Cognitive penetration and informational encapsulation: Have we been failing the module?

Philosophical Studies 178 (8):2599-2620 (2021)
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Jerry Fodor deemed informational encapsulation ‘the essence’ of a system’s modularity and argued that human perceptual processing comprises modular systems, thus construed. Nowadays, his conclusion is widely challenged. Often, this is because experimental work is seen to somehow demonstrate the cognitive penetrability of perceptual processing, where this is assumed to conflict with the informational encapsulation of perceptual systems. Here, I deny the conflict, proposing that cognitive penetration need not have any straightforward bearing on the conjecture that perceptual processing is composed of nothing but informationally encapsulated modules, the conjecture that each and every perceptual computation is performed by an informationally encapsulated module, and the consequences perceptual encapsulation was traditionally expected to have for a perception-cognition border, the epistemology of perception and cognitive science. With these points in view, I propose that particularly plausible cases of cognitive penetration would actually seem to evince the encapsulation of perceptual systems rather than refute/problematize this conjecture.

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Sam Clarke
University of Southern California


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