Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 2, Fall 2016

New Directions in the Philosophy of Perception

Lu Teng
Pages 405-426

Cognitive Penetration, Imagining, and the Downgrade Thesis

We tend to think that perceptual experiences tell us about what the external world is like without being influenced by our own mind. But recent psychological and philosophical research indicates that this might not be true. Our beliefs, expectations, knowledge, and other personal-level mental states might influence what we experience. This kind of psychological phenomena is now called “cognitive penetration.” The research of cognitive penetration not only has important consequences for psychology and the philosophy of mind, but also has interesting epistemological implications. According to the Downgrade Thesis, some cognitively penetrated perceptual experiences give their subjects less justification for believing their penetrated contents than perceptual experiences that are unpenetrated to represent those contents would usually give. In this paper, I propose an innovative argument for the Downgrade Thesis. First, I develop a positive account of how some cognitive penetration works, according to which cognitive states influence perceptual experiences by triggering some imaginings. Second, I argue that imaginings do not give their subjects justification for believing their contents. I apply this epistemology of imagining to cognitive penetration, and argue that because of the role that imaginings play, some cognitively penetrated experiences also give their subjects less justification for believing their penetrated contents.