Seeing without Recognizing? More on Denuding Perceptual Content
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Seeing without Recognizing? More on Denuding Perceptual Content

To be in the presence of something is not necessarily to see it. Everyone knows that. Even if an onlooker looks at me and sees me 'looking at' a particular wall with eyes wide open, she cannot be sure that I am seeing that wall. Apart from the possibility that I am distracted or inattentive, I may be focusing on the color of the wall or some particular graffiti on it so attentively that I may not be noticing that it is the color of a wall or that the graffiti is on a wall. Even if the wall causes my perception, it need not be the object of my perception, just as my retina or sunlight is not.

Thus, I must have some say on what it is that I am seeing. That does not mean that I may not be mistaken about my own current perceptual content. Neither does it mean that to have a say is to be able to 'say' in descriptive words what one is seeing. All it means is that I cannot be clueless about it. I cannot be, to use Sydney Shoemaker's phrase, strongly "self-blind" (which is worse than being self-oblivious). Now, the myth of immaculate perception, in both of its (radically unlike) Nyāya and Buddhist versions, requires us to admit some such perceptual states that are so radically un-self-ascribable, or—to use Phillips' terminology—unapperceivable, that the subject is "never able to say anything" (in Siderits' words) concerning what she is perceiving during these states. This comes dangerously close to self-blindness. To admit, for other systemic reasons, that one is acquainted directly and pre-predicatively with either a bare featureless fleeting particular (the Sautrāntika Buddhist claim) or a pure universal feature as yet cognitively un-pasted to a particular (the Nyāya claim) is to consign a nook of our own minds to such self-blindness, and also to acknowledge that an awareness can take something as its object without recognizing it as anything whatsoever.

Even to see a particular as a unique uncategorizable something is to see it as something, even to see a man as 'that man whom I can't recognize' is to bring him under the general concept of an unknown stranger currently in front of me, a negative demonstrative covering concept. That is why I think seeing is not possible without recognizing. (Seeing cannot even be caused by a bare particular since there aren't any in the world. That is what my realism tells me.) If it were, then we would have to be partially self-blind. But we are not.

Recently two parallel controversies have erupted on the pages of this journal: one between myself and Stephen Phillips regarding the necessity of Indeterminate Perception within Nyāya epistemology, and the other between Monima Chadha and Mark Siderits on the issue of whether a realist needs perception of particulars without deployment of concepts. The first controversy is muddied with technical Nyāya assumptions—for example, about how many moments a perceptual cognitive state [End Page 365] lasts or what can be called the instrumental cause of a perception with full-fledged qualificative content. The latter controversy is muddied with the turbid understanding one has of what Kant meant by concepts or the use of concepts in the shaping of an experience.

Now, I have for a long time felt that not just Kant's but just about every Western philosopher's concept of a concept (except Frege's, which is an odd notion) is regrettably unclear. Notwithstanding his book A Study of Concepts (MIT Press, 1992), even Peacocke's notion of a concept (which is different from Fodor's notion of a concept) does not yield obvious answers to such simple queries as: "Can two people possess the same concept?" or "When I use a concept that I possess to process a perceived content, do I make the concept itself an object of my perception?"

Siderits' bringing in Externalism versus Internalism, the hotly debated issue in current philosophy of content, has also complicated matters. Chadha's initial mistaken...