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TheEpistemologyofPerception
Perceptionisacentralissueinepistemology,thetheoryof
knowledge. At root, all our empirical knowledge is
groundedinhow we see, hear, touch, smell and tastethe
world around us. In section 1, a distinction is drawn
betweenperceptionthatinvolvesconceptsandperception
thatdoesn't,andthevariousepistemicrelationsthatthere
arebetweenthesetwotypesofperceptionarediscussed
our perceptual beliefs and our perceptual knowledge.
Section2considerstheroleofcausationinperceptionandfocusesonthequestionofwhether
perceptual experience justifies our beliefs or merely causes them. Sections 3 and 4 further
investigate the epistemic role of perception and introduce two distinct conceptions of the
architectureofourbeliefsystem:foundationalismandcoherentism.Itisshownhowperceptual
experienceandperceptualbeliefsareintegratedintothesesystems.Finally,section5turnsto
theexternalistviewthatthinkersneednotbeawareofwhatjustifiestheirperceptualbeliefs.

TableofContents
1. PerceptionandBelief
a. SeeingThat,SeeingAsandSimpleSeeing
b. PerceptualBeliefs
2. Perception,JustificationandCausation
a. Armstrong'sCausalAccountofPerceptualKnowledge
3. PerceptionandFoundationalism
a. TraditionalFoundationalism
b. SellarsandtheMythoftheGiven
c. ConceptsandExperience
d. ModestFoundationalism
4. PerceptionandCoherentism
a. TheBasicIdeaBehindCoherentism
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b. BonjourandtheSpontaneousNatureofPerceptualBeliefs
5. Externalism
6. ReferencesandFurtherReading

1.PerceptionandBelief
a.SeeingThat,SeeingAsandSimpleSeeing
Perceptionistheprocessbywhichweacquireinformationabouttheworldaroundususingour
fivesenses.Considerthenatureofthisinformation.Lookingoutofyourwindow,youseethat
itisraining.Yourperceptionrepresentstheworldasbeinglikethat.Toperceivetheworldin
thisway,therefore,itisrequiredthatyoupossessconcepts,thatis,waysofrepresentingand
thinkingabouttheworld.In this case, you require the concept RAIN. Thus, seeing that your
coffee cup is yellow and that the pencil is green involves the possession of the concepts
COFFEE CUP, YELLOW, PENCIL and GREEN. Such perception is termed "perceiving that,"
andisfactivethatis,itispresupposedthatyouperceivetheworldcorrectly.Toperceivethatit
is raining, it must be true that it is raining. You can also, though, perceive the world to be a
certainwayandyetbemistaken.Thiswecancall,"perceivingas,"orintheusualcase,"seeing
as".A stick partly submerged in water may not be bent but, nevertheless, you see it as bent.
Yourperceptionrepresentsthestickasbeingacertainway,althoughitturnsoutthatyouare
wrong.Muchofyourperception,then,isrepresentational:youtaketheworldtobeacertain
way, sometimes correctly, when you see that the world is thus and so, and sometimes
incorrectly,whentheworldisnothowyouperceiveittobe.
Italsoseemsthatthereisaformofperceptionthatdoesnotrequirethepossessionofconcepts
(although this claim has been questioned). It is plausible to claim that cognitively
unsophisticated creatures, those that are not seen as engaging in conceptually structured
thought,canperceivetheworld,andthatattimeswecanperceptuallyengagewiththeworldin
anonconceptualway.Youcantellthatthewaspsensesorperceivesyourpresencebecauseof
itsirasciblebehavior.WhenyouarewalkingalongtheHighStreetdaydreaming,youseebus
stops,wastebins,andyourfellowpedestrians.You must see them because you do not bump
intothem,butyoudonotseethatthebusstopisblueorthatacertainpedestrianiswearing
Wranglerjeans.Youcan,ofcourse,cometoseethestreetinthiswayifyoufocusonthescene
infrontofyou,buttheclaimhereisthatthereisacoherentformofperceptionthatdoesnot
involvesuchconceptualstructuring.Letuscallsuchbaselineperceptualengagementwiththe
world, "simple seeing". This perception involves the acquisition of perceptual information
abouttheworld,informationthatenablesustovisuallydiscriminateobjectsandtosuccessfully
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engage with them, but also information that does not amount to one having a conceptually
structured representation of the world. (Dretske, 1969, refers to simple seeing as "non
epistemic"seeing,andrefersto'seeingthat'as"epistemic"seeing).
You can, then, simply see the bus stop, or you can see that the bus stop is blue, or you can,
mistakenly,seethebusstopasmadeofsapphire.Theseareallformsofperceptualexperience,
waysyouhaveofcausallyengagingwiththeworldusingyoursensoryapparatusandwaysthat
have a distinctive conscious or "phenomenological" dimension. Seeing in its various forms
strikesyourconsciousnessinacertainway,awaythatyouarenowexperiencingasyoulookat
yourcomputerscreen.Thisarticleinvestigatesthecausalandepistemicrolesofthisperceptual
experience.
Alittlemoreterminology:theterm"sensation"canbeusedtorefertotheconsciousaspectof
perception,butnotethatonecanhavesuchsensationsevenwhenonewouldnotbesaidtobe
perceiving the world. When hallucinating, for example, one is having the sensations usually
characteristicofperceptualexperience,eventhoughinsuchcasesone'sexperiencewouldnot
bedescribedasperceptual.
Considerhowthesevariouskindsofperceptualexperiencearerelatedtoourperceptualbeliefs.
Perceptualbeliefsarethoseconcerningtheperceptiblefeaturesofourenvironment,andthey
are beliefs that are grounded in our perceptual experience of the world. The content of such
beliefscanbeacquiredinotherways:Youcouldbetoldthatthebusstopisblue,oryoucould
remember that it is blue. Right now, though, waiting for the bus, you acquire this belief by
looking straight at it, and, thus, you have a perceptual belief concerning this particular fact.
Justhowyourperceptualbeliefsaregroundedinyourperceptualexperienceisacontentious
issue.There is certainly a causal relation between the two, but some philosophers also claim
that it is perceptual experience that provides justification for our perceptual beliefs. This
foundationalistclaimisdeniedbythecoherentist(seesections3and4below).

