What Makes Perceptual Content Non-conceptual?
Sean D. Kelly
 In The Varieties of Reference (1982; hereafter VOR), Gareth Evans argues that the content of our perceptual experiences is unlike the content of our beliefs, thoughts, and judgements about the world.1 Whereas the content of our beliefs, thoughts, and judgements necessarily involves "conceptualization" or "concept application", the content of our perceptual experiences is, according to Evans, "non-conceptual". Because Evans takes it for granted that we are often able to entertain thoughts about an object in virtue of having perceived it, a central problem in VOR is to determine how it is that we are able to move from a non-conceptual perceptual experience of an object to a conceptual thought or judgement about it. But this question presupposes that perceptual content is in fact non-conceptual; there has been a lively debate in the literature recently concerning whether, and if so in what sense, this is true. I intend to approach this debate with Evans's original ideas in view.
 In the first section of the paper I will distinguish four different ways of glossing Evans's claim that perceptual content is non-conceptual. I believe that there is textual evidence for each of these glosses, but that only some of them generate interesting views concerning perceptual content. In the second section I will consider the way that Christopher Peacocke has recently developed one of these approaches: an approach to perceptual content according to which it is non-conceptual because it has a different "fineness of grain" than either demonstrative or general concepts. I claim that Peacocke's arguments for this position are unsuccessful, although they are motivated by consideration of a genuine and important phenomenon of perception. In the final section I will briefly develop an alternative account of this aspect of perceptual content. I will claim that certain kinds of perceptual experiences are non-conceptual because they are essentially dependent upon various non-conceptually specifiable features of the situation in which they occur.
 In this section I will consider four2 different glosses that could be given on Evans's claim that perceptual content is non-conceptual: a) that perceptual content is the same for humans and animals, b) that perceptual content is belief-independent, c) that perceptual content is, sometimes at least, irreducibly articulated in terms of dispositions by the perceiver to act upon the object being perceived, and d) that perceptual content is more finely grained than the concepts in terms of which we classify our thoughts. I am generally sympathetic to the idea that perceptual content is non-conceptual, and I think, as does Evans, on my reading, that (c) is the most fruitful lead to follow in considering the connection between perceptual content and demonstrative thought. Because I have considered this issue elsewhere (see Kelly unpublished), however, I will use the remainder of this paper to consider some recent arguments concerning (d), the claim that the non-conceptuality of perceptual content should be articulated in terms of "fineness of grain".
 In chapter 5 of VOR Evans characterizes an "informational system... which constitutes the substratum of our cognitive lives" (122). This informational system connects us to the world, to the past, and to others by virtue of its three components -- perception, communication, and memory. In a footnote describing the relation between the information available to us through the testimony of others (communication) and that available to us through the senses (perception), Evans first uses the phrase "non-conceptual information" 3:I am aware that the parallel between testimony and the senses needs defence; and of course there are important differences, notably in respect of the kind of information concerned (the senses yield non-conceptual information, whereas language embodies conceptual information: on this distinction, see 6.3, 7.4). This is one of the many places in this book where my position depends upon further work. (VOR: 123)Roughly speaking, section 6.3 develops claim (c), that perceptual content is non-conceptual because it is, sometimes at least, connected with action, while section 7.4 develops claim (d), that perceptual content is more finely grained than our conceptual repertoire. In the remainder of section 5.2, Evans mentions two other facts about perceptual content that may lead us to believe it is non-conceptual in form. These facts are involved in the development of claims (a) and (b). Strictly speaking, the discussion in section 5.2 is meant to justify a more restricted claim than the one we are interested in; namely, the idea that it is "preferable to take the notion of being in an informational state with such-and-such content as a primitive notion for philosophy, rather than to attempt to characterize it in terms of belief" (VOR: 123). The discussion in this section, in other words, revolves around the restricted question whether perceptual content (and informational content more generally) should be explained in terms of beliefs about the object being perceived (or generally, about which we are receiving information), rather than around the more general question whether perceptual content is conceptual or not. But since beliefs have conceptual content, the issue is a propos of our more general concern. I turn now to a brief consideration of each of these characterizations of perceptual content.
