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Rational Recurrence: Perceptual Capacities (Part 2)

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Perceptual Capacities



What rational attitude would the rational man hold? A rational man here isn’t one who by nature never fails to act rationally. The rational man is distinguished as one who, in some instance, has employed rational methodology, and has succeeded in employing that methodology. What exactly, in computational detail, a rational methodology is has no bearing here – I’m taking for granted that Vladmir can and will be rational. The idea here is that the rational man would only ever hold a rational attitude, so looking at repeated moments is the same as asking what led him to attain his attitude. If eternal recurrence applied to him, he’d opt to seek rational attitudes, or to use Nietzsche’s terminology, will that he himself be rational for eternity in those moments. The man would not be a rational man if he didn’t care to be rational in the repeated moment; he’d be something else entirely, perhaps at best a person who only took what appears to be a rational action, yet failed to employ rational methodology, like a Gettier case applied to methods of rationality.


To rephrase my original claim: Subject S1 chooses option A by method M in context C. If M is rational, then we say S1 is rational, allowing S1 to pick a rational option, of which there is only one. If S1 wants to be rational, he wouldn't and couldn’t want to choose anything other than A.


But how does S1 even know M is rational, or what if M is too fuzzy to definitively prescribe what is putatively the one rational attitude available? Interestedness, of both evidence and rationality, answers both. It originates all the way down at the level of perception; the precise starting point for a rational epistemology is perceptual capacities. A PC is definite, meaning that as long as a rational method is grounded in the definiteness of perception, a rational man will only have one permissible option.


Perception itself, too, has a starting point. Sensations come from sensory organs in a straightforward way, in terms of not requiring any active participation. While directing one’s eyes is active participation, how eyes turn light into an experience of vision takes no active effort. But I’m not attempting to make a sense-data argument where people are acquainted with an object of sensation or perception produced by a sensory organ. People are acquainted with the world itself, or more precisely, are presented the world exactly as it is. They are not acquainted with sensory objects as distinct from physical objects, but directly acquainted with physical objects. Direct perception of this sort is the means by which sensations are transformed into something whole and definite without re-presentation. This implies being able to perceive whole objects as opposed to merely the attributes of objects; to be acquainted with physical objects is to grasp them wholly. Consider how a book (though it might not be identified as a book or any other type of object) is perceived as a whole object, not as a smattering of colors only incidentally seen as a whole. In contrast, discrete sensations taken alone would be fragmented and thereby lead to indefinite acquaintance with the world. Perception, then, is a complex grouping of sensations that is epistemologically basic since sensation-as-basic depends on sensory objects which no one is directly acquainted with as they are with whole objects.


The means to accomplish perceiving wholes is a PC. A PC is a capacity of one’s mind to single out and discriminate particulars. Discrimination is not merely what a sensory organ itself does; to discriminate is a mental process that may involve sensory organs. Whole objects are singled out by noting how the presented world is able to be divided. For instance, a blue sky can be differentiated from the green leaves of a tree, enabling a tree to be seen as a whole. There are potentially infinite ways to divide up the world, but it is done by measurements of how the world is metaphysically. Lest measurement seems to reaffirm a sense-data view, a PC measures the world directly – a mental mechanism isn’t operating on sensory objects like a ruler measuring the length of a chess board. Measurement is built into a PC, it’s what a PC does with its own raw input and sensations, not with shadows in the Platonic cave or a model of the world containing representations. That there is a measurable difference between the presented experience of green and not-green necessarily singles out a particular green object without conceptual intervention – the object is singled out without any need to know if it should be labeled as a tree in the first place. Measurement has no absolute required level of precision to qualify as measurement, so immeasurable differences don’t matter. What counts is that particulars are discriminated along some domain, and singled out as a whole. Any boundaries between objects are definite thanks to a given standard of measurement. Only a pre-defined level of precision without regard for how a PC singles out would leave room to make perceptual wholes fuzzy or indeterminate. [8]


