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Authors: Gładziejewski, Paweł
Title: The evidence of the senses : a predictive porcessing-based take on the Sellarsian dilemma
Online publication date: 1-Jun-2017
Language: english
Abstract: Traditional foundationalist empiricist projects in epistemology postulated that sensory states of the subject are epistemically basic, in that they are capable of conferring justification on mental representations of the world without themselves needing to be (inferentially) justified by any antecedent representational states. This sort of view faces a seemingly hopeless dilemma, whose recognition is usually attributed to Wilfrid Sellars. If we treat sensory states as brute stimulations devoid of intentional content, then it is hard to see how the senses could provide subjects with anything that could possibly feature in justification-conferring relations with representational states. If we treat them as contentful, then in order to justify contentful states, sensory states themselves would presumably need to be justified by other representational states; but if this is so, they are not able to play a properly foundational epistemic role. In the article, I use the Predictive Processing (PP) view of perception in order to sketch a possible resolution of the Sellarsian dilemma. I draw on PP in order to show how sensory states could actually serve a normative role that is recognizably similar to the one envisioned by traditional empiricists. To do this, I first distinguish representational from non-representational posits of PP and subsequently focus on the role that PP ascribes to sensory or “driving” signal. In particular, I argue that (1) the driving signal plays a role of a non-representational, contentless detector; at the same time, (2) it serves as an “impartial” or “theory-neutral” tribunal against which contentful internal models are actively tested and updated. Drawing on Anil Gupta’s work, I discuss the epistemic involvement of the sensory signal in perceptual inference and show how the signal provides conditional justification (i.e. justification that is conditional on the justification or rationality of prior knowledge) to perceptual hypotheses. Then I discuss the role the sensory signal plays in perceptual learning. I employ the notion of “epistemic convergence” to sketch out how the sensory signal could provide perceivers with unconditional justification (i.e. one that is not relativized to the justification of prior knowledge). If this approach is right, the Sellarsian dilemma seems to be averted. We can see how the senses can be at the same time silent (i.e. contentless) and capable of playing a sort of foundational epistemic role.
DDC: 100 Philosophie
100 Philosophy
Institution: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Department: FB 05 Philosophie und Philologie
Place: Mainz
URN: urn:nbn:de:hebis:77-publ-566575
Version: Published version
Publication type: Buchbeitrag
License: CC BY-ND
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Citation: Philosophy and predictive processing
Metzinger, Thomas
Pages or article number: 239
Publisher: MIND Group
Publisher place: Frankfurt am Main
Issue date: 2017
Publisher URL:
Publisher DOI: 10.15502/9783958573161
Appears in collections:JGU-Publikationen

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