Skip to main content

Travis, McDowell, and Whitehead

I'm beginning to engage more directly with the Travis-McDowell controversy on the content of perceptual experience and on having the world available in experience (Travis: "Unlocking the outside world", "The silence of the senses" and "Reasons reach", McDowell: "Avoiding the myth of the Given"). I'm doing that trying to look for broadly Whiteheadian elements to illuminate the debate. Travis makes use of Frege to somehow craft a direct realist position according to which the environment is open to one's view in perception. Through this account, it is possible to conceive of perception as an opening to the world and experience as a source of warrant that is completely different from what is justified (inferentially) through beliefs. McDowell responds to Travis position - more than to any particular argument he finds in his texts - with sympathy: he feels urged to move away from his Mind and World position according to which perceptual experience has propositional content and therefore has the same form as a belief. (His position, as he acknowledged, has prompted a reaction from Davidson and the Davidsonians along the lines of: well, then there's nothing special about experience, we can just describe it as sensory driven belief- acquisition.) McDowell now wants to give up this discursive character of the content of perceptual experience in favor of a non-propositional yet conceptual account of perceptual content. Travis is right, he holds, to make sure the world gives us warrant through experience as the environment opens up to us, it doesn't say anything, it just presents itself to us in perception. However, he is wrong to describe this opening process as something that doesn't involve conceptual capacities. This makes Travis fall in the myth of the Given. But his position affords being remedied from this if we take seriously the Kantian conception of intuitions (Anschauungen): having something in view. Intuitions are, according to this new position McDowell holds, exercises of conceptual capacities that provide a unity that is not the propositional unity but rather something that identifies sensibles, objects and articulations in an indexical way. This is the way McDowell found to avoid the Given while making sure that experience is an episode of something very different in content from a belief, an intuition, that is not propositional and not a ready-made discursive claim.

The idea that conceptual intuitions are the content of perceptual experience for rational animals (as McDowell puts it) makes room for a general speculative thought that in presentational immediacy in general things are brought to view but only through a matrix of importances. What is interesting is that the presence of importance spreads beyond presentational immediacy towards the other, more general, mode of perception described by Whitehead: efficient causation. Both modes require senses of importance and both have somehow the perceived reality present in the perceptual effect. In causation, what makes itself present depends on the (so called causal) capacities of what is effected; hence, the red billiard ball cannot perceive (i.e. be affected) by the internal matter or the color of the white ball but only by its weight. The billiard ball doesn't have the capacity to be affected by the color of an object, this has no importance for the billiard ball. Yet, it is through causation that a ball makes the other ball present. In other words, the account of perceptual experience through intuitions favored now by McDowell is not only an appropriate way to deal with presentational immediacy but also a way to deal with perception in general (even in the mode of efficient causation): what is perceived is brought to the perceiver's presence through no inference, the content of perceptual experience is not that of a belief (propositional content ready for discourse), it opens the rest of the world to the perceiver and provides some sort of warrant and it is driven by the perceiver's sense of importance (which, I maintain, is the general form of any conceptual capacity for what is at stake is a capacity to coordinate what is present with the rest of what is known). Additionally, the speculative framework on which Whitehead places perception enables McDowell to respond to his demand of less intellectualism: perception is driven by all sort of importance matrixes but it provides a non-inferential drive to a particular course of action.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Giving Birth

This is a month of giving birth: 1. On the first day of the month (my birthday) I sent out my book BUG (Being Up for Grabs) to publisher. A birth-giving moment. 2. On the forth, we started the Journal, called Journal of Questions. It is a Jabèsian and Jarryian endeavor that intends to reflect in many languages about the gaps between thought and translation. It will be available soon. 3. On the 10th, day before yesterday, offspring Devrim A. B. was born. Her name means revolution in Turkish and is a roughly common name. She's very attentive and concentrated - especially on her own fingers that she learned to molest in her youth during her womb months. She was gestated together with BUG. Hope the world enjoys.

My responses to (some) talks in the Book Symposium

Indexicalism is out: l https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-indexicalism.html   The book symposium took place two weeks ago with talks by Sofya Gevorkyan/Carlos Segovia, Paul Livingston, Gerson Brea, Steven Shaviro, Chris RayAlexander, Janina Moninska, Germán Prosperi, Gabriela Lafetá, Andrea Vidal, Elzahrã Osman, Graham Harman, Charles Johns, Jon Cogburn, Otavio Maciel, Aha Else, JP Caron, Michel Weber and John Bova. My very preliminary response to some of their talks about the book follows. (Texts will appear in a special issue of Cosmos & History soon). RESPONSES : ON SAYING PARADOXICAL THINGS Hilan Bensusan First of all, I want to thank everyone for their contributions. You all created a network of discussions that made the book worth publishing. Thanks. Response to Shaviro: To engage in a general account of how things are is to risk paradox. Totality, with its different figures including the impersonal one that enables a symmetrical view from nowhere

Hunky, Gunky and Junky - all Funky Metaphysics

Been reading Bohn's recent papers on the possibility of junky worlds (and therefore of hunky worlds as hunky worlds are those that are gunky and junky - quite funky, as I said in the other post). He cites Whitehead (process philosophy tends to go hunky) but also Leibniz in his company - he wouldn't take up gunk as he believed in monads but would accept junky worlds (where everything that exists is a part of something). Bohn quotes Leibniz in On Nature Itself «For, although there are atoms of substance, namely monads, which lack parts, there are no atoms of bulk, that is, atoms of the least possible extension, nor are there any ultimate elements, since a continuum cannot be composed out of points. In just the same way, there is nothing greatest in bulk nor infinite in extension, even if there is always something bigger than anything else, though there is a being greatest in the intensity of its perfection, that is, a being infinite in power.» And New Essays: ... for there is ne