The Rationality of Perception

ISBN : 9780198797081

Susanna Siegel
256 ページ
135 x 216 mm

An important division in the human mind is between perception and reasoning. Perceptual experiences are conscious, but much of our reasoning is unconscious. Reasoning can be better or worse, but perception is considered beyond reproach. We reason from information that we have already, but perception is a means of getting new information. The Rationality of Perception argues that these two divergent aspects of the mind become deeply intertwined when beliefs, fears, desires, or prejudice influence what we perceive. When the influences reach all the way to perceptual appearances, we face a philosophical problem: is it reasonable to strengthen what one believes, fears, or suspects, on the basis of an experience that was generated, unbeknownst to the perceiver, by those very same beliefs, fears, or suspicions? Susanna Siegel argues that it is not reasonable - even though it may seem that way to the perceiver. Drawing on examples involving racism, emotion, self-defense law, and scientific theories, The Rationality of Perception makes the case that perception itself can be irrational. Siegel systematically distinguishes "cognitive penetration" from several other kinds of influence on perception, builds a theory of how such influences on perception determine what it's rational or irrational to believe, and uses the main conclusions to analyze perceptual manifestations of anti-black racism in the U.S. This book makes vivid the far-reaching consequences of psychological and cultural influences on perception. Its method shows how analytic philosophy, social psychology, history and politics can be mutually illuminating.


Part I. The Problem and its Solution
1 The problem of hijacked experiences
2 The solution sketched
3 Epistemic charge

Part II. Defending the Solution: The Epistemic Profile of Experience
4 The Downgrade Thesis
5 Inference without reckoning
6 How experiences can lose power from inference
7 How experiences can gain power inference

Part III. Applications
8 Evaluative perception
9 Selection effects
10 Culturally normal belief and hijacked perception


Susanna Siegel is Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. She is author of numerous articles in the philosophy of perception and epistemology, including several that brought cognitive penetrability into focus for analytic epistemologists. Her book The Contents of Visual Experience (Oxford University Press 2010) won the 2012 Walter Channing Cabot prize. It develops a method of phenomenal contrast for determining which properties are represented in perception, defends the view that perception can represent properties as complex as kinds, causation, and personal identity, and has been discussed widely in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and moral philosophy.