Unconscious perception and central coordinating agency

Philosophical Studies 178 (12):3869-3893 (2021)
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One necessary condition on any adequate account of perception is clarity regarding whether unconscious perception exists. The issue is complicated, and the debate is growing in both philosophy and science. In this paper we consider the case for unconscious perception, offering three primary achievements. First, we offer a discussion of the underspecified notion of central coordinating agency, a notion that is critical for arguments that purportedly perceptual states are not attributable to the individual, and thus not genuinely perceptual. We develop an explication of what it is for a representational state to be available to central coordinating agency for guidance of behavior. Second, drawing on this explication, we place a more careful understanding of the attributability of a state to the individual in the context of a range of empirical work on vision-for-action, saccades, and skilled typing. The results place pressure on the skeptic about unconscious perception. Third, reflecting upon broader philosophical themes running through debates about unconscious perception, we highlight how our discussion places pressure on the view that perception is a manifest kind, rather than a natural kind. In doing so, we resist the tempting complaint that the debate about unconscious perception is merely verbal.

Author Profiles

Joshua Shepherd
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Myrto Mylopoulos
Carleton University


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