 The first point trades on an intuition about whether animals can have beliefs of the sort we do. Evans claims that "It is as well to reserve 'belief' for the notion of a... sophisticated cognitive state: one that is connected with... the notion of judgement, and so, also, connected with the notion of reasons". If we assume, as Evans does, that animals have no beliefs (in the sophisticated sense of the word), then the fact that we share two of the operations of the informational system (perception and memory) with animals indicates that these must be more primitive than beliefs. As for the third operation of the informational system, communication, Evans makes the following bold (but undefended) assertion:I do not think we can properly understand the mechanism whereby we gain information from others unless we realize that it is already operative at a stage of human intellectual development that pre-dates the applicability of the more sophisticated notion. (VOR: 124)It should be clear that this is not so much an argument as an intuition. Evans is upfront about this, rather than merely modest, when he says, "I cannot help feeling that [defining information states in terms of beliefs] gets things the wrong way around" (VOR: 124). We can see the lack of force behind this position by noticing that a person moved by an opposing intuition need not be worried by Evans's plea.
 Consider a person who has the intuition that we cannot help but think that perceptual content of the sort we enjoy is itself connected with reasons. This intuition might be based, for instance, on the idea that perceptions are the kinds of things that can justify beliefs -- the idea, that is, that we are sometimes justified in believing p on the basis of having seen it to be so. Assuming that reasons are the only kinds of things that can perform this justificatory function, such a person will conclude that perceptions themselves, of the sort we enjoy, are "connected with the notion of reasons". This being the case, the fact that animals have perceptions of some sort will not force us to assume that perceptual content of the sort we have is non-rational (or generally, non-conceptual). Rather, two positions are available: in the first place, such a person may assume (being an animal lover, say) that animals have beliefs of the sort we do, and conclude, therefore, that animals (like us) have a sophisticated kind of conceptual, cognitive state called perception. On the other hand such a person may assume (as Evans does) that animals have no beliefs of the sort we do, and conclude, therefore, that the perceptual experiences they have available to them are (at least possibly) different from our own (i.e., animals, unlike us, have non-conceptual perceptual states). In either case, if one "cannot help feeling that perceptual content must be explained in terms of belief" (as, for instance, McDowell cannot), the intuitions one has about animals push one in a direction directly opposed to that encouraged by Evans. Thus, the intuitions one may have about animals seem to do no work at all.
 The second point is that perceptual content is belief-independent: "the subject's being in an informational state is independent of whether or not he believes that the state is veridical" (VOR: 123). We can see that this is true if we consider the case of the perceptual illusions. The striking fact about, for instance, the Müller-Lyer illusion is that it will continue to fool us even when we know that the lines are the same length. Indeed, nothing we can come to know about the actual length of the lines will change the fact that we perceive one of them to be longer than the other. To that extent the perceptual state is independent of our beliefs, and ought not to be explained in terms of them.
 Tim Crane has developed this point nicely in a recent paper on perceptual content (1992). According to Crane, the Müller-Lyer illusion shows that "there are values of p for which asserting 'I perceive that p but not p' is perfectly coherent" (151). But of course it is a canonical feature of the rationality of our beliefs that one cannot coherently assert "I believe that p but not p". Because perceptions are not subject to the canonical norms of rationality, then - because they are not, in other words, "rationally revisable" - they do not stand within the web of inferential relations that constitutes our beliefs, and ought not to be explained in terms of them.
