What mediates between sensory input and motor output? What makes it possible to act on what you perceive? Bence Nanay argues that pragmatic representations provide the perceptual guidance for performing actions. They play a key role in our mental lives, and help explain why the majority of our mental processes are very similar to those of animals.
Abstract: When I throw a ball at you, do you see it as catch-able? Do we perceive objects as edible, climbable or Q-able in general? One could argue that it is just a manner of speaking to say so: we do not really see an object as edible, we only infer on the basis of its other properties that it is. I argue that whether or not an object is edible or climbable is indeed represented perceptually: we see objects as (...) edible, and do not just believe that they are. My argument proceeds in two steps. First, I argue that in order to perform an action Q with respect to an object, we need to represent this object as Q-able and, second, I argue that we represent objects as having these properties perceptually. (shrink)
Do we (sometimes) perceive apples as edible? One could argue that it is just a manner of speaking to say so: we do not really see an object as edible, we see it as having certain shape, size and color and we only infer on the basis of these properties that it is. I argue that we do indeed see objects as edible, and do not just believe that they are. My argument proceeds in two steps. First, I point out (...) that Susanna Siegel's influential argument in favor of the claim that we represent sortal properties perceptually does not work. Second, I argue that we can fix this argument if we replace the sortal property in question with the property of being edible, climbable or Q-able in general. (shrink)
I argue that perceptual content is always affected by the allocation of one’s attention. Perception attributes determinable and determinate properties to the perceived scene. Attention makes (or tries to make) our perceptual attribution of properties more determinate. Hence, a change in our attention changes the determinacy of the properties attributed to the perceived scene.
When we see an object, we also represent those parts of it that are not visible. The question is how we represent them: this is the problem of amodal perception. I will consider three possible accounts: (a) we see them, (b) we have non-perceptual beliefs about them and (c) we have immediate perceptual access to them, and point out that all of these views face both empirical and conceptual objections. I suggest and defend a fourth account, according to which we (...) represent the occluded parts of perceived objects by means of mental imagery. This conclusion could be thought of as a (weak) version of the Strawsonian dictum, according to which “imagination is a necessary ingredient of perception itself”. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to argue that the phenomenal similarity between perceiving and visualizing can be explained by the similarity between the structure of the content of these two different mental states. And this puts important constraints on how we should think about perceptual content and the content of mental imagery.
Intentionalism about visual experiences is the view according to which the phenomenal character of a visual experience supervenes on the content of this experience. One of the most influential objections to this view is about blur: seeing a fuzzy contour clearly and seeing a sharp contour blurrily have different phenomenal character but the same content. I argue that this objection does not work if we understand perceptual content simply, and not particularly controversially, as partly constituted by the sum total of (...) perceptually attributed properties, some determinable, some determinate. (shrink)
Two strong arguments have been given in favor of the claim that no selection process can play a role in explaining adaptations. According to the ﬁrst argument, selection is a negative force; it may explain why the eliminated individuals are eliminated, but it does not explain why the ones that survived (or their offspring) have the traits they have. The second argument points out that the explanandum and the explanans are phenomena at different levels: selection is a population-level phenomenon, whereas (...) adaptation occurs on the individual level. Thus, selection can explain why individuals in a certain population have a certain trait, but it cannot explain why a certain indi- vidual has this trait. After pointing out that both arguments ignore the signiﬁcance of the limitation of environmental resources, I will construe a positive argument for the claim that cumulative selection processes can, indeed, play a role in explaining adaptations. (shrink)
Wayne Wu argues that attention is necessary for action: since action requires a solution to the ‘Many–Many Problem’, and since only attention can solve the Many–Many Problem, attention is necessary for action. We question the first of these two steps and argue that it is based on an oversimplified distinction between actions and reflexes. We argue for a more complex typology of behaviours where one important category is action that does not require a solution to the Many–Many Problem, and so (...) does not require attention. (shrink)
In this paper, I am clarifying and defending my argument in favor of the claim that cumulative selection can explain adaptation provided that the environmental resources are limited. Further, elaborate on what this limitation of environmental resources means and why it is relevant for the explanatory power of natural selection.
