Philosophy 285
Seminar on Special Topics: Perception

Spring 2002

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Where: Philosophy seminar room (H&SS 7077)
When: Mondays 1:10-4:05

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen ( (omit text in caps, which reduces automated spam))
office: (858) 534 6812

Office hours: Thursdays 10:00-11:30, in H&SS 7066 (and by appointment; please feel free to call)

The subject of this graduate seminar on the philosophy of perception will be the relationship between cognition and perception; as such, the seminar will have a substantial philosophy of mind component. (Students in need of a quick refresher course in contemporary philosophy of mind are urged to consult Tyler Burge (1992), "Philosophy of Language and Mind: 1950-1990", Philosophical Review 101(1): 3-51.) One reason to care about questions about the relation between perception and cognition is that at least some things seem to be objects of both perceiving and cognizing; similarly, we seem to use perception as a source for at least some non-perceptual cognitive states (today I hold a belief about the color of the currently unseen coffee cup I saw yesterday), and presumably we need some (causal, epistemic, ontological) story about how there can be a rational transition of this sort. Yet most believe that there are important differences of some sort between perceiving and cognizing (be they epistemic, phenomenological, developmental, inferential, ontological, differences in format, speed, informational encapsulation, or whatever).

What, then, is the relation between perception and cognition? How does information pass between them (assuming it does)? Can a single theoretical framework explain both perception and cognition in a unified way?

We'll be organizing the seminar around three reasonably recent books about perception:


The seminar requirements are of four kinds: presentations, participation, weekly short (2 page) papers, and one medium-sized (10-15 page) final paper.

Presentation: All attendees (including auditors) will be required to lead seminar discussions at least twice. A presentation should be a critical discussion rather than a summary or book report (after all, the presenter can assume that other participants have done the reading, and the other participants should make it the case that such an assumption is correct!), and should contain a thesis and arguments for that thesis. It can concern any topic connected with the week's reading that is of interest to the presenter. You must discuss your presentation with me sometime before the session in which you present, just to make sure you're on the right track. Seminar presentations may be given from notes (1 page maximum) or overheads; they may not be read aloud from a pre-written paper.

Participation and Short Papers: I want this seminar to be driven by discussion. But that can't happen unless we all come to seminar ready to participate. Therefore, students taking the course for credit will be required to hand in a short (approximately two page) paper every week. In each short paper, critically comment on any aspect of the reading that you find interesting --- again, no book reports. The purpose of these short papers is to force you to engage the reading in a serious way so that you'll be primed to participate actively in the discussion; use the papers to facilitate this goal, as a serious portion of your grade will be determined by seminar participation. I'll mark these short papers on a simple acceptable/unacceptable scale, and you must pass in 7 acceptable assignments to receive a passing grade for the course.

Final Paper: Students taking the course for credit will pass in a single 10-15 page paper by the end of the quarter (extensions will be granted only in cases of extreme emergency), developed out of a seminar presentation, and with the advantage of feedback received on it in the seminar. All such papers must be pre-approved in conversation with me. I mean it. Really.


I will determine your grade (assuming you have passed in 7 acceptable short papers) based on the following breakdown:
35% seminar presentations
20% seminar participation
45% final paper

I am deliberately putting extraordinary weight on seminar presentations and participation (emphatically including participation when you are not giving the presentation) as a way of encouraging you to do the reading and get actively involved in seminar discussions. You should come to seminar prepared to make substantive critical contributions every week.