Perceptual Experience and Empirical Reason

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What is the role of conscious experience in the epistemology of perceptual knowledge? In particular, suppose that I see an object before me and thereby come to know that it is red or round: how exactly are we to understand the contribution that my seeing that thing makes to my epistemic standing in relation to its colour or shape?

I assume without argument that seeing that o is F is a way of knowing that o is F. I also take for granted our intuitive conviction that in certain basic cases of seeing that o is F, the fact that the subject sees o itself is integral to their epistemic status as cases of knowing that o is F.1 My question is how this is to be understood: how should we characterize what is going on in seeing that o is F, in such cases, in order to illuminate the contribution of seeing o to their status as cases of knowing that o is F. This will not involve any commitment to the idea that seeing o in such cases constitutes or contributes to their satisfaction of an entirely general necessary condition on

knowing that o is F. Nevertheless, there is genuine explanation and intelligibility to be had; and that is what I aim to offer here.

My basic proposal is that seeing o involves conscious acquaintance with o itself, the concrete worldly source of the truth that o is F, in a way that may make it evident to the subject that o is an instance of ‘x is F’ as she understands this, and hence evident that o is F. Seeing that o is F is thus a way of its being evident that o is F and is therefore a way of knowing that o is F.

In §1 I set out the main lines of the account that I favour of the metaphysics of visual experience, of our seeing the particularly worldly objects around us. §2 presents the core of the associated account of seeing, and hence knowing, that such things are the various ways that we can come to know that they are on the basis of this perception. This account is elaborated in §3 in a way that explains the role of conscious visual experience in perceptual knowledge, making theoretically intelligible the status of seeing that o is F as a way of knowing that o is F. §4 considers various relevant forms of error and epistemic failing. Finally, in §5, I consider the role of reasons in the epistemology of perception as proposed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)1-18
JournalAnalytic Philosophy
Issue number1
Early online date25 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


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