Hallucination is a big deal in contemporary philosophy of perception. The main reason for this is that the way hallucination is treated marks an important stance in one of the most vicious debates in this subdiscipline: the debate between ‘relationalists’ and ‘representationalists’. I argue that if we take hallucinations to be a form of mental imagery (as the literature in neuroscience and psychiatry routinely does), then we have a very straightforward way of arguing against disjunctivism: if hallucination is a form (...) of mental imagery and if mental imagery and perception have some substantive common denominator, then a fortiori, perception and hallucination will also have a substantive common denominator. (shrink)
The function of a trait token is usually defined in terms of some properties of other (past, present, future) tokens of the same trait type. I argue that this strategy is problematic, as trait types are (at least partly) individuated by their functional properties, which would lead to circularity. In order to avoid this problem, I suggest a way to define the function of a trait token in terms of the properties of the very same trait token. To able to (...) allow for the possibility of malfunctioning, some of these properties need to be modal ones: a function of a trait is to do F just in case its doing F would contribute to the inclusive fitness of the organism whose trait it is. Function attributions have modal force. Finally, I explore whether and how this theory of biological function could be modified to cover artifact function. (shrink)
I am looking at an apple. The apple has a lot of properties and some, but not all, of these are part of my phenomenology at this moment: I am aware of these properties. And some, but not all, of these properties that I am aware of are part of my perceptual (or sensory) phenomenology. If I am attending to the apple’s color, this property will be part of my perceptual phenomenology. The property of being a granny smith apple from (...) Chile is unlikely to be part of my perceptual phenomenology. Here are two problems for anyone who is interested in conscious experience in general, and perceptual experience in particular: (a) How can we tell which properties are part of our phenomenology and which ones are not? (b) How can we tell which properties are part of our perceptual phenomenology and which ones are part of our non-perceptual phenomenology? I will focus on (b) in this paper. My aim is twofold: I propose a methodology for answering the question of which properties are part of our perceptual phenomenology and I provide an example for how this methodology could be applied. (shrink)
There are two very different ways of thinking about perception. According to the first one, perception is representational: it represents the world as being a certain way. According to the second, perception is a genuine relation between the perceiver and a token object. These two views are thought to be incompatible. My aim is to work out the least problematic version of the representational view of perception that preserves the most important considerations in favor of the relational view. According to (...) this version of representationalism, the properties represented in perception are tropes—abstract particulars that are logically incapable of being present in two distinct individuals at the same time. I call this view ‘trope representationalism’. (shrink)
I aim to give a new account of picture perception: of the way our visual system functions when we see something in a picture. My argument relies on the functional distinction between the ventral and dorsal visual subsystems. I propose that it is constitutive of picture perception that our ventral subsystem attributes properties to the depicted scene, whereas our dorsal subsystem attributes properties to the picture surface. This duality elucidates Richard Wollheim’s concept of the “twofoldness” of our experience of pictures: (...) the “visual awareness not only of what is represented but also of the surface qualities of the representation.” I argue for the following four claims: (a) the depicted scene is represented by ventral perception, (b) the depicted scene is not represented by dorsal perception, (c) the picture surface is represented by dorsal perception, and (d) the picture surface is not necessarily represented by ventral perception. (shrink)
The question of whether cognition can influence perception has a long history in neuroscience and philosophy. Here, we outline a novel approach to this issue, arguing that it should be viewed within the framework of top-down information-processing. This approach leads to a reversal of the standard explanatory order of the cognitive penetration debate: we suggest studying top-down processing at various levels without preconceptions of perception or cognition. Once a clear picture has emerged about which processes have influences on those at (...) lower levels, we can re-address the extent to which they should be considered perceptual or cognitive. Using top-down processing within the visual system as a model for higher-level influences, we argue that the current evidence indicates clear constraints on top-down influences at all stages of information processing; it does, however, not support the notion of a boundary between specific types of information-processing as proposed by the cognitive impenetrability hypothesis. (shrink)
I clarify some of the details of the modal theory of function I outlined in Nanay (2010): (a) I explicate what it means that the function of a token biological trait is fixed by modal facts; (b) I address an objection to my trait type individuation argument against etiological function and (c) I examine the consequences of replacing the etiological theory of function with a modal theory for the prospects of using the concept of biological function to explain mental content.