 Third, Evans claims that perceptual content is, sometimes at least, irreducibly articulated in terms of dispositions by the perceiver to act upon the object being perceived. The general statement of this claim focuses on information concerning the spatial location of a sound:We can say, then, that auditory input ... acquires a (non-conceptual) spatial content for an organism by being linked with behavioral output in, presumably, an advantageous way. In the case of adult human beings at least, the connection is very complex, for the appropriate behavior in response to a sound at such-and-such a position is, when described in muscular terms, indefinitely various. (VOR: 156)This connection to behavioral output leads to an in principle argument that the content of the experience is actually individuated in terms of the action the perceiver is disposed to perform:When we hear a sound as coming from a certain direction, we do not have to think or calculate which way to turn our heads (say) in order to look for the source of the sound. If we did have to do so, then it ought to be possible for two people to hear a sound as coming from the same direction (as "having the same position in the auditory field"), and yet to be disposed to do quite different things in reacting to the sound because of differences in their calculations. Since this does not appear to make sense, we must say that having spatially significant perceptual information consists at least partly in being disposed to do various things. (VOR: 155)The point is not merely that no active or conscious cognitive processing goes on, but that it is not in terms of calculations or deductions or any other cognitive processes at all, whether they are consciously experienced or not, that our perceptual information gets the content it does. This is for the conceptual reason that Evans lays out: it doesn't seem to make sense that two people standing right next to one another could be disposed to turn their heads towards opposite places in response to a sound, and yet despite this discrepancy be credited with having heard the sound as coming from the same place.4 Insofar as perceptual content is sometimes individuated in terms of dispositions on the part of the perceiver to act upon the object being perceived, it is non-conceptual in form.
 Finally, Evans claims that the content of a simple photograph, and by extension, the content of the perceptual experience one might have had of the simple scene that was photographed, "can be specified conceptually only with some loss" (VOR: 125, note 9). Elsewhere he elaborates upon this claim:[N]o account of what it is to be in a non-conceptual informational state can be given in terms of dispositions to exercise concepts unless those concepts are assumed to be endlessly fine-grained; and does this make sense? Do we really understand the proposal that we have as many colour concepts as there are shades of colour that we can sensibly discriminate? (VOR: 229)Here it seems clear that Evans is talking about general color concepts -- "red", "green", "blue", and so on -- as opposed to demonstrative concepts like "that shade". The debate we consider in section 2 will focus on this distinction. But for the moment we may still wonder why Evans thinks we should be able sensibly to discriminate more shades of color than we have general concepts for. The answer to this question depends upon what our account of concept possession is, and there is little agreement about this problem in the literature.5 I will mention one possibility now; others will be lurking behind my discussion in section 2.
 One might think that the capacity consistently to re-classify a given object or property as falling under a particular concept is a necessary condition for possessing the concept in question. For instance, if I claimed to possess the concept "table", but when presented with the same table ten times in a row under standardized circumstances I sometimes did and sometimes did not classify it as falling under that concept, that would seem to count against my claim to possess the concept. If this is a criterion for concept possession, then we can see why one might think that it is possible sensibly to discriminate more shades of color than we have concepts for. After all, the requirement for concept possession looks much more stringent than the requirement for sensible discrimination. In order to possess the concept I have to be able to re-classify different presentations of the same shade as the same; in order sensibly to discriminate two shades I simply need to be able to tell them apart. And we can easily imagine a situation in which I can distinguish two shades from one another without being able later to re-classify either of them with their earlier presentation. If re-classification is a criterion for concept possession, then perceptual content, on this view, is non-conceptual.
 We can see from these four examples that Evans had in mind a variety of different things when he claimed that perceptual content is non-conceptual. It is likely, I suppose, that he would have considered this seedling claim to represent "one of the many places in this book where my position depends upon further work". Since a lot of further work has been done on this topic in recent years, I turn, now, to a contemporary debate in the field.
