Cognitive Penetrability and Ethical Perception

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 6 (4):665-682 (2014)
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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 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.

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Robert Cowan
University of Glasgow

Citations of this work

Epistemic perceptualism and neo-sentimentalist objections.Robert Cowan - 2016 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 46 (1):59-81.
Evaluative Perception: Introduction.Anna Bergqvist & Robert Cowan - 2018 - In Anna Bergqvist & Robert Cowan (eds.), Evaluative Perception. Oxford University Press.
Moral perception.Preston J. Werner - 2020 - Philosophy Compass 15 (1):e12640.

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References found in this work

Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics.David Owen Brink - 1989 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The skeptic and the dogmatist.James Pryor - 2000 - Noûs 34 (4):517–549.
Moral reasons.Jonathan Dancy - 1993 - Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.

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