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The Epistemology of Perception & the Perceptual Analogy Workshop

Research Project: Evidence, Justification and Knowledge

8th June 2018 - 9th June 2018

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Plato’s Theatetus identified knowledge with perception. While this identity claim may go too far, the two notions are intimately related. At the very least, perceiving that something is the case is a paradigm explanation of how one is positioned to know it is the case. We invoke this sort of paradigm not only in sense perception proper but in connection with domains traditionally taken to be far removed from the sensible, such as mathematics and linguistic comprehension. For almost any domain, we find it natural to use the language of “seeing” and “grasping” to describe epistemological achievements for that domain.
This conference addresses two sorts of questions about perception. The first sort of question concerns perceptual epistemology itself. We can see things, events, and properties, but also facts. How do these relate to one another, and what are their epistemological effects? What is the scope of perceptual knowledge? Can one literally see that someone is angry, that an act is cruel? Can one literally hear what someone means? What of epistemological interest hangs on questions of scope? How does seeing-that map on to distinctions between immediate and mediate knowledge, for instance?
The second sort of question the conference will address concerns perception as a model for the epistemology of other domains. Many theorists, from Locke and Kant to Armstrong and Lycan, have thought of introspection on the model of perception. More recently, there has been important work on whether intuition may be understood by analogy with sense perception. Is the analogy merely a useful heuristic, or is there really something in common between perceptual knowledge and these other forms of knowledge? Is there a principle subsuming the epistemology of perception and that of these other domains, e.g., that one is justified in believing that p when p is presented to one as true? Or are there sufficient differences between sense perception and introspection and intuition to spoil such a unifying approach?

Confirmed speakers: Bill Brewer (King’s College London); Kathrin Glüer-Pagin (Stockholm); Heather Logue (Leeds); Jack Lyons(Arkansas); Matthew McGrath (St Andrews/Missouri); Declan Smithies (Ohio State).

Friday 8th June

10.00 -11.30 Matthew McGrath

11.45 – 13.15. Kathrin Gluer-Pagin Illusory Looks

13.15 – 14.15 Lunch

14.15 – 15.45 Bill Brewer Perception of Continued Existence Unperceived

16.00 – 17.30 Declan Smithies Against Strong Phenomenal Conservatism

18.30 Workshop dinner for speakers


Saturday 9th June

10.00 – 11.30 Heather Logue The Epistemology of Aesthetic Properties

1145 – 13.15 Jack Lyons System 1 Thinking as Intellectual Blindsight

13.15 – 14.15 Lunch and finish

We are grateful to the Scots Philosophical Association and to the University of St Andrews for financial support.Scots Philosophical Society logo


Bill Brewer: Perception of Continued Existence Unperceived

We believe that the ordinary material objects that we perceive are independent of us and our perceptions of them: in particular, that they continue to exist unperceived by us or by anyone else. Yet our understanding of their nature is ultimately derived from our perception of them. How exactly does this derivation proceed? This is of course Hume’s question in his discussion of scepticism with regard to the senses: how do we arrive at our belief in the continued and distinct existence of body (1978, I.4.ii)? Hume’s answer assigns a major role to the imagination. For he argues that perception alone is plainly incapable of producing such a belief and that reasoning from perception gets us nowhere in this regard. There is no doubting the ingenuity of his positive account; but intuitively it goes wrong at the first turn in rejecting perception itself as the source of our belief in the mind-independence of its material objects. Is it possible to vindicate this intuition in the face of Hume’s argument? I argue that we can, taking inspiration from Evans (1985). I contrast two implementations of Evans’ insight, and claim that the most promising is the one that has hardly been explored.

Kathrin Gluer-Pagin:  Illusory Looks

I have defended a non-standard version of intentionalism about perceptual experience, according to which (visual) experiences are beliefs, but have contents — so-called looks-contents — that very rarely are false. In this talk, I shall develop this view further, in particular, I shall work out how it can harness the epistemology of perception to account for non-veridical experience. Just like some of today’s relationalists or disjunctivists, I think that error and misrepresentation typically are a matter, not of experience, but of belief or judgment downstream from experience. Nevertheless, the distinction between veridical and non-veridical experience can be preserved where it intuitively belongs: Illusions can be characterized in terms of misleadingness.

Heather Logue: “The Epistemology of Aesthetic Properties”
Abstract: In this talk, I’ll sketch two models of how one forms the belief that a given aesthetic property is instantiated (e.g., that something is graceful, gaudy, and so forth). One model appeals to the controversial claim that we literally perceptually experience aesthetic properties (i.e., the scope of perceptually-based knowledge includes aesthetic properties), and the other eschews this claim. I will argue that both models are unacceptable for broadly the same reason, and suggest that we can fix the problem by adopting a theory on which emotion plays a central role in aesthetic judgment.

Jack Lyons: System 1 Thinking as Intellectual Blindsight
Rational intuition is often viewed as importantly similar to perception: we just “see” that a given thesis is true. In the best cases, we have intellectual seemings with “presentational phenomenology,” in very much the way that the best cases of perceptual experience do. Dual system psychology draws our attention to a different kind of intuition—often with empirical content—that normally lacks this presentational phenomenology. In all the important subjective respects the seemings that result appear to be essentially like those of blindsight patients, who are capable of forming fairly reliable visual beliefs even though they deny having any visual experiences. These System 1 intuitions enjoy a range of epistemic status, and the differences don’t seem to be explicable in terms of introspectable states of the agent or features of the experience. If this is right, it has important epistemological consequences.

Declan Smithies: Against Strong Phenomenal Conservatism
Strong phenomenal conservatism says that epistemic rationality is governed by a single unifying principle: you should always believe that things are the way that on balance they seem to be. The attraction of this view is that it offers a simple and unified theoretical framework for capturing the epistemic role of consciousness. Despite its attractions, however, strong phenomenal conservatism is too simple: its simplicity comes at the cost of distorting epistemic rationality in ways that obscure its epistemic value. By subsuming everything under a perceptual model, strong phenomenal conservatism accommodates one structural principle about epistemic rationality at the cost of sacrificing many others. In this talk, I will develop this objection to strong phenomenal conservatism and I’ll offer an alternative view that preserves its strengths while avoiding its weaknesses.


8th June 2018
9th June 2018


School II
United College, St Salvator's Quad
St Andrews, KY169AL United Kingdom
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Other events in Evidence, Justification and Knowledge

Jun 2015: Defeat and Epistemic Responsibility Workshop

Jun 2015: St Andrews Normative Reasons Workshop

Jun 2014: Fallibilism and Evidence

Jun 2019: Super Special Seminar: Jeremy Fantl (Calgary), “On Inviting Problematic Speakers to Campus”

Jun 2018: JoshFest: A Memorial Conference for Josh Parsons