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A New Argument for the Rationality of Perception


In this paper, I offer a new argument for the perceptual rationality thesis: the claim that perceptual experiences themselves can be rational or irrational. In her book The Rationality of Perception, Susanna Siegel has offered several intertwined arguments for this same thesis, and, as you will see, one of Siegel’s arguments is what inspires my own. However, I will suggest that the new argument is significantly better-supported than Siegel’s original argument.

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  1. 1.

    Ibid, p. 17.

  2. 2.

    For these objections, see the excellent contributions of Ori Beck and Alison Springle, respectively, to Siegel et al. (2018).

  3. 3.

    This is half of a thesis that Siegel refers to as the Rationality of Perception. The other half of that thesis is that “the processes by which [perceptual experiences] arise can be rational or irrational” (Siegel 2017, p. 15).

  4. 4.

    Siegel (2017, p. 174).

  5. 5.

    See for example Siegel (2017, p. 11).

  6. 6.

    For example, in one section, Siegel “develops the idea that a mental state has a rational standing because it belongs to the subject’s outlook” (2017, p. 38; note that Siegel is here describing what she is doing on pp. 41–51).

  7. 7.

    See Siegel (2017, pp. 117–119).

  8. 8.

    There are other cases throughout the book in which Siegel mentions empirical results without taking any stand on how they are to be interpreted. See for example Siegel (2017, p. 153).

  9. 9.

    The recognitional model is endorsed by Millar (2008, 2018, p. 253), Fish (2009, pp. 67–74), and Brewer (2011, pp. 142–149 and 2018, pp. 109–110).

  10. 10.

    See especially Siegel (2017, ch. 3).

  11. 11.

    See for example McDowell (1994), Brewer (1999), and Mandelbaum (2018).

  12. 12.

    See for example Burge (2010), Block (2014), and Millar (2018, pp. 258–259).

  13. 13.

    See for example Siegel (2006, 2010), Bayne (2009), Masrour (2011), and Fish (2013).

  14. 14.

    See for example Byrne (2009), Price (2009), and Carruthers and Veillet (2011).

  15. 15.

    For example, phenomenal conservatives Carruthers and Veillet assert that “A property is phenomenal … only if it gives rise to an explanatory gap” (2011, p. 45).

  16. 16.

    Evans (1982) introduces the notion of non-conceptual content. See Heck (2000) for a discussion of how precisely this notion might be understood.

  17. 17.

    These results are from Potter et al. (2014). I am drawing heavily from the summary in Mandelbaum (2018, p. 267).

  18. 18.

    See Mandelbaum (2018, p. 268).

  19. 19.

    See Mandelbaum (2018, p. 275).

  20. 20.

    See Siegel (2017, p. 6).

  21. 21.

    Siegel repeats variants of the unification consideration several times. See for example Siegel (2017, pp. 127 and 169).


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I am especially grateful to Ori Beck, who gave me careful feedback on a draft of this paper, and to my undergraduate student Farheen Asim, with whom I had many extended and illuminating conversations about Siegel’s book. I have also benefitted from discussions in my seminar Perception with undergraduate students Jessica Chang, Siddharth Chatterjee, Zhi Heng Chia, Joseph Han, Dara Hanson, Elaine Li, Allison Love, Yi Ming Ng, Yong Li Ng, Gena Soh, Joshua Tan, Xianda Wen, Cassandra Woo, and Keith Yee.


Yale-NUS College and the Singapore Ministry of Education.

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Correspondence to Neil Mehta.

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Mehta, N. A New Argument for the Rationality of Perception. Acta Anal 36, 393–408 (2021).

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