 The fine-grainedness of perceptual content has been discussed recently in a debate between Christopher Peacocke and John McDowell.6 Roughly speaking, McDowell claims that even if perceptual content is not articulable in terms of general concepts, it is articulable in terms of demonstrative concepts, and Evans failed to consider this possibility. Peacocke counters by claiming that perceptual content cuts more finely than general concepts but less finely than demonstrative ones -- therefore perceptual content is not conceptual. There are many aspects of Peacocke's project with which I am sympathetic, but I will be particularly concerned, here, with the first section of the paper where he lays out his case for non-conceptual content. I think the case is not as strong as it could be, and I'd like to suggest a way to strengthen and clarify the argument.
 To begin with, I agree almost completely with the way Peacocke approaches the problem of developing a theory of perception. Such a theory, he says, is to be organized around the goal of determining "what is necessary for the accurate description of perception". I think of this as shorthand for a two-stage process: first accurately describe the perceptual experiences, then determine the theoretical tools necessary to individuate them in a way that accords at least roughly with our pre-theoretical intuitions about them. The issue of nonceptual content arises easily in this context: if the tools required are non-conceptual (whatever that may turn out to mean), then we have an argument for non-conceptual content.
 I say that I agree almost completely with this approach to the problem because it seems to me important that our preliminary descriptions be not only accurate, but also complete. It could be perfectly accurate, when I see the color of a white piece of paper, to say that I see white. But if the experience is not exhausted by this description - if, for instance, the color of the same white piece of paper could occassion different visual experiences in different lighting contexts -- then the initial description of the experience, though accurate, won't tell us all that needs to be accounted for in a theory of perception. Therefore, it's important to point out that our initial descriptions of perceptual phenomena must be both accurate and complete. Because of the examples Peacocke considers in chapter 1 of Sense and Content (1983), I suspect he would agree with this amendment. If that's right, then I agree entirely with the way Peacocke approaches the problem. But now let's look at some of the details.
 Peacocke distinguishes between three levels of description that are applicable to a subject perceiving the shape of an object (or generally, some visible property F of an object). Roughly, these levels are:(i) the shape itself.The goal of the non-conceptualist, as I understand it, is to show that levels (ii) and (iii) come apart. (At least this is a necessary condition for the success of the non-conceptualist position.) McDowell, on the other hand, as an anti-non-conceptualist, wants to explain level (ii) in terms of level (iii). The argument comes over whether this is possible.
(ii) the shape as perceived in experience (or, as we might say, the "perceived shape").
(iii) the shape as demonstratively conceptualized (as, for instance, in the utterance "that shape" or "that square").
 In order to show that it is not possible to explain perceived properties in terms of demonstrative concepts Peacocke first tries to show that demonstrative concepts, when considered as a demonstrative conjoined with a general concept, are too fine-grained. I'm not very convinced by this argument, but even if it works, I don't think it points out the features of perceptual experience that should be important to the non-conceptualist. Once these features are clarified, I think it will become clear why the attempt to explain perceptual content in terms of demonstrative concepts must fail.
 Peacocke argues that demonstrative concepts are too finely grained to account for perceptual content:I think McDowell is right when he complains that Evans, for all his important contributions, overlooked demonstrative concepts. But it seems to me that these demonstrative concepts slice too finely to capture the ways of level (ii). Consider "that shade", "that red", "that scarlet". These are all different conceptual contents. It seems to me quite implausible that just one of these, and not the others, features in the representational content of the experience of a shade of red. (1983: 382)
 The crux of this argument is obviously the claim that many different demonstrative concepts must feature in the representational content of a single experience. I'm not convinced. It is true, of course, that "that shade", "that red", and "that scarlet" are different concepts, and it is also true that they could all pick out the same color swatch. If that color swatch is both colored and red and scarlet, then naturally all those demonstrative concepts will pick it out. But what the demonstrative concepts pick out in this case is the property itself, as described at level (i). To claim further that they all pick out the same perceived property, as described in level (ii), seems to me to require independent justification. After all, at least on the face of it, the fact that the color of my scarf is accurately describable as a shade and as a shade of red and as a shade of scarlet doesn't indicate that my experience of it as a shade is the same as my experience of it as a shade of red and my experience of it as a shade of scarlet. Indeed, it seems plausible to think that if I'm grouping it with a variety of different red things I may experience its color differently than if I'm grouping it with a variety of different scarlet things. And in fact, if I'm grouping it with a variety of different red things then it's at least conceivable that the demonstrative concept "that red" will get the experience right, but the demonstrative concept "that scarlet" won't. If that's right, then demonstrative concepts don't slice too finely at all. They slice just about right.
