Seeming to see: a doxastic theory of perceptual sensation
How does blue show up in the experience of blue, if it’s not a blue quale? Perhaps in the same way blue is present to you when you’re thinking of something blue.
I am going to imagine that every perceiver omits the step that leads from (1) the neurological effects of sensory stimulation through (2) the presence of a quale to (3) belief about what one is perceiving. In the absence of (2) I am going to propose that to have a sense impression is to acquire a belief. But let me be more precise.
I’m going to propose a doxastic theory of sensory states. (doxa: belief, in Greek.) On this theory, seeming to see something blue is becoming disposed to believe that one sees something blue. It’s analyzed in terms of inclinations to believe things about what one is directly seeing.
(1) S seems to see something F iff S is inclined to believe that he/she directly sees that something F is there.
The theory interprets ‘It seems to me that …’ as ‘I am inclined to believe that …’. This expresses a familiar propositional attitude. And one ordinary use of ‘it seems to me’ is indeed to speak about what one is inclined to believe: “It seems to me that all politicians are corrupt.”
I will call your attention to three primary features of the doxastic theory. First, the blue which seeming to see involves is real, genuine blue—the blue of the sky, the blue of my jeans, and not an ineffable blue indescribable in any public language. Secondly, absolutely nothing is blue when I only seem to see something blue. Thirdly, the blue is internal to the object of my experience.
My experience is an attitude (it seems to me that) described in terms of a propositional object (I see something blue). The blue is an aspect of the proposition, a concept internal to it.
The doxastic theory agrees with qualia theory that sensations are private events: (1) only I can have my sensations (as only I can have my thoughts), and (2) I may well have privileged epistemic access to my sensations (something to investigate later).
One sign of the success of a doxastic theory within a functionalist picture is that it solves, or dissolves, the eternal problem of the inverted spectrum. Still, questions naturally remain. Is the problem of the inverted spectrum a by-product of bad philosophy as Wittgenstein might think, or does it have deeper roots so that it can trouble even non-philosophers? It’s a good question and I don’t know the answer.
We may see the reasonableness of (1) from the failure of two simpler proposals.
(1´) S seems to see something F iff S is inclined to believe that something F is there.
(1′) fails to distinguish perceptual and non-perceptual ways of acquiring belief. You may become inclined to believe that something black is there because you hallucinate a cat or because someone tells you something black is there. Only in the first case is there a visual sense impression.
(1´´) S seems to see something F iff S is inclined to believe she/he sees that something F is there
As Berkeleysays, you can see either directly or via inference and prior belief. For example, you look at the mountain top and directly gain the belief that something is white: you directly see that it is white. At the same time you indirectly gain the belief that something is cold, via your inference that the white stuff is snow and your prior belief that snow is white. You have a sense impression of white, but you don’t have a sense impression of cold.
In order to complete this presentation of a doxastic theory I’ll need to sketch the relation between seeming to see and actual seeing—both seeing that something is the case and seeing an object. Here’s my analysis of propositional seeing.
(2) S sees that p iff the fact that p causes, in the proper direct manner, S to believe that p
(2) is merely the structure or schema of an analysis, because it does not clarify the manner in which the perceived fact must cause the belief. This manner of causation will have to satisfy several conditions:
(2a) It distinguishes perceptual ways of getting belief from rumors, theorizing, and other non-perceptual ways.
(2b) It is such as to justify S’s belief to such an extent that the belief qualifies as knowledge. (Remember that seeing that p is a species of acquiring knowledge that p.)
(2c) It requires proper use of the eyes, which is necessary if perception is to qualify as seeing rather than some other sense modality.
Finally, I analyze the seeing of objects, in terms of propositional seeing.
(3) S sees x iff for some property F, S sees that x is F
In the light of (2), (1) turns out to analyze seeming to see as an inclination to believe things about causation and one’s own beliefs. Having a visual sensation will require both a kind of self-consciousness and a capacity for second-order belief: belief about one’s own beliefs.
So seeming to see is deeply cognitive and conceptual. One who seems to perceive is not sensing sense-data or having experiences with qualia. There are no representations that are really F. We may say, though, that seeming to perceive is an act of representing—to be precise, representing that one directly sees that something is F.
These analyses make seeing that p the fundamental concept of perception. It is both conceptually and temporally prior to seeming to see and to the seeing of objects.
I consider these analyses to be elements in a theory of direct perception, both because there are no intermediate objects of perception or awareness, such as qualia, and because the theory makes perceiving facts about real objects prior to having perceptual sensations.