Unconscious Perception and the Problem of Attribution
Dodd Hall Auditorium
Friday, Dec. 6, 3:30 PM
While it is commonplace in philosophy and cognitive science to assume that perceptual states can occur without being conscious, some theorists have recently expressed skepticism about this view. In particular, Ian Phillips (2018) argues that genuine perception is an individual-level phenomenon, attributable to the individual as a whole, and that many purported instances of unconscious perception are instead mere sensory registrations attributable only to the individual’s visual system. He dubs this ‘the problem of attribution’. In support of his position, he adopts an action-based criterion for individual-level attribution, according to which a sensory state is a state of genuine perception only if it is useable or exploitable by an individual in action guidance. On the grounds that they fail to meet this criterion, he dismisses a range of empirical results that have been interpreted as establishing the existence of unconscious perception. In this talk, I push back against this skepticism. I reflect on the link between individual-level attribution and agency, and I argue that on a suitable understanding of what it is for a sensory state to be available for use by an individual in action guidance, there is no reason to deny that visual states in the dorsal stream (or ‘vision-for-action’ system; see Milner & Goodale 1995) are instances of genuine unconscious perception.