The Logic of Appearing

It is obvious and well-known that it is one thing for it to appear to you that p is false, and another thing for it not to appear to you that p is true. The former prima facie justifies you in believing that ~p; the latter doesn’t.

Consider, then, know-how theories of perception. Such theories explain the way in which perception yields justification in terms of having learned how to identify the (kind of) truth in question on the basis of sensory input. It’s supposed to be like riding a bike: you’ve learned how to do it, and when you display your know-how, the result in the cognitive sphere is perceptual knowledge or justification.

Then suppose you are in a position where it doesn’t appear to you that p. Translate this into your favored perceptual theory: you’re not appeared to F-ly, there is no object of the sort required as a truthmaker for the proposition p, etc.

I wonder if such a theory can preserve the claim made in the first paragraph.

Note first that there is nothing in the know-how theory that requires the skill mastery to take one from an appearance that p to a belief that p, and nothing in the story to prevent going from the lack of an appearance that p to a belief that ~p. If the know-how theory is supplemented with some content or qualitative character of experience, then it can preserve the above characterization, but it is hard to see how it can do so otherwise.

This is all a bit abstract, so think of a particular case, the one I’ve used here before: Hume’s missing shade of blue. Hume has various color experiences, and has learned how to identify colors, both positively and negatively. He knows how to recognize when an object is green and not red, purple and not yellow, and also blue but not the missing shade of blue. Never has he experienced the missing shade of blue, but he has so internalized the lessons of experience that he doesn’t infer that a particular color is not the missing shade of blue anymore. His cognitive machinery works on every color input to generate two non-inferential beliefs: first, a belief about the particular experienced color and second a belief that the object in question is not the missing shade of blue.

We should tell a different justificatory story about these two beliefs. Why? Because when Hume finally experiences the missing shade of blue, his cognitive architecture does not produce two beliefs, one that the object in question is the missing shade of blue and another that it is not. The difference, though, is not the difference between inferential and non-inferential belief. It strikes me that the only plausible answer is in terms of the content or qualitative character of the experiences themselves. But, in that case, no purely know-how account of perception can be adequate. Yes???


The Logic of Appearing — 5 Comments

  1. Objects cannot be negative, but descriptions of objects can. Perception itself, however, is of objects. Furthermore, whenever I am in position to talk about my perception I must be perceiving something. There is no such thing as null perception. As a phenomenologist might put it, there is no such thing as perceptual epoche. Therefore, whenever I rightfully say, â??I perceive that the object is not blueâ??, I am describing my perception of an object that is of a color other than blue. There is no question of it being NO object.

    In case of perception, then, there can be no clear-cut difference between it appearing that ~p and it not appearing that p, since such difference requires the third intermediate state. When I am not perceiving p I am in fact in a perceptual state of which ~p is necessarily an accurate partial description. When I am perceiving an object of a certain color, the fact that it is that color and not some other color is a part of my perception, and the fact that it is that color and not some specific other color is one of the components of that part (and we can talk of as many such components as there are different colors I could identify).

    If a belief is perceptually based, and the perception is not of p, then this belief must include (or at the very least entail) that ~p is a partial description of what is preceived. On the other hand, when the perception is accompanied by a reflection (letâ??s say I see a figure in the distance and wonder whether it is my friend) then the logical distinction between it appearing to me that it is not my friend and it not appearing to me that it is my friend is preserved, but it applies to the content of the reflection, not to the content of the perception.

    Similarly, if I ask myself, â??I am perceiving a red object, but is this object really red?â?? I am reflecting on the object of my perception and looking for the right way to describe it. It is not like asking myself, â??Am I perceiving red?â?? When it comes to the former question I can indeed fail to answer it, and that would indeed be different from answering it in the negative, but then I would have gone beyond perception itself once more. Similarly, when Hume perceives the missing shade, he perceives a shade (maybe also an unfamiliar shade) but the question of whether it is the missing shade or not may itself be a question that goes beyond perception.

