Cognitive Penetration and the Tribunal of Experience

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11 Scopus citations


Perception purports to help you gain knowledge of the world even if the world is not the way you expected it to be. Perception also purports to be an independent tribunal against which you can test your beliefs. It is natural to think that in order to serve these and other central functions, perceptual representations must not causally depend on your prior beliefs and expectations. In this paper, I clarify and then argue against the natural thought above. All perceptual systems must solve an under-determination problem: the sensory data they receive could be caused by indefinitely many arrangements of distal objects and properties. Using a Bayesian approach to perceptual processing, I argue that in order to solve the under-determination problem, perceptual capacities must rely on prior beliefs or expectations of some kind. I then argue that perceptual states or processes can help ground knowledge of the world whether the ‘beliefs’ necessary for perceptual processing are encoded as (or influenced by) sub-personal states within a perceptual system or cognitive states, such as person-level beliefs. My argument has two main parts. First, I give a preliminary argument that cognitive influence on perception can be appropriate, and I respond to three lines of objection. Second, I argue that cognitively influenced perceptual states can be instances of seeing that p, which makes the relevant states well suited to help ground knowledge that p. I conclude that a cognitively penetrated perceptual state or process can help ground knowledge under some circumstances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)641-663
Number of pages23
JournalReview of Philosophy and Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Philosophy


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