Reasons for pragmatism: affording epistemic contact in a shared environment

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 18 (5):973-997 (2019)
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Theorizing about perception is often motivated by a belief that without a way of ensuring that our perceptual experience correctly reflects the external world we cannot be sure that we perceive the world at all. Historically, coming up with a way of securing such epistemic contact has been a foundational issue in psychology. Recent ecological and enactive approaches challenge the requirement for perception to attain epistemic contact. This article aims to explicate this pragmatic starting point and the new direction of inquiry that this opens up for psychology. It does so by detailing the development of James J. Gibson’s ecological psychology. Securing epistemic contact has been a leitmotiv in Gibson’s early work, but subsequent developments in Gibson’s works can teach us what it takes to adopt a pragmatic approach to psychology. We propose a reading of the developments in Gibson’s original works that shows that, since perception is a mode of acting, perception aims for pragmatic contact before allowing for epistemic contact. Amplifying these pragmatist lines of thought in Gibson’s works we end by considering situations where an individual is adapted to the intricacies of specific social practices. These situations show how pragmatic contact can also afford attaining epistemic contact.



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