A PC is not simply a computational process. It provides a sensory state as well by virtue of enabling an agent to act with regard to a PC. To act with regard to a PC means being aware on some level of what a PC presents. And not just with regard, but a direct interaction on the level of perception. To make this possible, a PC will always have a certain “what-it’s-like” feel on the basis of which particulars are singled out in the environment. The SS consists of all particulars discriminated, and the way the particulars are discriminated, i.e. which capacities are employed and which corresponding measurement standards are used contribute to the overall SS. Measurements are applied algorithmically based only on similarities and differences, so there aren’t different possible particulars to single out; an SS cannot consist of fuzzy borders between particulars since the measurement is the border – anything not green like these leaves is the border. Combined with how a SS applies to the same particulars that the computational part singles out, a SS is equally as definite as its associated PCs. If the same particulars are discriminated, then the same SS is produced. Conversely, if anything varies about measurement, environment, or capacity, a different SS is produced.


Whatever environment the PC is in, it will always provide a veridical correspondence to reality. Even in the case of a stick-in-water or any other illusion, perception is veridical. To be sure, such illusions are indeed strange, so deserve to be called illusions, but are not a failure of a PC to discriminate or a sensory state being fuzzy. That’s just what the world is like in those conditions, while the same physical object is discriminated when the stick is out of water. Sticks look bent in water, and look straight when not in the water. Neither instance is more illusory than the other, as a stick in water looks exactly like it should given that light moves in water differently than out. PCs can only malfunction and fail to be veridical when the sensory organs or brain is outright damaged or manipulated, preventing discrimination from taking place. Mind-altering drug states would succeed at causing an SS for instance, but would not be discriminating groups of sensations. More abstractly, PCs have a structure that sensations pass through, which establishes the form of an SS. With illusions, the form is odd compared to what is expected, but still discriminible and determinate. If the structure is unable to discriminate, there isn’t even a wrong form - just a chaotic mess of sensations at best.


A proper SS is awareness only of the discriminated particulars - nothing less, nothing more. All content of an SS is veridical, and warranted, i.e. an agent is oriented towards reality as it is; there is no content besides what has been definitively discriminated. In comparison, so-called “veridical hallucinations” fail to discriminate anything in reality, meaning that although a PC may attempt to perform its function, the content is baseless and unwarranted [9]. In broader terms, any attempt to establish warrant by means other than discrimination will still be unwarranted, because any resulting SS will have extra or less content that is baseless. If a PC can’t discriminate, then it is in no position to warrant an SS. In this way, SSs are easily taken as perceptual evidence. Phenomenal character alone of an SS demonstrates whether it is in fact PE given that it orients an agent to reality with certainty, and an agent is able to know if an SS is caused by a damaged PC.


            All told, Vladmir will hold the same PE in each recurrence. As a rational man, he is grounded and isn’t using any broken PCs that are producing unwarranted SSs, so his PE cannot change in a recurrence. He is able to tell if his SS is different in at least one way from a normal SS. As before, only a change in measurement, capacity, or environment would change his PE. Concretely from Vladmir’s perspective: 1) the flying object is discriminated along the same measurement of length and shape, 2) the capacities employed are visual and are employed automatically every time, 3) no objects are being added or removed. Even more importantly, because of 1-3, he will be in the same SS each time, thereby creating the same PE each time.


PC - perceptual capacity
SS - sensory state
PE - perceptual evidence

Edited by Eiuol

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8. c.f. Ayn Rand, “Concepts and Cognition”, in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology; Alan Gotthelf, “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts: Rethinking Abstraction and Essence”, in Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology, Gotthelf and Lennox, eds. It is worth noting my deliberate and heavy similarity with Rand’s work on perception and cognition, especially with regard to differentiation, direct perception, and measurement.

9. Susanna Schellenberg, “Experience and Evidence”. Schellenberg makes a similar point in her argument for showing how capacities provide at least phenomenal evidence, but a hallucination fails to provide any factive evidence since no particular is actually discriminated. I am only concerned here with factive and phenomenal evidence being warranted together as perceptual evidence in the good case, not if some degree of evidence is possible during the bad case.

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