b.PerceptualBeliefs
First,onedoesnotnecessarilycometoacquireperceptualbeliefsinvirtueofsimplyseeingthe
world.Simpleseeingissomethingthatcognitivelyunsophisticatedcreaturescando,creatures
suchaswaspsthatdonothavemoresophisticatedbeliefs,propositionalbeliefs.Itisplausible,
though,thatifoneseesacertainobjectasabusstop,thenonewouldalsocometobelievethat
there is a bus stop being seen. In many cases, this is, of course, true, but it is not in all. A
famousexampleistheMullerLyerillusion:
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Thetwohorizontallinesabovelookasthoughtheyareofdifferentlengths,theupperlinebeing
longer than the lower. If we have seen the illusion before, then we do not believe our eyes.
Instead,webelievethatthelinesarethesamelength(whichtheyare).Hereisanothercase:a
habitual user of hallucinogenics may doubt the veracity of all his perceptions he may not
believe anything he sees. His perception, however, amounts to more than simply seeing he
seesthemoonasbeingmadeofcheeseandhiscupofteaasgrinningupathim.Yet,becauseof
thedoubtfosteredbyhisfrequenthallucinations,hedoesnotmovefromseeingtheworldas
beingacertainwaytobelievingthatitis.Inmostcases,though,ifoneseestheworldasbeinga
certain way, then one also believes that it is that way. Last, let us return to the notion of
"perceivingthat."Suchperceptionhasacloserrelationshipwiththeacquisitionofperceptual
belief.Ifoneisdescribedasperceivingthattheworldisacertainway,itisimpliedthatonealso
believesthattheworldisso.Here,thereisn'troomforperceptiontocomeapartfrombelief.
Thus,wehaveseenthatwecanbeperceptuallyengagedwiththeworldinvariousways.Such
engagementcanamounttothemereacquisitionofperceptualinformation,theexperienceof
seeingtheworldasbeingacertainway,orthepossessionofthecognitivestatesofperceiving
and believing that it is so. If all goes well, such perceptual beliefs may constitute perceptual
knowledgeoftheworld.Accordingtothetraditionalaccount,thisiswhenthosebeliefsaretrue
and when they are justified. Perceptual knowledge consists in knowledge of the perceptible
featuresoftheworldaroundus,anditisthatwhichisgroundedinourperceptualexperience.
Again,thenatureofthisgroundingiscontroversial.Perceptualexperienceiscertainlycausally
relatedtoperceptualknowledgefoundationalists,however,makethefurtherclaimthatsuch
experience provides the justification that is constitutive of such knowledge (see section 3).
Others, though, including Armstrong (section 2a) and the coherentists (section 4), do not
believeperceptualexperienceplaysthisjustificatoryrolewithrespecttoperceptualknowledge.
Thenextsectionconsidersthiskeyissueofjustification.
Butconsidertheissueofskepticism.TheskepticalargumentsofDescartes(1641)havehadan
enormous influence on both the history and practice of epistemology. He suggests certain
scenariosthatthreatentoundermineallofourempiricalknowledgeoftheworld.Itcouldbe
that right now you are dreaming. If you were, everything might appear to you just as it
currentlydoesdreamsaresometimesveryreal.Itisalsopossiblethatapowerfuldemonmight
bedeliberatelydeceivingyoutheremaynotbeanexternalworldatall,andallyourperceptual
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experienceandperceptualbeliefsmaybesimplyplantedinyourmindbythisevilentity.Given
suchscenarios,itisnotclearhowourperceptualbeliefscanbejustifiedandthus,howwecan
have perceptual knowledge. Any reasons you have for thinking that such beliefs correctly
represent the world are undermined by the fact that you could have such beliefs even if the
external world did not exist. Since the seventeenth century, epistemology has been trying to
find a solution to this Cartesian scepticism. This article simply assumes that we can have
justification for our perceptual beliefs and that perceptual knowledge is possible. Given this
assumption,thefocusisonhowweshouldconceiveofsuchjustification.

