The Nature of Perceptual Constancies

10 May 2019
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Perceptual constancies – like e.g. size constancy, shape constancy or color constancy – have been studied by psychologists for decades, but in recent years, they have also become a major topic in the philosophy of mind.
One reason for the surge of interest in this topic is Tyler Burge’s (2010) influential claim that constancy mechanisms mark the difference between perception and mere sensory registration, and thereby also the difference between organisms with genuine representational capacities and ‘mindless’ beings.
Burge’s claim has been the subject of intense debate.
It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that we cannot hope to settle this debate (as well as related debates in philosophy and psychology) without a clear and substantive theoretical account of what perceptual constancies are.
In the first part of my talk, I will argue that the standard definitions in the literature fall short of providing such an account.
Still, as I will attempt to show in the second part of my talk, by taking a closer look at paradigm examples of constancies and the empirical literature on them, we can construct a general account of perceptual constancies that is clear and substantive in the required sense, and that can serve as a firm foundation for settling debates such as the dispute about Burge’s ‘constancy mechanism criterion’ for distinguishing between perception and sensory registration.