As noted here, one of Alston’s four concepts of perception is the doxastic one. He glosses it as x looks in the way that would ordinarily dispose the perceiver to take x to have a certain feature.
I’ve been obsessing about noncognitivism in epistemology lately, and this doxastic looks concept raises the issue again for me. In particular, suppose that there is a complex perceptual state to which Alston’s looks concepts answer. Such a supposition requires that the perceptual state is intrinsically motivational: it involves a look which disposes the perceiver to hold a particular belief. In this way it is analogous to the kinds of states that dispose toward action in the theory of practical rationality, where the motivational feature is cited as grounds for taking the states in question to be noncognitive. So, for example, if the existence of a moral belief is intrinsically motivational, then that is supposed to be grounds for taking such beliefs to be noncognitive.
Applying this reasoning to the case of perceptual states on the supposition above, it looks like we should conclude that perceptual states are noncognitive. What would it mean to say that perceptual states are noncognitive? That they are not representational, e.g., that they have no propositional or conceptual content? Frankly, that makes noncognitivism look silly: it infers that perceptual states lack propositional content precisely because they motivate belief. Why would anyone think that? Maybe perceptual states lack propositional content, but that’s not a good reason for thinking that they do. If noncognitivism is to be adopted on the grounds above, we’ll need some other way of characterizing what it is for perceptual states to be noncognitive. Moreover, desire states are intrinsically motivational with respect to action, and they are usually assumed to have propositional content. So maybe we should think about perceptual states being noncognitive in the way that desire states are? The prominent aspect that makes desire states noncognitive is that they are mind-to-world states, rather than world-to-mind states such as we find with ordinary belief states. But surely we don’t want to think of perceptual states on the mind-to-world model, either. Perhaps that’s the basis for treating perceptual states as cognitive, but then we need a reason for treating the grounds usually cited for noncognitivism to be inapplicable to perceptual states.
By now, it should be apparent that I suspect that thinking carefully enough about the connections between epistemology and ethics will give us grounds for doubting noncognitivist views in ethics. We’re not to that point yet, however, in large part for me at least in virtue of my failure to quite grasp exactly what noncognitivism is in ethics (though I can do what Socrates ridicules when asking about some concept: I can cite examples of the view and characterize some of them).
Taking a cue from Jamie’s comment on internalism, let’s suppose that judgment internalism threatens noncognitivism but not existence internalism. Then there is no threat that perception is noncognitive from the fact that it motivates belief. One version of the judgment view is still troubling, however. If I judge that I am nonfactively perceiving it to be the case that p, that (ceteris paribus) motivates me to believe that p is the case. So even if we distinguish judgment internalism from existence internalism, maintaining that only the former threatens noncognitivism, it’s not clear that perception is out of the woods, cognitively speaking.