2.Perception,JustificationandCausation
Perceptual experience provides both causal and justificatory grounding for our perceptual
beliefsandforourknowledgeofthepassingshow.Inthissection,weshallstarttolookatthe
causalandjustificatoryrelationsbetweenperception,beliefandknowledge.Aswasdiscussed
above,ourperceptualexperiencecanbeconceptuallystructured:wecanseetheworldasbeing
a certain way, or we can see that it is thus and so. Thus, such experience could be seen as
providing justification for our perceptual knowledge in that you could be justified in taking
things to have the properties you see them as having. The fact that perceptual experience is
conceptual,however,isnotsufficienttoensurethatyourperceptualbeliefsarejustified.Dave,
afriendofyours,seeseverytacklemadeagainstaplayerofWestHamUnitedFootballClubas
afoul.Heisnot,however,justifiedintakingthistobetrue.Oftentheseclashesaresimplynot
fouls Dave is wrong, and even when he is correct, when he really sees that a foul has been
committed, it would seem that his prejudiced observation of the game entails that in these
casesheonlygetsitrightthroughluck,andthus,heisnotjustifiedinhisbelief.Thefact,then,
that our experience is conceptual does not entail that we have justified perceptual beliefs or
knowledge.Section3considerswhatelseneedstobesaid,andinvestigatesanaccountofhow
perceptual experience is seen to provide epistemic justification. First, though, consider an
accountofperceptualknowledgethatdoesnotmakeuseofthenotionofjustification.

a.Armstrong'sCausalAccountofPerceptualKnowledge
Armstrong (1961 / 1973) claims that perceptual knowledge simply requires that one's
perceptualbeliefsstandinlawlikerelationstotheworld.
Whatmakes...abeliefacaseofknowledge?My suggestion is that there must be a lawlike
connectionbetweenthestateofaffairsBap[thatabelievesp]andthestateofaffairsthat
makes'p'truesuchthat,givenBap,itmustbethecasethatp.(Armstrong,1973,p.75)

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Crudely, since causal relations are lawlike, if our perceptual and cognitive apparatus is such
thatitisbuzzingfliesthatcauseustohaveperceptualbeliefsaboutbuzzingflies,thenitwillbe
the case that we will have perceptual knowledge of this annoying aspect of our environment
when the bees cause the belief. Armstrong calls his account a "thermometer model" of
knowledge.Wecan come to have knowledge of the world justas a thermometer can come to
represent its own temperature. In both systems, there is simply a lawlike relation between a
property of the world and a property of a representative device (the level of mercury in a
thermometerorthestateofcertaininternalcognitivemechanismsofathinker).
Highlightingtheroleofperceptualexperience,Armstrongclaimsthat:
"perceptionisnothingbuttheacquiringofknowledgeof,or,onoccasions,theacquiringof
an inclination to believe in, particular facts about the physical world, by means of our
senses,"(Armstrong,1961,p.105)
Hedoes,however,claimthatthereisa"contingentconnectionbetweenperceptionandcertain
sorts of sensation," and that this, "may help to explain the special 'feel' of perception,"
(Armstrong,1961,p.112).Conscioussensation,then,isnotessentialtoperception.Icouldbe
correctlysaidtoseetheroadaheadasIdrivelateatnightonthemotorway,eventhoughIhave
"switched off," and appear to be driving on "autopilot." I can see the road because I am still
causallyacquiringbeliefsabouttheworldinfrontofmebywayofmysenses.Similarly,cases
ofblindsightarealsobonafidecasesofperception.Blindsightpatientsclaimtohaveacomplete
lack of visual experience on, for example, their left side, yet they can make reliable reports
about shapes and objects that are presented to this side of their perceptual field (they
themselves,however,claimthattheyaremerelyguessing).Theydo,then,seemtobeacquiring
correctbeliefsabouttheirenvironmentviaacausalengagementbetweentheworldandtheir
senses,andthus,theyperceivetheworldeventhoughinsuchcasesthecontingentconnections
withsensationarelost.Thus,onArmstrong'saccount,perceptualexperienceisnotnecessary
forperceptualknowledge.Whenonedoeshaveconsciousperceptualexperiences,thesedonot
play a justificatory role they are simply causally related to perceptual belief and knowledge.
Many, however, find such an account too sparse, in that one's experience does not play any
justificatoryorepistemicroleintheacquisitionofperceptualbeliefsorknowledge.Itisclaimed
that a more satisfying theory of perception should include an account of why perceptual
experience justifies our perceptual beliefs and that we should not be content with simply an
accountofwhywearecausedtoacquirethem.Thefollowingtheoryofperceptionattemptsto
includejustsuchanaccountofjustification.

3.PerceptionandFoundationalism
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Foundationalists claim that the superstructure of our belief system inherits its justification
from a certain subset of perceptual beliefs upon which the rest sits. These beliefs are termed
"basicbeliefs."Ourbeliefsystem,then,isseenashavingthearchitectureofabuilding.Later,in
section4,weshallseethatcoherentiststakeourbeliefsystemtobemoreakintoanecosystem,
with our beliefs mutually supporting each other, rather than relying for their justification on
certaincrucialfoundationstones.Therearevariousversionsofthisfoundationalistapproach,
twoofwhicharediscussedinthenexttwosections.

