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The Silence of the Senses--Travis

The Silence of the Senses--Travis

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Published by walter horn
In this 2011 revision of his classic attack on representationism--probably the most popular current theory of cognition among English-speaking analytic philosophers, Charles Travis argues that perception does not generally involve representation of anything at all.
In this 2011 revision of his classic attack on representationism--probably the most popular current theory of cognition among English-speaking analytic philosophers, Charles Travis argues that perception does not generally involve representation of anything at all.

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Published by: walter horn on Nov 05, 2013
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03/13/2014

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THE SILENCE OF THE SENSES(Revised Version)
Perhaps the most common view of perception today is that it is representational: that in perceptual experience—in our seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, what we do—the world is represented to us as being thus and so. If we help ourselves to a far from innocent count noun, we may shorten the view’s expression: a (given) perceptual experience has (given) representational content. In no case I am aware of is this view argued for. Rather it is assumed from the outset. Some, perhaps, assume it
 faute de mieux 
, seeing representation as better material than ‘qualia’ for answering a very special question as to what an experience was like: a question whose answer would identify, precisely, and once and for all, what that experience was like (e.g., visually)
 for the subject 
, as thus experienced.
at special question, as conceived, would demand an answer mentioning nothing there is
 for one
 to meet in his surroundings. What follows should suggest why
nothing 
 answers such a very special question. Some may be moved by the thought that perceptual experience, being mental, is intentional, and that intentionality just is that sort of
aiming 
 at the world which representation is. If intentionality is so construed, the present brief shows it to be but one form of the mental: perception, and experience, exemplify another. In any event, perception is not representational. What follows will show why.
1.
e Position:
 
e view at issue is advanced by such philosophers as Martin Davies, Christopher Peacocke, sometimes, of late, John McDowell; also by Gilbert Harman, John Searle, Michael Tye, and Colin McGinn, among many others. (See, e.g., Harman (1990), Searle (1983), for example, pp. 47-48, Tye (1995), especially chapter 4, McGinn, (1991), pp. 29-30, and McGinn (1982).)Martin Davies expresses it as follows:A subject’s experiences represent the world to her as being a certain way.
ese experiences may be correct or incorrect. ... In short, experiences have representational or semantic properties; they have content. (Davies 1992, p. 22.)Christopher Peacocke expresses it
en passant 
 as follows:A perceptual experience represents the world as being a certain way. What is the nature of the content it represents as holding? (Peacocke 1992, p. 61)
 
He later insists that it is crucial to distinguish ‘perceptual experiences’from states that do not represent the world as being a certain way to the subject. (Peacocke 1992, p. 66)
e following four elements in the position will be in play here. All, I think, are non-controversially part of it. One aspect of the last, though, will emerge as optional. Nor, it will also then emerge, does present criticism turn on it.
1.
e representing in question is representing such-and-such as so.
 ‘Represent’ and ‘representation’ have many uses. To represent may be to be an e
ff 
ect or trace of something. A ring on a tree trunk represents a year’s growth. Its width may also represent the drought of 1923. Again, to represent may be, in various ways, to be a stand-in, or substitute, for what is represented. A bit of plastic may represent an infantry division in a game of strategy. A squiggle on a map may represent the Lot. None of these uses of ‘represent’ is relevant to the present case.
e point about perceptual experience is to be that there is a way things are according to it, that it represents things as being thus and so—where, for all that, things need not be that way. So representationalists tell us. If certain neural states, say, represent certain distal stimuli in being their e
ff 
ects or traces, or those yielding our awareness of them, that would not be to the present point. It would not amount to
their 
 representing anything as so; as if that were something they might do without its being so. For if for them to represent involves their being traces, then where there is no such thing for them to be traces of, they simply do not represent that. (If, through some
󿬂
uke, a tree gains two rings in one year, then a ring does not always represent a year’s growth. It is not that a certain ring represents something—say, that there was one more year of growth—but falsely.) Similarly for the other cases here.
e representing this essay is thus
not 
 about is, I suggest, enough to serve the purposes of serious psychology.
2. Perceptual experience has a face value.
 
at idea is in Davies:An experience may present the world to the subject as containing something square in front of her, and the subject may take that experience at face value and judge that there is something square in front of her. (Davies 1992, p. 23)McDowell also proposes it:
 
Minimally, it must be possible to decide whether or not to judge that things are as one’s experience represents them to be. How one’s experience represents things to be is not under one’s control, but it is up to one whether one accepts the appearance or rejects it. (McDowell 1994, p. 11)
at things are thus and so
 is the content of the experience, and it can also be the content of a judgment. It becomes the content of a judgment if the subject decides to take the experience at face value. (McDowell 1994, p. 26)
e idea is that any perceptual experience has a face value, at which the perceiver may take, or refuse to take, it. To take an experience at face value is to take it that such-and-such is so (in the case of perception, that one’s surroundings are thus and so). So the face value of an experience is that such-and-such is so.
is just repeats point 1.Where the face value of an experience is that things are thus and so, for all that things may, or may not, be that way.
is just makes explicit a feature of representing things as so. Whatever does that
ipso facto
 admits of correctness, or incorrectness, according as things are, or not, as represented—in present idiom, as one would take it in taking it at face value.
Such
 correctness is what truth requires. So any such thing is truth-evaluable. If ‘true’ is not colloquial here, we might substitute the word ‘
veridical 
.A second feature of face value is that whatever gives an experience its face value, and whatever makes that value recognisable, might be present in an experience, and might have been in
that 
 one, even if what, at that face value, is so in fact is not. So, for example, where the face value of an experience is that there is (visibly) a pig before one, what gives it that face  value cannot be the presence of a pig. Nor can it be ones seeing that.
is makes room for a third point on which McDowell, for one, insists.
e face value of an experience is, again, something the experiencer can accept or reject, believe or disbelieve. So I must be able to see my experience to have such-and-such face value—that P—without yet taking it that P. So whatever I recognise in grasping its face value must be something that could be present even if not P; recognising merely
that 
 need not be to recognize P. (So if the face value is that there is a pig, what I grasp in grasping that fact cannot be that there is a pig.)
Discussion:
 McDowell speaks as if an experience’s face value is a matter of how things appear, or what, or how, they appear to be. (To accept an experience at face value is to “accept the appearance”—to take things to be as they appear.) Two preliminary points about that. First, we certainly do sometimes speak of things not being what they appear to be, or as, or what, they seem. Sid and Pia appear to be trysting; but they are only conspiring to throw a surprise party for Luc.
e right explanation may make a host of small actions and signs look entirely di
ff 
erent. But, as I will show in the next section, at least in a wide swathe of central cases, where things may be or not as they appear, their appearing as they do is an utterly di
ff 
erent and distinct phenomenon from anything being represented as so. Second, though we

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