Minds and Machines

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 479–493 | Cite as

A reflexive dispositional analysis of mechanistic perception

  • John Dilworth


The field of machine perception is based on standard informational and computational approaches to perception. But naturalistic informational theories are widely regarded as being inadequate, while purely syntactic computational approaches give no account of perceptual content. Thus there is a significant need for a novel, purely naturalistic perceptual theory not based on informational or computational concepts, which could provide a new paradigm for mechanistic perception. Now specifically evolutionary naturalistic approaches to perception have been—perhaps surprisingly—almost completely neglected for this purpose. Arguably perceptual mechanisms enhance evolutionary fitness by facilitating sensorily mediated causal interactions between an organism Z and items X in its environment. A ‘reflexive’ theory of perception of this kind is outlined, according to which an organism Z perceives an item X just in case X causes a sensory organ zi of Z to cause Z to acquire a disposition toward the very same item X that caused the perception. The rest of the paper shows how an intuitively plausible account of mechanistic perception can be developed and defended in terms of the reflexive theory. Also, a compatibilist option is provided for those who wish to preserve a distinct informational concept of perception.


Dispositions Evolutionary theories Functionalism Informational semantics Intentionality Low versus high level perception Mechanistic perception Naturalistic theories 



The author thanks the Editor, and an anonymous referee, for very helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA

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