motivation. I argue that the fact that there is a place in conceptual space for such positions, and that there may be good reason for theorists to adopt them, creates difficulties for both the central argument for nonconceptualism and the central argument for conceptualism. I set out each of these arguments; the Argument from Possession-Independence and the Epistemically-Driven Argument. I then try to show how the existence of mixed positions about perceptual content derived from a clear distinction between compositional and possessional considerations constitutes a significant obstacle for those arguments as they stand. The takehome message of the paper is that unless one clearly acknowledges the distinction between issues about the composition of perceptual content and issues about how subject’s capacities to undergo certain experiences relates to their possession of concepts one runs the risk of embracing unsatisfying philosophical arguments in which conclusions relevant to one conception of nonconceptual and conceptual content are grounded on arguments that concern only the other; arguments that cannot, in themselves, sustain them.
Keywords Philosophy   Logic   Ethics   Ontology   Epistemology   Philosophy
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-006-0001-3
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What is at Stake in the Debate on Nonconceptual Content?José Luis Bermúdez - 2007 - Philosophical Perspectives 21 (1):55–72.
Beyond the Myth of the Myth: A Kantian Theory of Non-Conceptual Content.Robert Hanna - 2011 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19 (3):323 - 398.
Sellars and Nonconceptual Content.Steven Levine - 2016 - European Journal of Philosophy 24 (4):855-878.
Methods, Minds, Memory, and Kinds.Alison Springle - 2019 - Philosophical Psychology 32 (5):635-661.

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