Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A contribution to the phenomenology of seeing a wall

I see a wall. What do I see? Something white. But not just something white. Something white and not to be walked into. I do not infer from seeing something white that I am facing something solid, or from facing something solid that I am facing something not to be walked into. On the contrary, I directly see something not to be walked into, and I demonstrate my perception by navigating around the wall. Moreover, seeing something not to be walked into may happen independently of seeing the color. Solidity may come later, after seeing that something is not to be walked into—after all, "Don't walk into me" is the wall's urgent demand on me, something I must act on right away. Moreover, if I should hesitate about following that demand, I am apt to see the truth of the counterfactual Were I to walk into the wall, I would get a bump (and if I still hesitate, then I get a bump).

So we perceive both normative and counterfactual states of affairs. Moreover, phenomenologically, we often see the normative and sometimes the counterfactual aspects of a situation first, before we see the non-normative categorical ones.

Furthermore, our perceptions are directly motivating. I see something not to be walked into, and so I do not walk into it. And just as this is true of perceptions, it is true of beliefs. My belief that moving a king two squares diagonally in chess "just isn't done" is directly motivating. Hume was wrong about beliefs not being directly motivating.

4 comments:

Mike Almeida said...

On the contrary, I directly see something not to be walked into, and I demonstrate my perception by navigating around the wall.

I don't think you "see" that, since you cannot tell by just seeing that it is not a wall hologram. And if it were a wall hologram, then you would not be seeing something not to be walked into. You need not walk around wall holograms.

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the same token, one might argue that we don't see sheep, since we can't tell just seeing that they are not sheep holograms. But plainly we do see sheep.

Mike Almeida said...

Alex,

Nothing I said entailed that you do not see a wall, when a wall is present. Similarly, nothing I said entails that you do not see sheep when sheep are present. I deny that you can tell, just by seeing, that what you are perceiving is a wall or is a sheep. Similarly, you do not just perceive that you cannot just walk through what appears to be a wall. If you could tell just by seeing that it is a sheep, we'd have 10,000 fewer articles on Gettier problems!

Chauncey said...

Hi Alex,

These comments are very similar to what has been propounded by Merleau-Ponty, Sean Kelly, Bert Dreyfus, Charles Taylor and others. They often talk of "solicitations" and "affordances": various sorts of demands and opportunities presented by one's involvement in a world. In general, I believe, the view is that one's involvement in a world--not to say interaction with the world--is normatively laden and "directly motivating"--no inferences are involved. In this regard, this view resonates with certain aspects of Aristotle's practical philosophy.