Introspective Knowledge And Displaced Perception Essay, Research Paper
“Dretske remarks that there are ‘two important differences between introspective knowledge and other forms of displaced perception’ (p. 60). What are these differences? Are they enough to call into question his view of introspective knowledge as displaced perception?”
The second chapter of Naturalizing the Mind is in the main an attempt to provide an account of introspective knowledge consistent with the Representational Thesis. Dretske takes introspective knowledge to be a given and proceeds by trying to explain how such knowledge is possible without appealing to an ‘inner sense’, an idea that seems to conflict with the Thesis’s commitment to externalism about the content of mental states. To this end, he proposes that introspection is a species of displaced perception. However, he highlights two important differences between introspective knowledge and other forms of displaced perception that seem to suggest that introspective knowledge cannot in any relevant sense be viewed as an instance of displaced perception. As a result, Dretske fails to explain how introspective knowledge is possible and therefore fails to provide a compelling alternative to the ‘inner sense’ account of introspective knowledge.
Introspective knowledge is “knowledge the mind has of itself” (p. 39). For example, knowing, when I perceive a yellow box, that I am having a certain experience (namely an experience of a yellow box) is, for Dretske, an instance of introspective knowledge. This knowledge is not about the box’s being yellow or indeed about the box at all, it is knowledge about myself, knowledge that I am having a certain experience (on Dretske’s view, knowledge that I am representing a, perceived, box as yellow). Introspective knowledge seems to have some strange properties. “Natsoulas defines one form of consciousness—reflective consciousness—as a privileged ability to be non-inferentially aware of (all or some of ) one’s current mental occurrences. We seem to have this ability. In telling you what I believe I do not have to figure this out (as you might have to) from what I say or do. There is nothing from which I infer that A looks longer than B. It just does.” (p. 39) Dretske take!
s the notion that humans have introspective knowledge as a given. His interest in the matter arises when one attempts to “explain how we come by such knowledge and what gives us this first-person authority”(p. 40)
Dretske wants to reject one possible explanation, namely the idea that introspective knowledge is garnered by the mind perceiving its own workings. Dretske wants to provide an account of introspective knowledge that does not rely on some sort of ‘inner sense’ because of his commitment to an externalist theory of the mind. If introspective knowledge can be attained by the mind’s perceiving its own internal workings, then it seems that mental facts must be constituted by the intrinsic character of the events occurring in the mind (otherwise, it would be impossible from merely ‘looking inward’ at the mind to have knowledge of those mental facts), a conclusion that the Representational Thesis rejects. If Dretske succeeds in explaining how introspective knowledge is possible in some manner that does not rely on an ‘inner sense’, he has shown that externalism about the mind cannot be rejected on the grounds that introspective knowledge (something that is taken as a given) exists.
The line that Dretske chooses to pursue is the following; introspective knowledge is a species of displaced perception, the displaced perception model of introspective knowledge shows that introspection can occur without an ‘inner sense’, therefore, the fact that introspective knowledge exists does not constitute a reason to reject externalism about the mind. It seems that the second step in this paraphrase of Dretske’s argument is correct; if introspective knowledge is really is a species of displaced perception, then introspection can occur without an ‘inner sense’. However, given certain distinctions that Dretske makes between introspective knowledge and ‘other forms’ of displaced perception, it seems that introspective knowledge cannot rightly be seen as a form of displaced perception. If this is correct, then Dretske has failed to provide an alternative to the ‘inner sense’ explanation of introspective knowledge and has subsequently failed to defend externalism from t!
he problems that this explanation poses.
Displaced perception occurs when a system perceives facts about an object not by sensuously perceiving that object but by perceiving a different object. The example that Dretske gives is of the perception of one’s weight by looking at a bathroom scale. In this case, the person perceives sensuously only the scale (she sees a certain object that has different patches of color in different shapes etc.) and may perceive that the scale is pointing to 150. Facts that this person perceives about the scale are not instances of displaced perception. Leaving aside the notion that she must interpret the different patches of color as a scale who’s pointer is at 150, she perceives that the scale is pointing to 150. She also perceives that she weighs 150 pounds. This latter fact is not a fact about the scale (like the fact that its pointer is at 150), it is a fact about the perceiver, the person standing on the scale. It is clear, however, that the person in question is not perceiving!
herself, she is only perceiving the scale. Of course, this perception requires certain beliefs on the part of the perceiver; that the object that she is perceiving is a device that represents the weight of the object standing on it, that the perceiver is indeed standing on it, that the device is functioning properly etc… This, then, is an instance of displaced perception. The person in question perceives facts about an object, herself, not by perceiving herself (her body) but by perceiving another object, the bathroom scale.
It should be clear here that if introspective knowledge is a form of displaced perception then Dretske has succeeded in explaining “how we come by such knowledge” (p.40) without appealing to an ‘inner sense’. That is, an instance of introspective knowledge, for example the knowledge that I have that I am having a certain experience when I perceive a yellow box, can be explained on the displaced perception model by stating that I garnered knowledge about a certain thing, the contents of my mind, by perceiving (sensuously) another thing, the yellow box just in the same way that the person on the bathroom scale garnered knowledge about a certain thing, her body, by perceiving (sensuously) another thing, the bathroom scale. In the case of the yellow box, the introspective knowledge that I have (the knowledge that I am having a certain experience) is not explained by my perception of the internal workings of my mind, rather it is explained by my (sensuous) perception of another o!
bject, the yellow box.