 Now, I'm not sure how seriously to take this argument. At least it seems to require a response if the non-conceptualist wants to stick with his strategy of showing that demonstrative concepts are too fine grained to account for perceptual experience. Since I don't think this strategy does much to help the non-conceptualist anyway, I'm tempted to leave the issue to one side. But since Peacocke pursues the problem one stage further, let me just say this extra bit. Suppose it could be convincingly shown, pace the argument above, that demonstrative concepts are too fine grained. Still, it seems that McDowell has available to him either of two moves. In the first place, he could accept the option Peacocke offers him, of taking the most specific concept in the repertoire of the perceiver to capture the content of the experience. To do this successfully he would just have to deny Peacocke's intuition that my experience of the color of the scarlet scarf is exactly the same whether my conceptual repertoire includes "scarlet" or stops with "red". The denial of this intuition is at least plausible on the face of it, since it seems reasonable to think that the painter or the interior decorator, with her mastery of the various color minutiae, just sees things differently than I do with my limited array of color concepts. Part of what she sees, it might be argued, is that this scarlet wall looks like color chip r-235, but not like r-110, and this could mean, if we chose the color chips properly, that she saw it as scarlet, but not as a more canonical shade of red.
 But the other option for McDowell is to accept Peacocke's intuition that the experience stays the same no matter what fine-grained concepts I have, and explain the content of the perception in terms of the demonstrative concept "that shade". If it is true, as Peacocke says, that "there is a single shade... that [the variously adept observers] experience, and in the same ways" (1983: 382), then the demonstrative concept "that shade" should properly pick out the right perceived shade, and hence get the content of the experience right. Peacocke's description of the claim makes this unavoidable, since once he identifies the content of the experience in terms of the single perceived shade, pointing to it with the phrase "that shade" seems a perfectly reasonable way to pick it out. The way Peacocke gets around this explanation in his example is by stipulating that neither of the observers has the general concept "shade":the fine-grained representational content of experience of two people, neither of whom has the general concept "shade", but one of whom has the concept "scarlet", and the other of whom has only "red" but not "scarlet", would differ at the finest-grained level. (1983: 382, my italics)But this seems to me unfair. If you have the specific concept "red", then you must know that it refers to some feature of the object, and what is that feature if not its color or shade? So it seems to me that if McDowell is going to accept Peacocke's intuition that the possession of fine-grained concepts doesn't change experience, then it is still open to him to explain perceptual content in terms of demonstrative concepts of the medium-grained sort - concepts like "that shade", "that shape", and so on.
 It looks to me, then, that the argument that demonstrative concepts are too fine-grained to account for experience is not a very convincing one. But in a way that's all by the by, since I don't think that it was getting at the important phenomenon anyway. I think that the important point about the perception of properties is twofold: first, that properties are not, as presented in experience, independent of the context in which they are perceived, and second, that they are not, as presented in experience, independent of the object they are perceived to be a property of. I think that Peacocke has believed in these two types of dependencies at various points in his career, though I'm not sure he's ever advocated both simultaneously. I think he should, and I also think that if he does, he will have the resources necessary to block the possible responses I considered just now on McDowell's behalf. So let me say a bit about the dependencies.