a.TraditionalFoundationalism
Traditionallythefoundationsofknowledgehavebeenseenasinfallible(theycannotbewrong),
incorrigible (they cannot be refuted), and indubitable (they cannot be doubted). For
empiricists,thesefoundationsconsistinyourbeliefsaboutyourownexperience.Your beliefs
arebasicandnonbasic.Yourbasicbeliefscomprisesuchbeliefsasthatyouarenowseeinga
redshapeinyourvisualfield,letussay,andthatyouareawareofapungentsmell.Inorderto
justifyyournonbasicbeliefthatThierryHenryisthebeststrikerinEurope,youmustbeable
to infer it from other beliefs, say that he has scored the most goals. The traditional
foundationalist claim, however, is that this sort of inferential justification is not required for
your basic beliefs. There may not actually be a red object in the world because you may be
hallucinating,but,nevertheless,youcannotbewrongaboutthefactthatyounowbelievethat
you am seeing something red. Justification for such beliefs is provided by experiential states
thatarenotthemselvesbeliefs,thatis,byyourimmediateapprehensionofthecontentofyour
sensory, perceptual experience, or what is sometimes termed, "the Given". It is, then, your
experience of seeing red that justifies your belief that you are seeing red. Such experience is
nonconceptual. It is, though, the raw material which you then go on to have conceptual
thoughtsabout.Thisconceptionoftherelationbetweenknowledgeandexperiencehashada
distinguishedhistory.ItwasadvocatedbytheBritishempiricistsLocke,BerkeleyandHume
andbytheimportantmodernadherentsC.I.Lewis(1946)andR.Chisholm(1989).However,
thisconceptionofhowyourperceptualbeliefsarejustifiedhasbeenwidelyattacked,andthe
nexttwosectionsaddressthemostinfluentialargumentsagainsttraditionalfoundationalism.

b.SellarsandtheMythoftheGiven
Sellars(1956)providesanextendedcritiqueofthenotionoftheGiven.Therearetwopartsto
Sellars'argument:first,heclaimsthatknowledgeispartofthe"logicalspaceofreasons"and
second, he provides an alternative account of "looks talk," or an alternative reading of such
claims as "that looks red to me," claims that traditionally have been seen as infallible and as
foundations for our perceptual knowledge. According to Sellars, no cognitive states are non
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inferentiallyjustified.Forhim:
"Theessentialpartisthatincharacterisinganepisodeorastateasthatofknowing,weare
placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one
says."(Sellars,1956,p.76)
Whether we are talking about perceptual or nonperceptual knowledge, we must be able to
offerreasonsforwhywetakesuchclaimstobetrue.ToevenclaimappropriatelythatIhave
knowledgethatInowseemtobeseeingaredshape,Imustbeabletoarticulatesuchreasons
as, "since my eyes are working fine, and the light is good, I am right in thinking that I am
having a certain sensory experience." As Rorty (1979, chapter 4) argues, justification is
essentiallyalinguisticor"conversational"notionitmustconsistinthereasonedrecognitionof
why a particular belief is likely to be true or why one is rightly said to be having a certain
experience. If such an account of justification is correct, then the notion of noninferentially
justified basic beliefs is untenable and nonconceptual perceptual experience cannot provide
thejustificationforourperceptualbeliefs.
Surely,though,"thislooksredtome,"cannotbesomethingthatIcanbewrongabout.Sucha
foundationalist claim seems to be undeniable. Sellars, however, suggests that such wording
doesnotindicateinfallibility.Onedoesnotsay,"Thislooksredtome,"to(infallibly)reportthe
natureofone'sexperiencerather,oneusessuchalocutioninordertoflagthatoneisunsure
whetheronehascorrectlyperceivedtheworld.
...whenIsay"Xlooksgreentome"...thefactthatImakethisreportratherthanthesimple
report"Xisgreen,"indicatesthatcertainconsiderationshaveoperatedtoraise,sotospeak
in a higher court, the question 'to endorse or not to endorse.' I may have reason to think
thatXmaynotafterallbegreen.(Sellars,1956,p.41)
Thus, Sellars provides a twopronged attack on traditional foundationalism. The way we
describeourperceptualexperiencedoesindeedsuggestthatwehaveinfallibleaccesstocertain
private experiences, private experiences that we cannot be mistaken about. However, we
shouldrecognizethepossibilitythatwemaybebeingfooledbygrammarhere.Sellarsgivesan
alternativeinterpretationofsuchstatementsas,"thislooksredtome,"aninterpretationthat
does not commit one to having such a privileged epistemological access to one's perceptual
experience.Further,aconceptualanalysisof"knowledge"revealsthatknowledgeisessentially
a rational state and, therefore, that one cannot claim to know what one has no reason for
acceptingastrue.Suchreasonsmustbeconceivedintermsoflinguisticconstructionsthatone
canarticulate,andthus,thebarepresenceoftheGivencannotgroundtheknowledgewehave
ofourownexperienceor,consequently,oftheworld.This,then,isarejectionofthetraditional
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foundationalistpicture,orwhatSellarscalls,"theMythoftheGiven."
OneoftheformstakenbytheMythoftheGivenistheideathatthereis,indeedmustbe,a
structureofparticularmatterofsuchfactthat(a)eachfactcannotonlybenoninferentially
knowntobethecase,butpresupposesnootherknowledgeeitherofparticularmattersof
fact,orofgeneraltruthsand(b)suchthatthenoninferentialknowledgeoffactsbelonging
tothisstructureconstitutestheultimatecourtofappealforallfactualclaims,particularand
general,abouttheworld.(Sellars,1956,pp.689)

c.ConceptsandExperience
According to traditional foundationalism, the content of perceptual experience, the Given, is
notconceptualinnature.Ithasbeenargued,however,thatexperienceshouldnotbeseenin
thistraditionalway.Thephenomenonof"seeingas,"suggeststosomethatexperienceshould
beinterpretedasessentiallyconceptualinnature.
Whatisthisapictureof?

