Philosophical Studies

, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 477–492 | Cite as

Perceiving and desiring: a new look at the cognitive penetrability of experience

  • Dustin StokesEmail author


This paper considers an orectic penetration hypothesis (OPH) which says that desires and desire-like states may influence perceptual experience in a non-externally mediated way. This hypothesis is clarified with a definition, which serves further to distinguish the interesting target phenomenon from trivial and non-genuine instances of desire-influenced perception. Orectic penetration is an interesting possible case of the cognitive penetrability of perceptual experience. The OPH is thus incompatible with the more common thesis that perception is cognitively impenetrable. It is of importance to issues in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science, epistemology, and general philosophy of science. The plausibility of orectic penetration can be motivated by some classic experimental studies, and some new experimental research inspired by those same studies. The general suggestion is that orectic penetration thus defined, and evidenced by the relevant studies, cannot be deflected by the standard strategies of the cognitive impenetrability theorist.


Cognitive penetrability Theory-ladenness Perception Experience Cognition Modularity 



For discussion and feedback, thanks to Paul Bartha, Vince Di Lollo, Catherine Wilson. Special thanks to Vince Bergeron, Fiona Macpherson, Mohan Matthen, and Susanna Siegel for reading (multiple) drafts, and for invaluable conversation on this and related topics. Special thanks also to one anonymous reviewer (for this journal) for exceptionally helpful criticism.


  1. Armstrong, D. (1980). The nature of the mind. St. Lucia, QLD: University of Queensland Press.Google Scholar
  2. Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2006). See what you want to see: Motivational influences on visual perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(4), 612–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2010). Wishful seeing: Desired objects are seen as closer. Psychological Science, 21, 147–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blum, A. (1957). The value factor in children’s size perception. Child Development, 28, 14–18.Google Scholar
  5. Brewer, W. F., & Lambert, B. L. (2001). The theory-ladenness of observation and the theory-ladenness of the rest of the scientific process. Philosophy of Science, 68, 176–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bruner, J. S., & Goodman, C. C. (1947). Value and need as organizing factors in perception. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 42, 33–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bruner, J. S., & Postman, L. (1948). Symbolic value as an organizing factor in perception. Journal of Social Psychology, 27, 203–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bruner, J. S., & Rodrigues, J. S. (1953). Some determinants of apparent size. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48, 17–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carter, L. F., & Schooler, K. (1949). Value need and other factors in perception. Psychological Review, 56, 200–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Churchland, P. M. (1979). Scientific realism and the plasticity of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Churchland, P. M. (1988). Perceptual plasticity and theoretical neutrality: A reply to Jerry Fodor. Philosophy of Science, 55, 167–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Churchland, P. M. (1989). A neurocomputational perspective: The nature of mind and the structure of science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Delk, J. L., & Fillenbaum, S. (1965). Differences in perceived colour as a function of characteristic color. The American Journal of Psychology, 78, 290–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dukes, W. F., & Bevan, W. (1952). Size estimation and monetary value: A correlation. Journal of Psychology, 34, 43–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Epstein, S. (1961). Food-related responses to ambiguous stimuli as a function of hunger and ego strength. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 25, 463–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Feyerabend, P. (1962). Explanation, reduction and empiricism. In H. Feigl & G. Maxwell (Eds.), Minnesota studies in philosophy of science (Vol. 3, pp. 28–97). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  17. Fodor, J. (1983). Modularity of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fodor, J. (1984). Observation reconsidered. Philosophy of Science, 51, 23–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fodor, J. (1985). Précis of the modularity of mind. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 8, 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fodor, J. (1988). A reply to Churchland’s ‘Perceptual plasticity and theoretical neutrality’. Philosophy of Science, 55, 19–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hanson, N. R. (1958). Patterns of discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hanson, N. R. (1969). Perception and discovery: An introduction to scientific inquiry. San Francisco, CA: Freeman and Cooper.Google Scholar
  23. Holzkamp, K., & Perlwitz, E. (1966). Absolute oder relative Größenakzentuierung? Eine experimentelle Studie zur sozialen Wahrnehmung. Zeitschrift für Experimentelle und Angewandte Psychologie, 13, 390–405.Google Scholar
  24. Jenkin, N. (1957). Affective processes in perception. Psychological Bulletin, 54, 100–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klein, G. S., Schlesinger, H. J., & Meister, D. E. (1951). The effect of personal values on perception—An experimental critique. Psychological Review, 58, 96–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kuhn, T. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  27. Lazarus, R. S., Yosem, H., & Arenberg, A. (1953). Hunger and perception. Journal of Personality, 21, 312–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lysak, W., & Gilchrist, J. C. (1955). Value, equivocality, and goal availability as determinants of size judgments. Journal of Personality, 23, 500–501.Google Scholar
  29. Macpherson, F. (forthcoming). Cognitive penetration of colour experience: Rethinking the issue in light of an indirect mechanism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.Google Scholar
  30. McCurdy, H. G. (1956). Coin perception studies and the concept of schemata. Psychological Review, 63, 160–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review, 83, 435–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pylyshyn, Z. (1984). Computation and cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. Pylyshyn, Z. (1999). Is vision continuous with cognition? The case for cognitive impenetrability of visual perception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22(3), 341–365.Google Scholar
  34. Saugstad, P. (1966). Effect of food deprivation on perception-cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 65, 80–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Saugstad, P. (1967). Comments on the article by David L. Wolitzky. Psychological Bulletin, 68, 345–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schroeder, T. (2004). Three faces of desire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Siegel, S. (forthcoming). Cognitive penetrability and perceptual justification. Nous.Google Scholar
  38. Smith, M. (1994). The moral problem. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  39. Sperber, D. (1996). Explaining culture: A naturalistic approach. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  40. Stalnaker, R. (1984). Inquiry. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Stokes, D., & Bergeron, V. (unpublished manuscript). A dilemma for modular architectures of the mind.Google Scholar
  42. Tajfel, H. (1957). Value and the perceptual judgment of magnitude. Psychological Review, 64, 192–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tajfel, H., & Wilkes, A. L. (1963). Classification and quantitative judgment. British Journal of Psychology, 54, 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. van Ulzen, N. R., Semin, G. R., Oudejans, R., & Beek, P. (2008). Affective stimulus properties influence size perception and the Ebbinghaus illusion. Psychological Research, 72, 304–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wolitzky, D. L. (1967). Effect of food deprivation on perception-cognition: A comment. Psychological Bulletin, 68, 342–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations