Perception and Reason

Perception and Reason

Perception and Reason

Perception and Reason

Synopsis

Bill Brewer presents an original view of the role of conscious experience in the acquisition of empirical knowledge. He argues that perceptual experiences must provide reasons for empirical beliefs if there are to be any determinate beliefs at all about particular objects in the world. This fresh approach to epistemology turns away from the search for necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge and works instead from a theory of understanding in a particular area.

Excerpt

This book is about the role of conscious perceptual experiences in the acquisition of empirical knowledge. I take it for granted that a person's beliefs about the way things are in the world around him causally depend to a large extent upon the course of his perceptual experiences. My central concern here is with the epistemological dimension of this relation, its provision of a peculiarly fundamental source of knowledge: perceptual knowledge. How is such knowledge, that particular mind-independent things are objectively thus and so, even possible? What is the nature of the conscious experiences upon which it is based? How should we conceive of the epistemic contribution which such experiences make to it? These are the questions which drive my enquiry.

Most of the answers which are offered to these questions in the standard epistemological tradition within analytic philosophy broadly conceived take a person's possession of beliefs about the mind-independent world, and especially his understanding of the contents of these beliefs, entirely for granted, and go on to propose an account of the further conditions which such beliefs must meet if they are to be cases of knowledge. A major theme of the book is that this approach is completely mistaken. Perceptual experiences must provide reasons for empirical beliefs if there are to be any determinate beliefs about particular objects in the world at all. So there are epistemic requirements upon the very possibility of empirical belief. The crucial epistemological role of experiences, in my view, lies in their essential contribution to the subject's understanding of certain perceptual demonstrative contents, simply grasping which provides him with a reason to endorse them in belief. I explain in detail how this is so; defend my position against a wide range of objections; compare and contrast it with a number of influential alternative views in the area; and bring out its connection with Russell's Principle of Acquaintance, and its consequences for the compatibility of content externalism with an adequate account of self-knowledge.

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