, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 439-459
Date: 27 Aug 2011

On perceptual presence

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Abstract

In his book Action in Perception, Alva Noë poses what he refers to as the “problem of perceptual presence” and develops his enactive view as solution to the problem. Noë describes the problem of perceptual presence as the problem of how to conceive of the presence of that which, “strictly speaking,” we do not perceive. I argue that the “problem of perceptual presence” is ambiguous between two problems that need to be addressed by invoking very different resources. On the one hand, there is the problem of how to conceive of the presence of objects as wholes, front side and back, and their constant properties. On the other hand, there is the problem of how to account for the presence of unattended detail. I focus on the first problem, which Noë approaches by invoking Husserlian ideas. I argue that Noë’s enactive view encounters difficulties, which can be dealt with by complementing it with Edmund Husserl’s idea of fulfillment and generally restoring the view to its original Husserlian context. Contrary to Noë’s purport, this involves regarding the view not as a theory of perception and perceptual content but as part of a descriptive–clarificatory project of conceptual analysis. The Husserlian phenomenologist analyzes, e.g., the concept of shape or color by investigating the fulfillment conditions pertinent to shape or color. In general, my critique of Noë’s enactive view serves to caution philosophers against unprincipled uses of Husserlian ideas.