It has been widely assumed that we do not perceive dispositional properties. I argue that there are two ways of interpreting this assumption. On the first, extensional, interpretation whether we perceive dispositions depends on a complex set of metaphysical commitments. But if we interpret the claim in the second, intensional, way, then we have no reason to suppose that we do not perceive dispositional properties. The two most important and influential arguments to the contrary fail.
Theories of singular causation have a genuine problem with properties. In virtue of what property do events (or facts) cause other events? One possible answer to this question, Davidson’s, is that causal relations hold between particulars and properties play no role in the way a particular causes another. According to another, recently fashionable answer, in contrast, events cause other events in virtue of having a trope (as opposed to a property-type). Both views face serious objections. My aim in this paper (...) is to combine these two very different solutions to the problem of the properties of singular causation and to argue that this combined view can avoid objections against both of them. (shrink)
In ‘A modal theory of function’, I gave an argument against all existing theories of function and outlined a new theory. Karen Neander and Alex Rosenberg argue against both my negative and my positive claim. My aim here is not merely to defend my account from their objections, but to (a) very briefly point out that the new account of etiological function they propose in response to my criticism cannot avoid the circularity worry either and, more importantly, to (b) highlight, (...) and attempt to make precise, an important feature of my modal theory that may have been understated in the original paper – that function attributions depend on the explanatory project at hand. (shrink)
There are two very different ways of thinking about perception. According to representationalism, perceptual states are representations: they represent the world as being a certain way. They have content, which may or may not be different from the content of beliefs. They represent objects as having properties, sometimes veridically, sometimes not. According to relationalism, perception is a relation between the agent and the perceived object. Perceived objects are literally constituents of our perceptual states and not of the contents thereof. Perceptual (...) states are not representations. My aim is to argue that if we frame this debate as a debate about the individuation of perceptual states, rather than the nature of perception, then we can reconcile these two seemingly conflicting ways of thinking about perception. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to raise some serious worries about anti-representationalism: the recently popular view according to which there are no perceptual representations. Although anti-representationalism is more and more popular, I will argue that we have strong empirical reasons for mistrusting it. More specifically, I will argue that it is inconsistent with some important empirical findings about dorsal perception and about the multimodality of perception.
Relationalism holds that perceptual experiences are relations between subjects and perceived objects. But much evidence suggests that perceptual states can be unconscious. We argue here that unconscious perception raises difficulties for relationalism. Relationalists would seem to have three options. First, they may deny that there is unconscious perception or question whether we have sufficient evidence to posit it. Second, they may allow for unconscious perception but deny that the relationalist analysis applies to it. Third, they may offer a relationalist explanation (...) of unconscious perception. We argue that each of these strategies is questionable. (shrink)
The aim of teleosemantics is to give a scientifically respectable, or ‘naturalistic’ theory of mental content. In the debates surrounding the scope and merits of teleosemantics a lot has been said about the concept of indication (or carrying information). The aim of this paper is to focus on the other key concept of teleosemantics: biological function. It has been universally accepted in the teleosemantics literature that the account of biological function one should use to flesh out teleosemantics is that of (...) etiological function. My claim is that if we replace this concept of function with an alternative one (that we have independent reasons to accept) and if we also restrict the scope of teleosemantics, we can arrive at an account of biologizing mental content that is much less problematic than the previous attempts. (shrink)
Bency Nanay brings the discussion of aesthetics and perception together, to explore how many influential debates in aesthetics look very different, and may be easier to tackle, if we clarify the assumptions they make about perception and about experiences in general. He focuses on the concept of attention and the ways in which the distinction between distributed and focused attention can help us re-evaluate various key concepts and debates in aesthetics. Sometimes our attention is distributed in an unusual way: we (...) are attending to one perceptual object but our attention is distributed across its various properties. But in other aesthetic contexts our attention is not at all distributed but very much focused. The book closes with an analysis of some paradigmatic aesthetic phenomena in which this is the case: identification and engagement with fictional characters. It argues that the conflict and interplay between distributed and focused attention is an important feature of many artworks. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to give a new account of the way we exercise our attention in some paradigmatic cases of aesthetic experience. I treat aesthetic experience as a specific kind of experience and like in the case of other kinds of experiences, attention plays an important role in determining its phenomenal character. I argue that an important feature of at least some of our aesthetic experiences is that we exercise our attention in a specific, distributed, manner: our (...) attention is focused on one perceptual object, but it is distributed among the various properties of this object. I argue that this way of exercising one’s attention is very different from the way we attend most of the time and it fits very well with some important features of paradigmatic examples of aesthetic experience. (shrink)
