Constancy Mechanisms and the Normativity of Perception

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Giving a Damn: Essays in Dialogue with John Haugeland


To recognize something is to respond to it in a way that distinguishes it from other things; to recognize is to tell apart. But differential response cannot be the whole story, for two deeply related reasons. First, what is recognized is always some determinate item, feature, or characteristic of the confronted situation, whereas a given response can equally well be taken as a response to any of several distinct things. Second, recogniton, unlike response, is a normative notion: it is possible to misrecognize something, to get it wrong, whereas a response is just whatever response it is to whatever is there. These are related because: only insofar as something determinate is supposed to be recognized, can there be an issue of recognizing it rightly or wrongly; and it is only as that which detemines rightness or wrongness that the object of recognition is determinate.
--John Haugeland, "Objective Perception" (HT, 272)

Imagine that John is scouring the Arizona desert for a scorpion, to encase it in resin for the aiguillette on his bolo tie. As he looks under a small rock, he sees something that looks like a scorpion, and he swings his net down on it. But it is not a scorpion. It is, in fact, a plastic scorpion left there by a mischievous graduate student. In frustration, John sits down on a large rock, thinking he might just give up wearing bolo ties altogether. As he does so, he suddenly feels a sharp pain in his lower regions, realizing that he has found what he was looking for, albeit unintentionally.


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