Reflective Intuitions about the Causal Theory of Perception across Sensory Modalities

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 12 (2):257-277 (2020)
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Many philosophers believe that there is a causal condition on perception, and that this condition is a conceptual truth about perception. A highly influential argument for this claim is based on intuitive responses to Gricean-style thought experiments. Do the folk share the intuitions of philosophers? Roberts et al. (2016) presented participants with two kinds of cases: Blocker cases (similar to Grice’s case involving a mirror and a pillar) and Non-Blocker cases (similar to Grice’s case involving a clock and brain stimulation). They found that a substantial minority agreed that seeing occurs in the Non-Blocker cases, and that in the Blocker cases significantly less agreed that seeing occurs. They thus hypothesized that folk intuitions better align with a no blocker condition than with a causal condition. This paper continues this line of enquiry with two new experiments. The paper investigates the generality and robustness of Roberts et al.’s findings by expanding the sense modalities tested from only vision to audition and olfaction as well. The paper also uses Gricean-style thought experiments as a case study for investigating the “reflection defense” against the negative project in experimental philosophy. Our results replicate and extend Roberts et al.’s study and support their hypothesis that folk intuitions better align with a no blocker condition. They also provide an empirical reason to doubt the reflection defense.

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