The perception/cognition distinction

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 1:1-31 (2021)
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The difference between perception and cognition seems introspectively obvious in many cases. Perceiving and thinking have also been assigned quite different roles, in epistemology, in theories of reference and of mental content, in philosophy of psychology, and elsewhere. Yet what is the nature of the distinction? In what way, or ways, do perception and cognition differ? The paper reviews recent work on these questions. Four main respects in which perception and cognition have been held to differ are discussed. First, their phenomenal character, such as the often-remarked vivacity or immediacy of perception. Second, the way in which they represent the world, e.g. the non-propositional nature of the contents, or non-discursive character of the vehicles, that have been held to characterise perceptual representation. Third, their place in cognitive architecture, i.e., roughly, in the information-flow of the mind, such as their alleged (non-)modularity. Fourth, their mind-world relations, e.g. the way in which perceptions seem to be tightly causally linked with distal or proximal stimuli. Against this background, we distinguish some main options for an account of the perception/cognition distinction, in particular concerning whether there is one, several, or no interesting and principled distinction(s) to be drawn here.

Author Profiles

Sebastian Watzl
University of Oslo


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