 The first kind of dependency -- the dependency of a perceived property on the context in which it is perceived -- is admirably illustrated by the phenomenon of perceptual constancy. In the case of color this is the phenomenon whereby I experience an object to be the same color in various lighting conditions even though these conditions change the way I experience the color. For instance, I see the color of my entire office wall to be white, and indeed the same shade of white, even when some parts of the wall are better lit than others. At the same time, however, my experience of the poorly lit section is not the same as my experience of the well-lit section: one looks better lit than the other. Peacocke uses this phenomenon to great effect in chapter 1 of Sense and Content in order to argue that perceptual experience has an essential sensory component, while the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, uses it to argue that perceptual experience has an essential informational component. Both of these are important aspects of perception. (I don't think Peacocke actually groups his examples under the heading of perceptual constancy, but the examples he considers -- the color of a wall in different lighting contexts, the size of a tree at different distances, and the loudness of a car engine when far away or close -- are obvious examples of that phenomenon.)
 I suspect that Peacocke now thinks the conclusion he then reached in considering these phenomena -- the conclusion that there is an ineliminable sensory component to perceptual experience -- is a faulty one. I suspect this because the argument for that claim depended upon the premise that representational content is always conceptual, and of course he doesn't believe that anymore. But even if the conclusion is faulty, the phenomenon it was meant to explain is still an important one to consider. And it's especially important in this context because I think that, rightly considered, the phenomenon of constancy shows why medium-grained demonstrative concepts can't completely capture the content of perception. Let me try to say why.
 On my view the phenomenon of perceptual constancy shows us something crucial about the context dependence of perceptual experience. In particular, it shows us that the complete and accurate account of my perceptual experience of the color of an object must contain some reference to the lighting context in which that color is perceived. Without a reference to the context we won't have the resources necessary to explain the change in experience that occurs when the lighting context is varied. If it is right, as all perceptual psychologists agree, that this change is not a change in color (hence the name "color constancy"), then no color concept, not even a demonstrative one, could completely describe the content of a color experience. So even if McDowell were to try to explain perception in terms of the medium-grained concepts mentioned above, such an explanation would be inadequate because the phrase "that color" is unable to distinguish between that color as presented in the sun and that same color as presented in the shade. Because the relevant difference is not a difference in color, no color term could make such a distinction. Since such a distinction is clearly made in experience -- the color looks different in the sun than in the shade -- the demonstative concept is inadequate to account for the experience.
 The second kind of dependency -- the dependency of a perceived property on the object it's perceived to be a property of -- is shown by Peacocke's example of the height of the window and the height of the arch (in "Perceptual Content"?), and also by Merleau-Ponty's equivalent claim that "the blue of the carpet would not be the same blue were it not a woolly blue". The basic idea is that when I perceive a property like height or color, what I see is not some independently determinable property that any other object could share; rather what I see is a dependent aspect of the object I'm seeing now. The dependency of the perceived property on the object is so complete that even if I see the color of the carpet to be the same as the color of some other object -- a shiny steel ball, for instance -- I can always rationally wonder whether they are in fact the same color. I can, of course, satisfy myself that they are the same color by measuring the wavelength of the light they reflect, just as I can satisfy myself that the window and the arch are the same height by measuring them with a tape measure. But this doesn't tell me anything about the content of the original perceptual experience, since it's on the basis of the new, measuring experience that I come to believe in the equivalence.
 Now, if it's really true that this second type of dependency obtains, then it seems to block the possibility of the initial conceptualist line of thought. Remember that this is the line of thought according to which we accept the claim that the most specific concept in the repertoire of the perceiver captures her perceptual experience, while denying Peacocke's intuition that perceptual experience doesn't vary with conceptual sophistication. The justification for this denial is found in the prima facie plausible claim that the painter sees the scarlet scarf in terms of its resemblance to a certain color chip, not some other. But if a perceived color isn't describable independently of its object, then it must be false that the painter's perception of color is explicable in terms of resemblance to an objective measure. After all, the color chip r-235 presents an independently specifiable property that any object could have, while the scarlet of the scarf is not presented in perception as a color identifiable independently of the scarf. The point is much like that made above concerning context. A demonstrative concept like "that scarlet" can only pick out one scarlet among others. But the difference between the experience of the scarlet scarf and the experience of the scarlet steel ball is ex hypothesi not due to a difference of color (this shade of scarlet versus that shade of scarlet), but rather is due to a difference in the object that manifests that color. No color term alone could make that distinction.
