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Church, Jennifer. Possibilities of Perception.

CHURCH, Jennifer. Possibilities of Perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 296 pp. Cloth, $55.00--Perception is usually understood, in the most general terms, as a relation between mind and world, wherein information about the world is registered in the mind. This relation has special epistemic significance because, while perception is often mistaken, it provides the fundamental category through which knowledge of an objective world is conceived. Further details regarding the nature of this relation are subject to a wide range of interpretations, as befits a basic philosophical concept. In Possibilities of Perception, Jennifer Church advances one interpretation of perception according to which perception is not constituted by the claim to objectivity implied in the mind-world relat ion per se, but rather by the experience of objectivity. To perceive something, for Church, is to perceive it as objective. Neither Leibniz's petites perceptions nor, as Church herself points out, Dretske's "non-epistemic seeing" count as cases of perception on Church's theory. The most distinctive feature of the theory is its account of the active role of the imagination in the experience of objectivity constitutive of perception. According to Church, an object is experienced as objective, that is, it is perceived, when the mind imagines how it would be perceived from multiple different perspectives. It is the identity of the object across these imagined, possible perspectives that creates the experience of the object's independence from the perceiver (its objectivity) at any given moment.

In the first two chapters of the book, Church illustrates the basics of her account of perception with reference to the perception of ordinary objects. We perceive a table when we not only regard it from above, but when we also imagine how it might feel to the touch or look from the side. In the last four chapters, Church extends her basic account to more controversial cases, including the perception of reasons, abstract states of affairs, and moral and aesthetic categories. In the fifth chapter, for instance, Church combines her analysis of perception with Kantian deontology to show how right action may be an object of perception. On Church's reading, to perceive that an action is enjoined by the categorical imperative involves imagining a range of scenarios in which other people in other contexts perform the action in question or variations thereof.

The later chapters are significant not only for their intrinsic interest but also for their contribution to the overall argument of the book. In emphasizing the experience of objectivity as the hallmark of perception, Church distances her account from those which center around sensory content. This emphasis means that Church's account is more readily amenable to abstract cases. To the extent that one would like to be able to conceive causal relations, mathematical entities, and moral facts as objects of perception, Church's theory of perception receives support in providing resources to do so. This is just as well, because on its own, many will likely find Church's theory difficult to accept, at least in certain key respects, as Church herself seems to admit at points.

Whereas Church insists that introspection provides clear evidence of the imagination's active synthesis of different perspectives in constituting the experience of objectivity, others might not find the evidence so clear-cut. Considering instances of my own experience of objects, I am often not sure how to tell whether active imagining is at work or not. Certainly, there are times when I clearly imagine alternative points of view on an object, but those moments seem to involve an effort that I am not aware of; yet, these cases I would have thought to count as perceptual. Readers can decide for themselves whether Church's analysis of the phenomenology of objectivity resonates with their own, of course, but resting an account of perception on the notoriously dubious deliverances of introspection seems risky.

Church supplements her account with some points on behalf of the value, both epistemic and ethical, of perceiving things in her sense, which is to say, actively imagining different perspectives on an object or counterfactual ways an event might have happened. Church makes an interesting case, for instance, for the role of perception in our ability to conceive others as persons; thus, her understanding of the role of perception has moral value. It is not clear, however, how the normative account of perception relates to the descriptive, which is the primary focus of the book. One could certainly agree that we should be more conscientious in considering alternative possibilities without accepting that doing so is essential to our perception of objects.

In all, Possibilities of Perception is a stimulating, wide-ranging treatment of perception in its many guises that should be of interest to a commensurately wide audience. Despite all the ground covered, however, due to its restriction of perception to conscious syntheses of imagined perspectives, one comes away with the sense that many possibilities of perception have been left out.--Matthew Homan, Christopher Newport University
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Author:Homan, Matthew
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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