Rational Relations Between Perception and Belief: The Case of Color

Abstract

The present paper investigates the first step of rational belief acquisition. It, thus, focuses on justificatory relations between perceptual experiences and perceptual beliefs, and between their contents, respectively. In particular, the paper aims at outlining how it is possible to reason from the content of perceptual experiences to the content of perceptual beliefs. The paper thereby approaches this aim by combining a formal epistemology perspective with an eye towards recent advances in philosophy of cognition. Furthermore the paper restricts its focus, it concentrates on the case of color perception and perceptual beliefs about color.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Indeed, some empiricists have even argued that in virtue of the independence of the non-conceptual content of PEs and the conceptual content of beliefs in general and PBs in particular, PEs can serve as a secure fundament for justifying PBs. Here we ignore this strong variant of empiricism. We also only briefly address the empiricist claim that we learn our first concepts on the basis of the non-conceptual content of PEs.

  2. 2.

    For the moment we concentrate on internalist theories of justification. Externalist theories of justification that ascribe no relevant epistemic role to PE. Externalist theories often concentrate on the process that leads to the PB: to the extent that it is reliable, the PB is justified whatever the content of the PE.

  3. 3.

    The relation between attention and cognitive penetration is disputed in the literature. Obviously, changes in attention or in the state of the perceptual system can lead to epistemic problems as highlighted by Stokes (2015). The question is whether these epistemic problems are of a distinctively different form. According to philosophers such as Fodor and Pylyshyn, they are. Changes in attention might lead to similar epistemic problems as directing your gaze or measuring instrument in a different direction do, one can miss evidence. Changes in the state of the perceptual system might lead to similar epistemic problems as using faulty or unclean measurement instruments, one can obtain false evidence. However, they maintain that these epistemic problems are of a different form than the epistemic problems associated with theory-ladenness of observation and cognitive penetration. Circularity worries seem to arise only in the latter two cases where your theory, your belief, or respectively your language influences the content of perception experiences and perceptual beliefs. However, Mole (2015) and Marchi (2017) argue that, depending on the theoretical assumptions about attention and the cognitive system, attentional processes can be a contributing cause of cognitive penetration. For example, according to Marchi (2017) in the predictive processing framework attention is associated with expectations of precision of the bottom-up information. The lower the expectation of precision, i.e. the lower the attention, the greater the top-down influence. Thus, it is low attention in the sense of the predictive processing literature, that enables higher-order beliefs to have a top-down influence on lower-order PEs. Arguably, however, it is the content-dependence of PEs from beliefs that invokes our worry of epistemic circularity. It is just the case that certain attentional processes are necessary for the worry of epistemic circularity to arise.

  4. 4.

    They are prominently discussed in Evans (1982), Heck (2000), and Peacocke (2001). Macpherson (2015: 335-337) even discusses six features of PEs that point towards non-conceptual content.

  5. 5.

    There also might be a conceptual representation of distance. Firestone and Scholl (2015), for example, defend the cognitively impenetrability thesis in the context of tasks involving the evaluation of distanc, by admitting that perceptual judgments of distance, respectively PBs in our terminology, can be top-down influenced. The non-conceptual content of PEs concerning distance, they maintain, are cognitively impenetrable.

  6. 6.

    The best color appearance models nowadays use more than three dimensions to represent color as experienced by humans, and thus it is less than ideal to represent them pictorially. The CIE-CAM02 model uses the dimensions brightness (luminance), lightness, colorfulness, chroma, hue and saturation (where saturation could be understood as a dependent dimension that does not need to be added to the model). For the purpose of the paper, it is not important in which space we represent color experiences, it only matters that there is such a space and that we can represent a specific color experience as a point in that space.

  7. 7.

    In biology we need to use different phenomenal color spaces for different species to explain their behavior (sometimes they might even differ within species).

  8. 8.

    For the purpose of this paper, we ignore the update method of Jeffrey conditionalization.

  9. 9.

    Especially for philosophical applications, the notions of conditional probabilities play an important role. Thus, the above definition of probabilities needs to be supplemented by a definition of conditional probabilities.

    Definition 1 :

    If Pr(B) > 0, then Pr(A|B) = Pr(AB)/ Pr(B)

  10. 10.

    The relevant definition of conditional probabilities is a little bit more complicated.

    Definition 2 :

    \(\Pr \left (A|c(o)=\langle x,y,z \rangle \right ) =r \ \text {iff} \ \Pr (A\wedge c(o)=\langle x,y,z \rangle )={\int }_{C} \! f_{\mathcal {X}, \mathcal {Y}, \mathcal {Z}}(\langle x,y,z\rangle ) \times r\, \mathrm {d}x,\mathrm {d}y,\mathrm {d}z\)

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Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to two exceedingly helpful referees of this journal. In addition, I would like to thank Igor Douven, Anna-Maria Asunta Eder and Nina Poth for their invaluable feedback on various versions of this paper and Ben Young for proofreading the manuscript. Research on this paper has been generously supported by an Emmy Noether Grant from the German Research Council (DFG), reference number BR 5210/1-1.

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Brössel, P. Rational Relations Between Perception and Belief: The Case of Color. Rev.Phil.Psych. 8, 721–741 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-017-0359-y

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