    Thus, there is some reason to think that a theory of perception need not necessarily integrate the distinction as long as it acknowledges its existence while at the same time restricting it to domains beyond perception proper.

  2. I think it is the first paragraph where I balk. I think your ontology is a bit bloated–when someone hallucinates, you require that there be some object that is the object of the experience. That’s a mistake, I think. I cases of pure hallucination, such as having the experience of pink rats when there are none there, there is no object available to be the object of experience.

    In addition, the beginning of the second paragraph doesn’t follow from the first. Even if there is no object of experience, there is still a difference between having a ~p experience and not having a p experience. The first implies that some experience exists, the second doesn’t.

  3. As to your first point, I suppose you’re right. The word “object” is too general. But even if you are hallucinating, isn’t there an item of perception anyway (that is all I meant)? If you are hallucinating pink rats a partial description of this item of perception is that the rats you are hallucinating are not blue. And, of course, when you are hallucinating pink rats you are not having a blue experience.

    As to your second point, I don’t quite understand how you can HAVE no experience, but if you have some experience while not having a p experience, then a partial description of this experience will be that it is ~p.

  4. I think the last paragraph is still incorrect. First, sometimes you have no experiences, as when you’re asleep. The last part is incorrect as well. Suppose My secretary is looking at a computer screen. It’s not an elephant. But it doesn’t appear to her to be a non-elephant.

  5. Dear Kvanvig,
    I would counter by asking how do you know that you have had no experiences if you have not experienced it? You may wake up and say–“gee I don’t remember a thing” or “there was nothing”— how do you know this unless there has been some kind of experience of a particular quality that you now may describe? What in effect you have is two different experiences. I taste the peach and describe the state just experienced and just so I wake up and describe the state just experienced.
    It is paradoxical to say “I experienced that there were no
    experiences” or ” I experienced the state wherein I had no experiences”
    If you hold it makes sense to say such things then you must explain how one can be at once both experiencing and not experiencing. If you mean two different things by “experiencing” then in effect you mean two different experiences. If you hold that the experiencer goes away– then you must account for why, upon waking, the experiencer may report about the state wherein there is no experiencer.
    You apparently consider object to mean something other
    than object of attention– you mean something independent of our attention. But it seems to me that object of
    attention and object independent of attention are, in effect, as a matter of practice– the same. The distinction between object and object of attention is an ideal one. If there is no object of attention –nothing which is the focus of attention– there is in effect no object. So it seems to me that an object separate from our attention is a theoretical postulate.
    An hallucination is determined by reference to consensual expectations and common experience for a particular context. If I said I had seen pink rats in the capital rotunda– this is counter to expectations — but if I said I had seen the same thing in the zoo’s rodent section there is likelihood that you too would see pink rats in this context. Outside of the common standards of correctness for a given context there seems to be
    nothing intrinsically hallucinatory or non-hallucinatory about any experience— and both are objects of attention.

    If you don’t ask your secretary what she sees or doesn’t
    see then she won’t mecessarily have in mind the idea of a computer screen. That is, she may be typing away but has no concept in mind at that time of that which she types on. Just as she might not have in mind the idea of a computer screen until you ask her –“are you typing onto a computer screen?” Or ask “what is it you are typing on? ”
    If you ask her whether what she types onto is an elephant–
    she is likely to say–“no it is not an elephant”. It seems to me this is the equivalent of saying that it is indeed a non=elephant. She may not entertain the idea of computer screen either– without your prompting. If she has no idea of a “non-elephant” it does not follow that she necessarily has in mind the idea of a computer screen.
    Despite any admission from her that she had no concept in mind of computer screen while she was typing—if you insist she must have had such a concept, otherwise she could not have used the screen to begin with or some such, then you are postulating some kind of unconscious idea— a very problematic notion or equally vexing, holding that a particular concept must follow from behavior—a notion which carries no necessity it seems to me.

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