Perception and cognition : insights from Kant and cognitive science

Armijo, Alicia Michelle
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My dissertation integrates rationalist and empirical approaches into a unified account of perceptual experience and cognition. I highlight important conceptual and theoretical distinctions that are critical for accurately interpreting the contributions of rationalist thinkers and the empirical findings of cognitive science. By identifying theoretical missteps and drawing insights from them, we can attain a plausible view of ourselves as seers, thinkers, and knowers. My project is comprised of three stages, collectively forming a narrative. I begin with a critical analysis of Immanuel Kant’s views on consciousness. I identify a novel thread of Kant’s use of “consciousness,” which denotes the explicit knowledge of what was formerly known by the subject only implicitly. I distinguish this third notion from Kant’s concepts of self-consciousness and demonstrate how this three-part distinction can enrich our understanding of his views on consciousness and human judgment. Second, I scrutinize Patricia Kitcher’s hyper-rationalist interpretation of Kant’s account of human cognition. Kitcher’s provocative proposal ultimately fails because she does not recognize an important distinction I highlight, and she convicts Kant of certain empirical errors. Specifically, she overestimates the requirements for cognition by reading all of Kant’s claims about the mind’s activities at the personal level. In contrast, I advocate distinguishing between personal and subpersonal levels of psychological explanation. I propose an alternative reading in which he does not run headlong into the empirical evidence. Through this critique, I show that Kitcher’s interpretive missteps can help us to avoid similar errors when theorizing about consciousness and our cognitive abilities. Lastly, I turn to more recent debates and address a central issue in the metaphysics of perception. I argue that a version of epistemological disjunctivism is not inconsistent with the science of perceptual psychology. I offer a novel integrative framework to reconcile their different explanations of perception without overintellectualizing the perceiver’s epistemic capacities. When we keep the personal and subpersonal levels straight, John McDowell and Tyler Burge can each describe an aspect of a perceiver’s perceptual experience without issue. Taken together, I argue that their theories of perception can contribute to a synoptic understanding of human perception.