You perhaps see a duck. I can, however, alter the character of your visual experience by
changing the beliefs that you have about this picture. Think RABBIT looking upward. The
picturenowlooksdifferenttoyoueventhoughyouareseeingthesameconfigurationofblack
marks on a white background. This picture is usually referred to as "the duckrabbit."
Originally,yousawthedrawingasaducknowyouseeitasarabbit(or,asWittgensteinwould
say, you notice different "aspects" of the picture). You have, then, distinct perceptual
experiencesdependentontheparticularconcepts"throughwhich"youseethatpicture.Some
take this to prove that perceptual experience is not pre or nonconceptual but that it is
essentiallyaconceptualengagementwiththeworld.Suchexperiencedoesnotonlyconsistin
ourhavingcertainretinalimages:"Thereismoretoseeingthanmeetstheeyeball,"(Hanson,
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1988, p. 294). It is, rather, the result of a necessary conceptual ordering of our perceptual
engagement with the world. This is a theory of experience that is at odds with that of the
traditionalfoundationalist.
The theory has Kantian roots. For Kant, one cannot experience the world without having a
conceptual structure to provide the representational properties of such experience. In Kant's
terms,theintuitionsreceivedbythesensibilitycannotbeisolatedfromtheconceptualization
carriedoutbytheunderstanding.Ashestates,"Intuitionswithoutconceptsareblind,concepts
without intuitions are empty" (Kant, 1781, A51 / B75). Intuitions, or what we might call bare
perceptual experiencethat which does not have a conceptual structurecannot be seen as
experienceofaworld,andtherefore,suchaconceptionofourperceptualengagementwiththe
worldcannotbeseenasexperientialatallitis"blind".ThesecondclauseofKant'saphorism
claimsthatconceptsthatarenotbasedoninformationreceivedthroughthesensescanhaveno
empiricalcontent.TheKantianclaim,then,isthatthinkingabouttheworldandexperiencingit
are interdependent. This is an attack on the distinction drawn in section 1a between simple
seeingandconceptuallystructuredformsofperceptionsuchasseeingthatandseeingas.Kant
claimsthenotionofsimpleseeingisincoherentsincesuchanonconceptualengagementwith
theworldisn'texperiential.
Not everyone accepts that the phenomenon of seeing as entails this picture of experience.
Dretske(1969)arguesthatsimpleornonepistemicseeingisindependentofepistemicseeing
that is, it is independent of seeing that is conceptually structured. Nonepistemic seeing
amounts to the ability to visually differentiate aspects of one's environment such as the bus
stopandthewastebin,andonecandothiswithoutseeingtheseitemsasanythinginparticular
(although, of course, one usually does). Further, "seeing as" presupposes simple seeing. One
hastohavesomebareexperiencetoprovidetherawmaterialsforourconceptuallystructured
experienceorthought.Wemaybeabletoseethepictureaboveasaduckorasarabbit,butwe
can only do this if we have a nonconceptual experience of a certain configuration of black
marksonawhitebackground.One'sexperienceofthebasicblackandwhitelinesinthefigure
is independent of any concepts one may have that may then allow one to see these lines in a
certainmoresophisticatedway,thatis,asaduckorasarabbit.Inreply,however,itcouldbe
claimedthatevensuchabasicexperienceasthisreliesonthecontingentfactthatonehasthe
conceptsof,forexample,BLACKandWHITE.Perhapsifonedidnothavetheseconcepts,then
onecouldnotevenseethisbasicfigure.
Wehave,then,lookedattwoproblemsfacedbythetraditionalfoundationalist,bothofwhich
center on the alleged nonconceptual nature of perceptual experience. Two responses have
been made by those who feel the force of these objections: some modify foundationalism in
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ordertotakeaccountofsomeoftheconsiderationsabove,andothersrejectitaltogether.The
firstoftheseresponsesisthetopicofthenextsection.

d.ModestFoundationalism
SomefoundationalistsagreethattheGivenisinsomewaysproblematic,yettheystillattempt
to maintain a "modest" or "moderate" foundationalism. Audi (2003) and Plantinga (2000)
promote this view. First, our perceptual beliefs concerning both the world and our own
experiencearenotseenasinfallible.Youcanbelievethatyouseeredorthatyouseemtosee
red, yet either belief could turn out to be unjustified. Second, nonconceptual perceptual
experiencedoesnotplayajustificatoryrole.Perceptualbeliefsaresimplyselfjustifiedthatis,
itisreasonabletoacceptthattheyaretrueunlesswehaveevidencetosuggestthattheymaybe
untrustworthy. Such a view of perception remains foundationalist in nature because we still
havebasicbeliefs,beliefsthatarenoninferentiallyjustified.Thus, the justification possessed
byperceptualbeliefsisdefeasible.Youmay,forexample,havegoodevidencethatyourcupof
teahasbeenspikedwithanhallucinogen,and,therefore,thejustificationforyourperceptual
belief that a pig has just flown past the window is defeated. More controversially, your belief
thatyouseemtoseeredcouldbedefeatedbypsychologicalevidenceconcerningyourconfused
or inattentive state of mind. However, in the absence of any beliefs concerning such
contraveningevidence,yourperceptualbeliefshaveprimafaciejustification.
Modestfoundationalismavoidsadilemmathatfacestraditionalfoundationalism.Itiscertainly
plausiblethatbeliefsaboutyourownperceptualexperienceareinfallibleandthatyoucan'tbe
wrong when you claim that the cup looks red. It is not clear, however, how such beliefs can
ground your perceptual knowledge since they are about your own mental states and not the
world.Thefactthatthecuplooksredtoyoudoesofcourserelatetothecup,butprimarilyitis
a fact about how that cup strikes your experience. Recoiling from such a picture, you could
claim that your foundational beliefs concern the color of the cup and not merely your
experienceofthecup.However,itisnotplausiblethatyourbeliefsaboutthecolorofthecup
are infallible, and therefore, such beliefs cannot play a foundational role according to the
traditionalaccount.Themodestfoundationalistcanavoidthisdilemma.Foraperceptualbelief
to be justified, it does not have to be infallible. You can, therefore, have beliefs about the
propertiesofobjectsintheworldplayingtherequisitefoundationalroleratherthanthosethat
aresimplyaboutyourownexperiences.

