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Perception, Rationality and Self-Knowledge

Perceptual experience of an object is often said to settle questions as to what the object is like in a peculiarly immediate and authoritative way. Articulations of this idea can be found across otherwise disparate traditions in 20th century philosophy. According to Husserl, ‘the ultimate legitimating source of all rational assertions’ is provided by ‘self-giving intuitions’ in which the presence to consciousness of an object renders facts regarding the object ‘self-evident’. According to Austin, when I see a pig, ‘there is no longer any question of collecting evidence [as to the presence of a pig]; its coming into view doesn’t provide me with more evidence that it’s a pig, I can now just see that it is, the question is settled.’

The question of how the intuitive contrast between ‘evidence-based’ and ‘experience-based’ knowledge is to be articulated is an issue of fundamental importance for epistemology and the philosophy of mind. A general thesis informing the proposed project is that properly understanding the contrast requires understanding the nature of the self-knowledge available to reflective perceivers. Note that Austin’s confidence that his question is settled (in a way that obviates the need for evidence) finds expression in a claim to self-knowledge: ‘I can see that it is a pig.’ A natural thought here is that it can hardly be a coincidence that Austin is aware of the way his question is settled. That thought in turn raises immediate questions regarding the content and the nature of the reflective awareness we ordinarily have of what we currently perceive, and regarding the relationship between such awareness and the explanation of ‘first-order’ perceptual knowledge. By putting these questions centre stage, the project aims to broaden the terms of current work on the epistemic role of perceptual experience. There is a strong tendency, in contemporary epistemology, to treat ‘perceptual knowledge’ and ‘self-knowledge’ as labels for different and largely unconnected sets of philosophical problems. The two topics are supposedly distinguished not just by the subject matter of the knowledge under consideration (knowledge of ‘the world around us’ vs knowledge of ‘our own current mental states’) but also by the distinctive philosophical questions to which the two kinds of knowledge give rise (roughly: how to understand ‘perceptual warrant’ vs how to understand ‘first-person authority’). Both through the work of its core members and through international workshops and at least one edited collection, the project will seek to promote a less compartmentalized approach, highlighting substantive, mutually illuminating connections between the two areas.

The start date for the project is October 2017. Core members are Gianfranco Soldati, Andrea Giananti (both Fribourg) and Johannes Roessler (Warwick) as well as two PhD students (at Fribourg and Warwick). The project is supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.