Philosophy of Perception

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen ( (omit text in caps, which reduces automated spam))
office: (732) 445 6163
home: (718) 499 1213
Office hours: Tuesday, 12:30 to 2:00, in Psychology A132, on Busch Campus.


Philosophy has puzzled about perception for about as long as it has puzzled about anything. Since perception has been viewed by many as the archetypal connection between minds and the world, perception has raised important questions in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and epistemology. Many of these traditional philosophical questions about perception remain, to this day, some of the most difficult problems in all of philosophy, so of course we'll want to consider them in this class. In addition to these traditional questions in the philosophy of perception, I want to consider several of the important philosophical issues surrounding recent psychological accounts of perception, including the role of representation and attention in perception and questions about the computational architecture of the human mind.

Although the syllabus which follows may initially seem to be a rather disorganized hodge-podge of different topics relating to perception, I will be aiming to draw together many of the questions we consider by the end of the course. For example, I'll suggest that certain of the mechanisms which must be enlisted in any adequate psychological account of perceptual attention are at the root of the so-called explanatory gap, and that they also enable us to address fruitfully several important arguments in the literatures on primary and secondary qualities and direct and representative perception. Thus, it will be my contention that careful attention to the psychology of perception can yield tools which can be profitably used to speak to important philosophical questions about perception.

At the same time, the class definitely is designed to cover many different philosophical topics regarding perception. It will be, therefore, appropriate as an introduction for students who aren't yet well-versed in the subject.

Course Requirements

If you are taking the class for credit, you may choose either two write one long paper (~25 pages) at the end of the semester, or else two shorter papers (~12 pages).

Reading List