4.PerceptionandCoherentism
Modestfoundationalistsattempttokeepsomeofthefeaturesofthetraditionalfoundationalist
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picture while conceding that their foundations aren't infallible. There is, however, a distinct
responsetotheproblemsassociatedwithtraditionalfoundationalism,andthatistorejectits
key feature, namely its reliance on foundational, noninferential, basic beliefs. Coherentism
presents an alternative. Coherentists such as Bonjour (1985) and Lehrer (1990) claim that
beliefscanonlybejustifiedbyotherbeliefsandthatthisisalsotrueofourperceptualbeliefs.
Section3.adescribedhowSellarsarguedforsuchapositioninthat,forhim,perceptualbeliefs
must be supported by beliefs about the reliability of our experience. The next two sections
explainthecoherentistaccountofjustifyingperceptualclaims.

a.TheBasicIdeaBehindCoherentism
Foracoherentist,aparticularbeliefisjustifiedifone'ssetofbeliefsismorecoherentwiththis
beliefasamember,and,conversely,abeliefisunjustifiedifthecoherenceofone'ssetofbeliefs
is increased by dropping that particular belief. The basic idea behind coherentism is that the
better a belief system "hangs together," the more coherent it is. How, though, should we
conceive of "hanging together" or "coherence"? First, one requires consistency. Our beliefs
shouldnotclashtheymustnotbelogicallyinconsistent:weshouldnotbelievepandbelieve
thatnotp.However,morethanmerelogicalconsistencyisrequired.Onecouldimagineasetof
beliefs that consisted of the belief that 2+2=4, the belief that Cher is a great actress, and the
beliefthatyellowclasheswithpink.Althoughthesebeliefsarelogicallyconsistent,theydonot
formaparticularlycoherentbeliefsetsincetheydonothaveanybearingoneachotheratall.
For coherence, therefore, some kind of positive connection between one's beliefs is also
required.Suchapositiveconnectionisthatofinference.Amaximallycoherentbeliefsetisone
that is logically consistent and one within which the content of any particular belief can be
inferredfromthecontentofcertainotherbeliefsthatoneholds.Conversely,thecoherenceofa
setofbeliefsisreducediftherearesubgroupsofbeliefsthatareinferentiallyisolatedfromthe
whole.

b. Bonjour and the Spontaneous Nature of Perceptual


Beliefs
For a coherentist, perceptual beliefs are justified, as all beliefs are, if our acceptance of them
leadstoanincreaseintheoverallcoherenceofourbeliefsystem.Anaccount,though,isalso
requiredofhowperceptualbeliefscanbeseenascorrectlyrepresentingtheexternalworld,a
world that is independent of our thinking. This is particularly pressing for the coherentist
becausethejustificationforourperceptualbeliefsisprovidedbyone'sotherbeliefsandnotby
one'sperceptualexperienceofone'senvironment.
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Toaccountfortherepresentationalabilityofperceptualbeliefs,Bonjourfocusesuponaclassof
beliefs that he calls "cognitively spontaneous." These are beliefs we simply acquire without
inference.Rightnow,onturningmyheadtotheleft,Ispontaneouslyacquirethebeliefthatthe
orange stapler is in front of the blue pen, and that my glass of water is half full. These
perceptual beliefs are likely to be true when certain conditions obtainthat the light is good
and that I am not too far away from what I am looking at (these Bonjour calls the "C
conditions"). My belief, then, that my glass is half full is only justified if I also have beliefs
abouttheobtainingofCconditions.However,forBonjour'saccounttobepersuasive,heneeds
toprovidesomejustificationforthisclaimthatbeliefsacquiredintheCconditionsarelikelyto
betruerepresentationsoftheworld.Thishedoes.First,wedonotarriveatthemviainference
they are spontaneous. Second, the beliefs that we acquire in this way exhibit a very high
measureofcoherenceandconsistencywitheachotherandwiththerestofourbeliefsystem.
The question arises, then, as to why this should be so, since it is not obvious why such
spontaneous beliefs should continue to cohere so well. If, for example, these beliefs were
randomlyproducedbyourperceptualmechanisms,thenoursetofbeliefswouldverysoonbe
disrupted.Bonjour'sclaimisthatthereisagoodaprioriexplanationfortheongoingcoherence
andconsistencyofoursetofbeliefs,thatis,thatitistheresultofourbeliefsbeingcausedbya
coherentandconsistentworld.Thus,ourperceptualbeliefscorrectlyrepresentaworldthatis
independent of our thinking. Nonconceptual perceptual experience does not play a
justificatory role with respect to perception. This experience may cause us to acquire certain
beliefsaboutourenvironment,butthejustificationfortheseperceptualbeliefsisprovidedby
theinferentialrelationsthatholdbetweenthesebeliefsandtherestofourbeliefsystem.
Thereareimportantobjections.Plantinga(1993)notesthatintheCartesianskepticalscenarios
wealsohaveacoherentsetofbeliefs,butinthesecasestheyarecausednotbyacoherentand
consistentworldbutbyanevildemonorbyamadscientistwhomanipulatesabrainthatlies
in a vat of nutrient fluid (see Descartes 1641 and Putnam 1981). Bonjour's claim, however, is
that it is a priori more probable that our beliefs are not caused by these creatures. Plantinga
findssuchreasoning"monumentallydubious."
Even if such a hypothesis [that concerning the claim that our coherent belief system
corresponds to a coherent world] and these skeptical explanations do have an a priori
probability...it's surely anyone's guess what that probability might be. Assuming there is
such a thing as apriori probability, what would be the a priori probability of our having
been created by a good God who...would not deceive us? What would be the a priori
probability of our having been created by an evil demon who delights in deception? And
which,ifeither,wouldhavethegreaterapriori probability?...how could we possibly tell?
(Plantinga,1993,p.109)

