Cognitive penetrability and ethical perception

Cowan, R. (2014) Cognitive penetrability and ethical perception. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 6(4), pp. 665-682. (doi:10.1007/s13164-014-0185-4)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13164-014-0185-4

Abstract

In recent years there has been renewed philosophical interest in the thesis that perceptual experience is cognitively penetrable, i.e., roughly, the view that the contents and/or character of a subject's perceptual experience can be modified by what a subject believes and desires. As has been widely noted, it is plausible that cognitive penetration has implications for perception's epistemic role. On the one hand, penetration could make agents insensitive to the world in a way which epistemically 'downgrades' their experience. On the other hand, cognitive penetration may sometimes be epistemically beneficial by making agents more sensitive to the way the world is, i.e., by enabling them to see things that others cannot. For example, penetration could ground a 'high-level' view of perceptual content, according to which agents can have experiences as of 'complex' properties, e.g., natural kind and aesthetic properties. Relatedly, it could elucidate the view that agents can gain perceptual expertise by learning. A type of sophisticated perception (and associated 'perceptual expertise') which has hitherto received little attention in relation to cognitive penetration is ethical perception. In this paper I examine the significance of cognitive penetration for 'Perceptualist' views in ethics which appeal to a notion of 'ethical perception'. Although cognitive penetration could ground a literalist model of Ethical Perception according to which agents can have perceptual experiences of the instantiation of ethical properties, the results are otherwise somewhat mixed: cognitive penetrability does not support Perceptual Intuitionism, although it may provide some limited support for Virtue Ethics and Cornell Realism. However, as I stress, the significance of cognitive penetration for Perceptualism should not be overstated.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cowan, Dr Robert
Authors: Cowan, R.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:Review of Philosophy and Psychology
Publisher:Springer
ISSN:1878-5158
ISSN (Online):1878-5166
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 Springer
First Published:First published in Review of Philosophy and Psychology 6(4):665-682
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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