It has been argued that picture perception is sometimes, but not always, ‘inflected’. Sometimes the picture’s design ‘inflects’, or is ‘recruited’ into the depicted scene. The aim of this paper is to cash out what is meant by these metaphors. Our perceptual state is different when we see an object fact to face or when we see it in a picture. But there is also a further distinction: our perceptual state is very different if we perceive objects in pictures in (...) an inflected or uninflected manner. The question is what this difference amounts to. My answer is that it is a difference of attention. In the case of inflected, but not uninflected, picture perception, we are consciously attending to certain properties: to relational property that cannot be fully characterized without reference to both the picture’s design and to the depicted object. I defend this way of interpreting inflected picture perception from some important objections and emphasize the importance of this, inflected, way of perceiving pictures. (shrink)
The psychological mechanism of decision-making has traditionally been modeled with the help of belief-desire psychology: the agent has some desires (or other pro-attitudes) and some background beliefs and deciding between two possible actions is a matter of comparing the probability of the satisfaction of these desires given the background beliefs in the case of the performance of each action. There is a wealth of recent empirical findings about how we actually make decisions that seems to be in conflict with this (...) picture. My aim is to outline an alternative model that is consistent with these empirical findings. This alternative model emphasizes the role imagination plays in our decisions: when we decide between two possible actions, we imagine ourselves in the situation that we imagine to be the outcome of these two actions and then compare these two imaginings. (shrink)
It has been argued that the attribution of intentional actions is sensitive to our moral judgment. I suggest an alternative, where the attribution of intentional actions depends on modal (and not moral) considerations. We judge a foreseen side-effect of an agent’s intentionally performed action to be intentional if the following modal claim is true: if she had not ignored considerations about the foreseen side-effect, her action might have been different (other things being equal). I go through the most important examples (...) of the asymmetry in the attribution of intentionality and point out that the modal account can cover all the problematic cases, whereas the moral account can’t. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to reinterpret success semantics, a theory of mental content, according to which the content of a belief is fixed by the success conditions of some actions based on this belief. After arguing that in its present form, success semantics is vulnerable to decisive objections, I examine the possibilities of salvaging the core of this proposal. More specifically, I propose that the content of some very simple, but very important, mental states, the immediate mental antecedents (...) of action, can be explained in this manner. (shrink)
The concept of population thinking was introduced by Ernst Mayr as the right way of thinking about the biological domain, but it is difficult to find an interpretation of this notion that is both unproblematic and does the theoretical work it was intended to do. I argue that, properly conceived, Mayr’s population thinking is a version of trope nominalism: the view that biological property-types do not exist or at least they play no explanatory role. Further, although population thinking has been (...) traditionally used to argue against essentialism about biological kinds, recently it has been suggested that it may be consistent with at least some forms of essentialism—ones that construe essential properties as relational. I argue that if population thinking is a version of trope nominalism, then, as Mayr originally claimed, it rules out any version of essentialism about biological kinds. (shrink)
Adam Smith’s account of sympathy or ‘fellow feeling’ has recently become exceedingly popular. It has been used as an antecedent of the concept of simulation: understanding, or attributing mental states to, other people by means of simulating them. It has also been singled out as the first correct account of empathy. Finally, to make things even more complicated, some of Smith’s examples for sympathy or ‘fellow feeling’ have been used as the earliest expression of emotional contagion. The aim of the (...) paper is to suggest a new interpretation of Smith’s concept of sympathy and point out that on this interpretation some of the contemporary uses of this concept, as a precursor of simulation and empathy, are misleading. My main claim is that Smith's concept of sympathy, unlike simulation and empathy, does not imply any correspondence between the mental states of the sympathizer and of the person she is sympathizing with. (shrink)
I argued in Nanay 2010 that we cannot characterize perceptual content without reference to attention. Here, I defend this account from three objections raised by Jagnow 2011. This mainly takes the form of clarifying some details not sufficiently elaborated in the original article and dispelling some potential misunderstandings.