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5.Externalism
Thevarietiesoffoundationalismandcoherentismexaminedsofarshareacertainapproachto
questionsconcerningepistemicjustification.Theyaskwhethertheevidenceavailabletoyouis
sufficienttojustifythebeliefsthatyouhold.Questionsofjustificationareapproachedfromthe
first person perspective. Foundationalists claim that you have justified perceptual beliefs
because of the fact that these beliefs are grounded in your perceptual experience, experience
thatis,ofcourse,accessibletoyouitissomethingofwhichyouareaware,somethingthatyou
can reflect upon. Coherentists find justification in the inferential relations that hold between
yourperceptualandnonperceptualbeliefs,relationsthatare,again,somethingtowhichyou
havecognitiveaccess.Epistemicpracticescan,however,alsobeassessedfromthethirdperson
perspective.It can be asked whether a person's methods do, in fact, lead him or her to have
true beliefs about the world, whether or not such reliability is something of which they are
aware. Externalists claim that it is this perspective with which epistemology should be
concerned.Akeynotionforexternalistsisthatofreliability.Abeliefisjustifiedifitisacquired
usingamethodthatisreliable,withreliabilitybeingcashedoutintermsoftheprobabilitythat
one'sthinkinglatchesontothetruth.
Thejustificatorystatusofabeliefisafunctionofthereliabilityoftheprocessesthatcause
it, where (as a first approximation) reliability consists in the tendency of a process to
producebeliefsthataretrueratherthanfalse.(Goldman,1979,p.10)
Oneneednotbeabletotellbyreflectionalonewhetherornotone'sthinkingisreliableinthe
requiredsenseathinkerdoesnothavetobeawareofwhatitisthatjustifieshisorherbeliefs.
According to a reliabilist, then, a perceptual belief is justified if it is the product of reliable
perceptualprocesses.Onestrategythatreliabilistshaveadoptedistogroundtheiraccountof
reliabilityintermsofthecausalconnectionsthatthinkershavetotheworld.Roughly,forone
tohaveajustifiedperceptualbeliefthatp,thefactthatpshouldcausemybeliefthatp.Iam
justifiedinbelievingthatFrasierisontelevisionbecauseitspresenceonthescreencausesmy
belief. Such accounts are developed by Goldman (1979 / 1986) and Dretske (1981). It is
importanttonotethedifferencebetweenthiskindofaccountandthatofArmstrong(section
2a). Armstrong eschews all talk of justification and provides a wholly causal account of
perceptual knowledge. Many externalists, however, give an account of justification in causal
terms.
Itwasassumedthroughoutthisarticle,exceptduringthediscussionofscepticism,thatwedo
have perceptual knowledge of the world, and the article explored the multifarious epistemic
and causal relations that there are between the various modes of perception and perceptual
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knowledge. Justification is the key issue, and there are four basic stances. One stance is to
agree with Armstrong and deny that perceptual experience plays any justificatory role.
Foundationalistsseeperceptualexperienceasthejustificatorybasisforperceptualknowledge,
and it is such experience that ultimately provides justification for all our knowledge of the
world.Problemswiththetraditionalformofthispositionurgedustoexploreamoremodest
formoffoundationalism.Othersrejectfoundationalismaltogether.Coherentistsclaimthatthe
justification for our perceptual beliefs is a function of how well those beliefs "hang together"
withtherestofourbeliefsystem.Theytoorejectthejustificatoryroleofperceptualexperience.
Some externalists claim that justification is a matter of reliability and that so long as our
perceptual beliefs are produced by mechanisms that reliably give us true beliefs, then those
beliefs are justified. Therefore, perception is of prime epistemological importance, and it
remainsthefocusoflivelyphilosophicaldebate.

6.ReferencesandFurtherReading
Armstrong,D.M.'TheThermometerTheoryofKnowledge'inS.Bernecker&F.Dretske,eds.Knowledge:
ReadingsinContemporaryEpistemology,OxfordUniversityPress,Oxford,pp.7285,2000.Originally
publishedinArmstrong,1973,pp.16275,17883.
Armstrong,D.M.Belief,TruthandKnowledge,CambridgeUniversityPress,Cambridge,1973.
Armstrong,D.M.PerceptionandthePhysicalWorld,RoutledgeandKeganPaul,London,1961.
IncludedintheaboveisArmstrong'scausalaccountofperception.

