Social Enactive Perception: Practices, Experience, and Contents
Arango Vargas, Manuel Alejandro
This dissertation proposes the central elements of a Social Enactive Theory of Perception (SEP). According to SEP, perception consists in sensory-based practices of interaction with objects, events, and states of affairs (objects, from now on) that are socially constituted. I oppose the representational view that perception is an indirect contact with the world, consists of the passive receiving and processing of sensory input, is in need of constant assessment of accuracy, and is a matter of individuals alone. I share the basic enactivist insight that perception is a type of activity, but I depart from standard enactivism on the grounds of its individualistic bias and its limited conception of activity. Instead of motor actions, I formulate the concept of perceptual practices as the appropriate framework to understand perception. Perception is woven into socially informed, contextual, sensory-based everyday activities, such as food, dance, and dress, and even seemingly independent, basic perceptual activities and concepts are constituted by such practices. Perceptual individual interactions instantiate social perceptual practices but are not just repetitions of a script. We perceive objects in virtue of perspectives or appearances, not in spite of them, and on this basis I offer SEP’s take on experience, properties, and contents. I conceive perceptual experience as finely grained interactions between subjects and objects, both of which are spatially, temporally, and pragmatically situated. Objects and their sensory properties are perceived dynamically and always in multiple appearances. Perceptual content offers a pragmatic specification of the perceptual objects in the specific ways they appear to subjects. For SEP, perception is normatively structured. SEP’s perceptual normativity is not a worry about a supposed constant threat that our perceptions be nonveridical, but about the placement of perceptual things in a system of possibilities and expectations, cast in terms of degrees of fulfillment of expectations and in a horizon of pragmatic significance, both of which are functions of the socially constituted interactions between a perceiver and a rich theory of appearances.