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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Whitehead on acquaintance

Evans (Varieties of Reference, Oxford: Clarendon, 78) defines the photograph model as follows: "the causal antecedents of the information involved in a mental state [...] are claimed to be sufficient to determine which object the state concerns". The causal antecedent contrasts with what is cognitively transparent in the mental state. The photograph model allows a mental state to be about something it cannot discriminate - for it can be about something it is not cognitively engaged with. The photograph model doesn't entail that we have some sort of faded cognitive contact with the content of our mental states. We don't have to know anything at all about what we think, believe or perceive. (Applied to knowledge, the model entails that we don't need to know anything at all about what we know.). If I contemplate a photograph of Neville Chamberlain where he looks like Winston Churchill, it doesn't matter any of my beliefs about the photograph showing a man that looks like Churchill - it is a photograph of Chamberlain no matter what. Now, it seems to me that to remark that while Russell was not committed to the photograph model (but to something far worse than it), Whitehead was thinking very much along the lines of the photograph model in his account of perception.

Whitehead had a conception of perception that included all sort of affection - including causal affection. So causality is understood in terms of perception, and not the other way round. Thus, when he buys into a roughly Lockean model of indirect perception, he emphasizing that the res vera perceived is indifferent to what we make of it - of our ideas concerning it. What is ultimately perceived is an actual entity, the cause of the perception. The photograph model: what is perceived is what causes the act of perception, the object perceived is the res vera that is the antecedent of the information in the act. Here, however, there is no acquaintance, no faded cognitive contact with the actual entity - there is perceptual contact without cognitive contact, as I put in previous posts. In other words, Whitehead buys into no notion of acquaintance like the one that moves Russell to diagnose a non-descritive element in mental states. In Russell, there are cognitive contact without concepts - this is why he is vulnerable to the attacks on the myth of the given. In Whitehead, there are perceptual contact without concepts - but that involves no cognition, no acquaintance and no given.

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