Audi,R."ContemporaryModestFoundationalism,"inPojman,L.ed.TheTheoryofKnowledge:Classical
andContemporaryReadings,Wadsworth,Belmont,CA.3rdedition,2003.
A useful paper in which it is argued that modest foundationalism has advantages over traditional
foundationalism.

Bonjour,L.TheStructureofEmpiricalKnowledge,HarvardUniversityPress,Cambridge,Mass.1985.
Awelldevelopedcoherentisttheoryofjustificationwhichincludesanaccountoftheroleofperceptionwithin
suchatheory.(Oneshouldnote,however,thatBonjourhasrecentlyabandonedcoherentisminfavourofa
versionoffoundationalism.)

Chisholm,R.M.TheoryofKnowledge,3rdedition,EnglewoodCliffs,NewJersey,1989.
Awiderangingstudyofvariousepistemologicalissuesincludinghisversionoftraditionalfoundationalism.

Descartes,R."FirstMeditation,"inMeditationsonFirstPhilosophy,1641.ReprintedinThePhilosophical
Writings of Descartes, eds. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff & D. Murdoch, Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge,1983.
OneofthemostinfluentialpassagesofepistemologicalwritinginthehistoryofWesternphilosophyinwhich
variousskepticalpossibilitiesareraisedthatsuggestthatourperceptualbeliefsmaynotbejustified.

Dretske,F.SeeingandKnowing,RoutledgeandKeganPaul,London,1969.
Dretskedefendstheclaimthatseeingcanbeseenasnonconceptual(ornonepistemic).

Dretske,F.KnowledgeandtheFlowofInformation,MITPress,Cambridge,Mass.1981.
Herehepresentshissophisticatedversionofreliabilism.

Goldman,A.I."WhatisJustifiedBelief?,"inG.Pappas,ed.JustificationandKnowledge:NewStudiesin
Epistemology,Reidel,pp.123,1979.
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Goldman,A.I.EpistemologyandCognition,HarvardUniversityPress,Cambridge,Mass.1986.
Intheabove,Goldmanforwardshisreliabilistaccountofjustification.

Grice,H.P."TheCausalTheoryofPerception,"inProceedingsoftheAristotelianSociety,Supplementary
Volume35,pp.12152,1961.
Aprecursortothevariouscontemporarycausaltheoriesofperception,presentedinthecontextofasense
datumtheoryofperception.

Hanson,N.R."FromPatternsofDiscovery,"inPerception,R.Schwartz,ed.pp.292305,1988.
Hansenarguesthatthenatureofourperceptualexperiencedependsontheconceptswepossess.

Kant, I. The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. N. Kemp Smith, 1929 edition, The Macmillan Press, Ltd.
Basingstoke,Hampshire,1781.
Oneofthegreatestandmostinfluentialworksofmodernphilosophy.OfrelevancetothisarticleareKant's
thoughts concerning the relation between our conceptual framework and the nature of our perceptual
experience.

Lehrer,K.TheoryofKnowledge,WestviewPress,Boulder,Colorado,1990.
Lehrerprovidesacritiqueoffoundationalismandhisowndevelopedversionofcoherentism.

Lewis,C.I.AnAnalysisofKnowledgeandEvaluation,LaSalle,Illinois,1946.
Amongst various other important epistemological issues, one can find Lewis's account of traditional
foundationalism.

McDowell,J.MindandWorld,HarvardUniversityPress,Cambridge,Mass.1994.
In this transcription of his Locke lectures, McDowell argues that perceptual experience is essentially
conceptualinnature.

Plantinga,A.Warrant:TheCurrentDebate,OxfordUniversityPress,Oxford,1993.
AnexcellentepistemologytextbookwhichincludesanindepthcritiqueofBonjour'scoherentism.

Plantinga,A.WarrantedChristianBelief,OxfordUniversityPress,Oxford,2000.
In the context of a sophisticated discussion of the philosophy of religion, Plantinga develops a version of
modestfoundationalismwhichhecalls"reformedepistemology".

Putnam,H.Reason,TruthandHistory,CambridgeUniversityPress,Cambridge,1981.
Inchapter1,PutnampresentshiscontemporarybraininavatversionoftheCartesianskepticalscenario.

Rorty,R.PhilosophyandtheMirrorofNature,PrincetownUniversityPress,Princetown,1979.
Ahistoricallyinformedandextendedattackontraditionalfoundationalism.

Schwartz,R.Perception,Blackwell,Oxford,1988.
Agoodcollectionofarticlesfocusedontheepistemologyofperception.

Sellars,W.EmpiricismandthePhilosophyofMind.OriginallypublishedinH.FeiglandM.Scrivens,eds.
MinnesotaStudiesinthePhilosophyofScience,vol.1,UniversityofMinnesotaPress,Minneapolis,pp.
253329,1956.Pagenumbersherereferto1997reprint,HarvardUniversityPress,Cambridge,Mass.
ThisincludesSellars'influentialattackontheGiven.

AuthorInformation
DanielO'Brien
Email:D.Obrien@bham.ac.uk
TheUniversityofBirmingham
U.S.A.

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