A certain problem presents itself at this juncture however. In the bathroom scale example, the displaced knowledge is informed not only by the sensuous perception of the bathroom scale, but also by connecting beliefs (the belief that the scale has the function of indicating weight, that it is functioning properly etc…) and inferences. However, in the case of introspective knowledge, Dretske wants to deny that something like the inference that the person on the bathroom scale makes is going on. “It may seem as though this account of introspective knowledge—as a species of displaced perception—makes it into a form of inferential, and thus indirect, knowledge…If, on a representational theory, introspective knowledge is more like the latter [inferential knowledge] than the former [direct perception], then the representational account fails to give self-knowledge the immediacy we know it to have.” (p. 60)
In order to counter this objection, Dretske highlights two differences between introspective knowledge and ‘other forms’ of displaced perception. The first is that “In the case of self knowledge…my sensory representation of the intermediate fact need not be veridical for it to carry information about me, about how I am representing things.” (p. 61). In the bathroom example the intermediate fact would be something like the perception of the scale as pointing to 150. If the person on the scale misperceives the scale (say, she perceives the scale as pointing to 150 when in fact it is pointing at 250) then that person does not have a displaced perception about herself (her weight). Perceiving object x (the scale) does not provide information about object y (the person on the scale) because the person misperceives the scale (the intermediate fact) and in fact does not weigh 150 pounds but 250. Dretske claims that in the case of introspective knowledge misperception of the objec!
t in question would not serve to show that displaced perception had not taken place (that information about the mind was not gathered by misperceiving the object in question). That is, if I am misperceiving a box as yellow (say its really green), I still garner information about my mind (that it is perceiving a box as yellow). This distinction between introspective knowledge and ‘other forms’ of displaced perception is meant to show that introspective knowledge is non-inferential and thereby to avoid the problem elucidated above. “If this is inferential knowledge, it is a strange case of inference: the premises do not have to be true to establish the conclusion.” (p. 61).
The second distinction between introspective knowledge and ‘other forms’ of displaced perception is that the inference from the perception (say of a box as yellow) to the introspective knowledge (say, that I am perceiving a box as yellow) cannot possibly be false. Again, this distinction is supposed to show that introspective knowledge is non-inferential. “…if this is inferential knowledge, it is a very unusual form of inference. The premises need not be true and the inference cannot fail…This, I submit, is the source of the ‘directness’ and ‘immediacy’ of introspective knowledge.” (pp. 61-62)
Both of these distinctions seem to be correct. However, it seems that in making them, Dretske has unsuspectingly provided a basis for rejecting his attempt at explaining introspective knowledge without recourse to an ‘inner sense’. If, in the case of introspective knowledge, one is to assume that there is no inference from the perception of one thing to knowledge about another, it seems that one must conclude that introspective knowledge is not a form of displaced perception after all. Dretske argues that one can garner knowledge about a certain thing y not from perceiving that thing but from perceiving a different thing x. This he terms displaced perception. However, at least in non-introspective cases, he does not leave it at that. Indeed, to do so would simply posit a mystery. What is wanting is not the idea that one can garner knowledge about one object by perceiving another, but an explanation of how this occurs. Dretske explains that this occurs because of a pro!
cess of inference from beliefs (that the scale is working properly and has the function of indicating weight) along with the perception of the object (the bathroom scale) to knowledge about the non-perceived object (the person on the scale). However, in the case of introspection, he wants to jettison this explanatory framework. He claims that introspective knowledge is non-inferential. Therefore, we are left with the following argument; introspective knowledge (knowledge about internal states or perceptions) is garnered by the perception of other objects. But by stating that this form of knowledge is non-inferential, Dretske has given up the only explanation of how this occurs that he has recourse to. Indeed, displaced perception is defined as inferential knowledge (in the form previously described). Therefore, to state that introspective knowledge is non-inferential is to state that introspective knowledge is not displaced perception.
One should remember that the task that Dretske sets for himself is “…to explain how we come by such knowledge [introspective knowledge] and what gives us this first-person authority.” (p. 40) By claiming that introspective knowledge is a form of displaced perception, he seems to do just that. Displaced perception occurs when an inference is made from a set of beliefs along with a perception of some object x to information about some other object y. However, by making the claim that introspective knowledge is non-inferential, Dretske undercuts the explanatory power of the concept of displaced perception. Indeed, by removing the inferential aspect of the concept of introspective knowledge one is only left with an explanation that must sound something like this; we come by introspective knowledge by perceiving objects. This is certainly no better than an ‘inner sense’ in terms of its explanatory adequacy. Certainly, the fact that Dretske’s attempt to explain introspective !
knowledge as displaced perception fails is no reason on its own to accept an ‘inner sense’ view. However, Dretske clearly fails to provide a satisfying alternative and thereby fails to head off the objection to externalism that the ‘inner sense’ view raises.