Essentialism about natural kinds has three tenets. The first tenet is that all and only members of a natural kind has some essential properties. The second tenet is that these essential properties play a causal role. The third tenet is that they are explanatorily relevant. I examine the prospects of questioning these tenets and point out that arguing against the first and the second tenets of kind-essentialism would involve taking parts in some of the grand debates of philosophy. But, at (...) least if we restrict the scope of the discussion to the biological domain, the third tenet of kind-essentialism could be questioned more successfully. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to show that we can deny that reality is neatly segmented into natural kinds and still give a plausible view about what science is supposed to do – and the way science in fact works does not rely on the dubious metaphysical assumption that reality is segmented into natural kinds. The score is simple: either there are natural kinds or there aren’t. The former view has been the default position in mainstream analytic metaphysics and (...) philosophy of science. I want to put the latter on the table as a metaphysically and scientifically plausible alternative. (shrink)
We experience resistance when we are engaging with fictional works which present certain (for example, morally objectionable) claims. But in virtue of what properties do sentences trigger this ‘imaginative resistance’? I argue that while most accounts of imaginative resistance have looked for semantic properties in virtue of which sentences trigger it, this is unlikely to give us a coherent account, because imaginative resistance is a pragmatic phenomenon. It works in a way very similar to Paul Grice's widely analysed ‘conversational implicature’.
Philosophers and psychologists widely hold that artifact categories – just like biological categories – are individuated by their function. But recent empirical findings in psychology question this assumption. My proposal is to suggest a way of squaring these findings with the central role function should play in individuating artifact categories. But in order to do so, we need to give up on the standard account of artifact function, according to which function is fixed by design, and replace it with a (...) more context-sensitive account, according to which function attributions depend on the explanatory context and, as a result, categorization also depends on the explanatory context, just as the empirical findings from psychology suggest. I argue that the recent ‘modal theory of function’ originally proposed to explain biological function, is capable of providing such an account of artifact function. (shrink)
According to the Ability Hypothesis, knowing what it is like to have experience E is just having the ability to imagine or recognize or remember having experience E. I examine various versions of the Ability Hypothesis and point out that they all face serious objections. Then I propose a new version that is not vulnerable to these objections: knowing what it is like to experience E is having the ability todiscriminate imagining or having experience E from imagining or having any (...) other experience. I argue that if we replace the ability to imagine or recognize with the ability to discriminate, the Ability Hypothesis can be salvaged. (shrink)
It has been claimed that photographs are transparent: we see through them; we literally see the photographed object through the photograph. Whether this claim is true depends on the way we conceive of seeing. There has been a controversy about whether localizing the perceived object in one's egocentric space is a necessary feature of seeing, as if it is, then photographs are unlikely to be transparent. I would like to propose and defend another, much weaker, necessary condition for seeing: I (...) argue that it is necessary for seeing that there is at least one way for me to move such that if I were to move this way, my view of the perceived object would change continuously as I move. Since this condition is not satisfied in the case of seeing objects in photographs, photographs are not transparent. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to outline a typologyof selection processes, and show that differentsub-categories have different explanatorypower. The basis of this typology of selectionprocesses is argued to be the difference ofreplication processes involved in them. Inorder to show this, I argue that: 1.Replication is necessary for selection and 2.Different types of replication lead todifferent types of selection. Finally, it isargued that this typology is philosophicallysignificant, since it contrasts cases ofselection (on the basis of the replicationprocesses involved in them) (...) whereby selectioncauses adaptation – and, therefore, can beused in explanations of the (real or apparent)teleology of Nature – and cases in whichselection lacks such explanatory power. (shrink)