 If these two observations about perception are right, then demonstrative concepts are too coarse-grained, not too fine-grained, to capture perceptual content. Concepts, even demonstrative ones, pick out situation independent features, but the perceptual experience of a property is always dependent upon the two aspects of the situation I mentioned above -- context and object. It is still open to the conceptualist to argue that perceptual content is explicable in terms of the conjunction of a variety of demonstrative concepts -- one that picks out the property, one that picks out the object that manifests that property, and then a large set of demonstrative concepts that picks out the relevant features of the context in which the property is being perceived. But it seems as though this last set will present a sticking point, since there could be an indefinitely large number of relevant contextual features, and which features of the context are relevant will change from situation to situation. This seems to me the real reason that perceptual content is non-conceptual -- because it's situation dependent, and situations aren't specifiable in conceptual terms.
Sean D. Kelly
Department of Philosophy
Crane, Tim (1992) "The nonconceptual content of experience". In The Contents of Experience: Essays on Perception, 136-157. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Evans, Gareth (1982) The Varieties of Reference. John McDowell (ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kelly, Sean D. (unpublished) "The non-conceptual content of perceptual experience and the possibility of demonstrative thought".
McDowell, John (1994) Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Peacocke, Christopher (1983) Sense and Content: Experience, Thought, and Their Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
----- (1992) A Study of Concepts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.
----- (1994) "Nonconceptual Content Defended". Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LVIII, No. 2, June: 381-388.
1 The central passages are at pp. 122-9, 154-60, 226-30, et passim. (back)
2 Mike Martin first suggested to me that all four of these kinds of non-conceptuality are mentioned, if not carefully developed, in VOR. (back)
3 On my interpretation Evans uses the words "information" and "content" in very similar ways. Perceptual information about an object is whatever it is that is received from the object by way of a perceptual experience of it, and in virtue of which the subject has a conception or understanding of the object. In particular, the information received about the object may be either accurate information or misinformation (see VOR 121). (NB -- having a "conception" of the object need not mean having "conceptual information" about it.) To say that a perceptual experience has a certain content, likewise, is to say that it represents the world in a certain way, and therefore can be classified as true or false (see VOR 226). (back)
4 The point is not that there are limitations on the way the perceptual apparatus can work, but that given a perceptual system, spatially significant perceptual information consists at least partly in the behavioral control of that system in response to the environment. Thus, if a person (call him Lefty) has an aural system that requires turning the head to the left in order to hear things to the right (because, say, of some aural equivalent of the rear-view mirror that bicyclists wear on their helmets), then we must understand the action of turning the head to the left as an action of turning towards an object to the right. Once this clarification is made, it's easy to see that even if Lefty turns his head to the left in response to a particular environmental stimulus, and Sandra, who has a normal aural apparatus, turns her head to the right in response to the same stimulus, we can still credit them with having the same perceptual information in virtue of the fact that they have both, in their own way, turned toward the stimulus. (back)
5 Christopher Peacocke has probably done the most work in this area. See (Peacock 1992). (back)
6 See chapter 3 of (McDowell 1994) and (Peacocke 1998). McDowell has a response to Peacocke's paper that is published in the same volume, but unfortunately I have not had the time to consider McDowell's latest word on the subject. (back)
©1998 Sean Kelly
EJAP is a non-profit entity. EJAP may not be printed, forwarded, or otherwise distributed for any reasons other than personal use. Do not post EJAP on public bulletin boards of any kind; use pointers and links instead. EJAP retains the right to continuously print all the articles it accepts, but all other rights return to the author upon publication.
EJAP is hosted at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Please send comments and questions to email@example.com.