Acquaintance, Conceptual Capacities, and Attention

In Jonathan Knowles & Thomas Raleigh (eds.), Acquaintance: New Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 191-212 (2019)
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Abstract
Russell’s theory of acquaintance construes perceptual awareness as at once constitutively independent of conceptual thought and yet a source of propositional knowledge. Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell, and other conceptualists object that this is a ‘myth’: perception can be a source of knowledge only if conceptual capacities are already in play therein. Proponents of a relational view of experience, including John Campbell, meanwhile voice sympathy for Russell’s position on this point. This paper seeks to spell out, and defend, a claim that offers the prospects for an attractive, unacknowledged element of common ground in this debate. The claim is that conceptual capacities, at least in a certain minimal sense implicit in McDowell’s recent work, must be operative in perceptual experience, if it is to rationalize judgement. The claim will be supported on the basis of two premises, each of which can be defended drawing, inter alia, on considerations stressed by Campbell. First, that experience rationalizes judgement only if it is attentive. Second, that attention qualifies as a conceptual capacity, in the noted, minimal sense. The conjunction of the two premises might be dubbed ‘attentional conceptualism’.
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Archival date: 2018-10-31
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