Dublin Philosophy Graduate Conference: Perception and Understanding

April 5, 2013 - April 6, 2013
Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin


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James O
University College Dublin
Kenneth Westphal
University of East Anglia

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The philosophy departments of Trinity College and University College Dublin will host the annual Dublin Philosophy Graduate Conference on the 5th and 6th of April, 2013. The theme will be ‘perception and understanding’, and the keynote speakers will be Professor Kenneth Westphal from the University of East Anglia, Norwich and James O’Shea from the University College Dublin.  Graduate students working in relevant fields are warmly invited to submit their work for presentation during the conference.

The relationship between perception and understanding is crucial for our intelligent engagement in the world around us. Kant went further to say that we would have no self-conscious experience without the cooperation of our perceptual capacities and our conceptual capacities.  For Kant and Hegel, and more recently, for Sellars and McDowell, clarifying the relationship between our mutually dependent capacities for rational judgment and for sense perception is integral to understanding not simply how our categorial thought is rationally constrained, but how we think determinately at all.

Would a satisfactory account of the relationship between our perceptual and judgmental capacities enable us to make sense of intentionality for rational subjects?  Without such an account of intentionality, are there alternative ways to explain thought’s answerability to the world?  For sense experience to justify rather than merely cause belief, for it to function normatively like this, it seems that it must, on the one hand, be receptive so that it opens us up to the world; and it must, on the other hand, be categorically formed, i.e., formed in a manner that opens us as rational beings up to the world.  In a word, it seems that perceptual capacities and judgmental capacities must cooperate.  So how does our embodiment shape our
understanding?  And in what ways does our understanding constitute our embodied experience?

We might, nevertheless, wonder whether the relationship between perception and understanding is as crucial as some have made it out to be. First, if we uphold a broadly Kantian view, then what should we make of the ability to respond intelligently to things without having the relevant concepts in play while doing so?  Animals and children seem to do this routinely.  Second, it seems that hallucinations are cases of conceptually structured perceptual experiences in which we are not ‘open’ to the world. Third, maybe concepts can actually obscure what is given in experience.  Even when one’s experience is shaped by the right concepts of what is given in experience, one’s experience can be shaped like this for the wrong reasons, such as, irrational prejudices. 

Given our intelligent engagement with the world around us, it seems that perception and understanding must largely converge. But given (inter alia) that we can continually misunderstand and reinterpret what was anyway given, what was anyway perceived, and given that some individuals can be said to perceive without the relevant concepts at play and likewise without the capacity to make the relevant judgments, it seems that perception and understanding must largely diverge.

Conference Schedule:


10.00-11.30 Plenary: Kenneth Westphal, University of East Anglia, Mutual
Recognition and Rational Justification in Substantive Domains

12.00-13.00 João Santos, University of Porto, Disjunctivism, Scepticism and
the Transcendental

14.30-15.30 Thomas Whyman, University of Essex, Taking a Stance on the World

15.30-16.30 Joseph Cunningham, University of Warwick, Perceiving Isn't Believing

17.00-18.00 Raney Folland, San Francisco State University, Doxastic
Attitudes Governed by a Principle of Coherence


10.00-11.30 Plenary: Jim O'Shea, University College Dublin, Sellars' Defence
of Nonconceptual Content

12.00-13.00 Lorcan Whitehead, University of Essex, Re-Minding Merleau-Ponty

14.00-15.00 Carli Coenen, University of Nijmegan, Perceptual Experience as
Bodily Synthesis

15.00-16.00 Daniel Kodaj, Central European University, Constitutive Concepts
and the Manifest Image

16.30-17.30 Paul Giladi, University of Sheffield, Hegel on Thought and

Contact: [email protected]

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Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski (KUL)

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