Unconscious Perception Reconsidered

Analytic Philosophy 59 (4):471-514 (2018)
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Abstract

Most contemporary theorists regard the traditional thesis that perception is essentially conscious as just another armchair edict to be abandoned in the wake of empirical discovery. Here I reconsider this dramatic departure from tradition. My aim is not to recapture our prelapsarian confidence that perception is inevitably conscious (though much I say might be recruited to that cause). Instead, I want to problematize the now ubiquitous belief in unconscious perception. The paper divides into two parts. Part One is more purely philosophical. It explains how standard arguments for unconscious perception rely on contentious background assumptions concerning the relation between ordinary perception and the explanatory constructs of scientific psychology. Part Two, in contrast, offers detailed engagement with relevant empirical work. It exposes how, even setting aside the concerns identified in Part One, a dilemma confronts the believer in unconscious perception. This dilemma arises because ordinary perception is an individual-level state or occurrence, yet criteria sufficiently stringent to guarantee that a putatively perceptual state is unconscious vitiate the grounds for its attribution to the individual. The dilemma foments a hypothesis, namely that the conditions for genuine, individual-level perception are sufficient conditions for perceptual consciousness. The viability of this hypothesis should unnerve anyone who thinks unconscious perception is simply an empirical given.

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Ian Phillips
Johns Hopkins University

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Origins of Objectivity.Tyler Burge - 2010 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
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Reference and Consciousness.John Campbell - 2002 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Naming and Necessity.Saul Kripke - 1980 - Philosophy 56 (217):431-433.
Naming and Necessity.Saul Kripke - 1980 - Critica 17 (49):69-71.

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