While there has been a lot of discussion of picture perception both in perceptual psychology and in philosophy, these discussions are driven by very different background assumptions. Nonetheless, it would be mutually beneficial to arrive at an understanding of picture perception that is informed by both the philosophers’ and the psychologists’ story. The aim of this paper is exactly this: to give an account of picture perception that is valid both as a philosophical and as a psychological account. I argue (...) that seeing trompe l’oeil paintings is, just as some philosophers suggested, different from other cases of picture perception. Further, the way our perceptual system functions when seeing trompe l’oeil paintings could be an important piece of the psychological explanation of perceiving pictures. (shrink)
Look at a red apple. Now close your eyes and visualize this apple. Your perceptual state and your imagery of the apple are very similar in some respects. They are also different in some respects. The aim of this paper is to address three questions about the relation between perception and imagination: -/- (a) How similar are perception and imagination and what explains this similarity? (b) How different are perception and imagination and what explains this difference? (c) How do perception (...) and imagination interact? (shrink)
This paper proposes to carve out a new position in the scientific realism/antirealism debate and argue that it captures some of the most important realist and some of the most important antirealist considerations. The view, briefly stated, is that there is always a fact of the matter about whether the singular statements science gives us are literally true, but there is no fact of the matter about whether the non-singular statements science gives us are literally true. I call this view (...) singularist semirealism. Singularist semirealism sides with scientific realism with regards to singular statements but it is an antirealist view with regards to non-singular statements. In this sense, singularist semirealism could be considered to be ‘the best of both worlds’. 1 Introduction2 Truth and Correctness3 Property-Tokens and Property-Types4 Singularist Semirealism5 Encouragement from Actual Scientific Practice6 Some Potentially Worrying Consequences of Singularist Semirealism7 Some Promising Consequences of Singularist Semirealism8 Conclusion: Theory Change. (shrink)
One of the most influential arguments against the claim that computers can think is that while our intentionality is intrinsic, that of computers is derived: it is parasitic on the intentionality of the programmer who designed the computer-program. Daniel Dennett chose a surprising strategy for arguing against this asymmetry: instead of denying that the intentionality of computers is derived, he endeavours to argue that human intentionality is derived too. I intend to examine that biological plausibility of Dennett’s suggestion and show (...) that Dennett’s argument for the claim that human intentionality is derived because it was designed by natural selection is based on the misunderstanding of how natural selection works. (shrink)
One of the most promising trends both in the neuroscience of pain and in psychiatric treatments of chronic pain is the focus on mental imagery. My aim is to argue that if we take these findings seriously, we can draw very important and radical philosophical conclusions. I argue that what we pretheoretically take to be pain is partly constituted by sensory stimulation-driven pain processing and partly constituted by mental imagery. This general picture can explain some problematic cases of pain perception, (...) for example, phantom-limb pain, and it also has important consequences for some recent philosophical debates about the nature and content of pain. (shrink)
A straightforward way of thinking about perception is in terms of perceptual representation. Perception is the construction of perceptual representations that represent the world correctly or incorrectly. This way of thinking about perception has been questioned recently by those who deny that there are perceptual representations. This article examines some reasons for and against the concept of perceptual representation and explores some potential ways of resolving this debate. Then it analyzes what perceptual representations may be: if they attribute properties to (...) entities, what are these attributed properties, and what are the entities they are attributed to. (shrink)