In this paper, I argue that theories of perception that appeal to Helmholtz’s idea of unconscious inference (“Helmholtzian” theories) should be taken literally, i.e. that the inferences appealed to in such theories are inferences in the full sense of the term, as employed elsewhere in philosophy and in ordinary discourse.
In the course of the argument, I consider constraints on inference based on the idea that inference is a deliberate acton, and on the idea that inferences depend on the syntactic structure of representations. I argue that inference is a personal-level but sometimes unconscious process that cannot in general be distinguished from association on the basis of the structures of the representations over which it’s defined. I also critique arguments against representationalist interpretations of Helmholtzian theories, and argue against the view that perceptual inference is encapsulated in a module.