[Report] The CUNY Cognitive Science Symposium

2 April, 2009 TSUTSUI Haruka, OGUCHI Mineki

On March 27, Haruka Tsutsui and Mineki Oguchi gave talks at the CUNY cognitive science sympsium.

Professor David Rosenthal presided over the symposium, which is held once a week during the regular school year. Cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind both in and out of CUNY are invited as speakers in the symposium.


Professor Jesse J. Prinz, who delivered a series of lectures at UTCP last July, kindly introduced us to Professor Rosenthal and recommended as speakers of the symposium. We would like to thank both Professors Rosenthal and Prinz for their thoughtful considerations.


Tsutsui and Oguchi shall respectively report their presentations below.

Haruka Tsutsui, ”J. J. Prinz's Moral Relativism and the Possibility of Moral Convention”

My presentation at the CUNY Cognitive Science Symposium, ”J. J. Prinz's Moral Relativism and the Possibility of Moral Convention”, has got an idea from a question I had asked to Jesse J. Prinz in his lecture series on Komaba campus. In the question I pointed out that, although his moral theory depicts itself as individual relativism of morality, it is rather a cultural relativistic theory.


In my presentation, I focused on the cultural relativism in Prinz’s theory and tried to show how it is possible for cultural relativistic morality to maintain its uniqueness as morality. If morality is cultural relativistic, what is the difference between moral rules and other cultural relativistic rules--i.e., local conventions or customs? Does Prinz’s moral theory differentiate between moral rules and conventional ones, and if it does, how? In the presentation I examined into the relationship between Prinz’s relativistic morality and convention in two ways. First, I compared Prinzian morality with two different notions of convention, namely, David Lewis’s notion of convention and Ruth G. Millikan’s “natural convention”. I demonstrated that Prinzian moral concept has a distinctive characteristic. It is to be obeyed from emotional motivation based on moral sentiments (dispositions to hold a series of moral emotions such as contempt, fear, respect etc., depending on situations). Second, I looked into borderline cases between morality and convention: the moralization of convention and the conventionalization of morals. In both cases there seems to be rules that are both moral and conventional, yet it is made clear that both the moralization and conventionalization are merely superficial.


Prinz himself was present in the discussion after my presentation, and he appreciated my summarization and clarification on the relationship between Prinzian morality and convention. On the other hand, in the discussion I was questioned several times about the notions convention or moral convention, which I used in my presentation. I found that I left some unclear points in my usage of these notions or assumptions I implicitly made about these notions. For example, as for the notion convention, both Lewis’s and Millikan’s theories of convention do in fact not aim at explicating all kinds of conventions. These theories have some bias in that both started from a question concerning a certain feature which is seen in some kind of conventions, namely, “Why conventional rules (like keeping not to the left but to the right in traffic) are followed continuously despite the fact that it is arbitrary in that it is not necessary to follow it (we can follow the rule “keep to the left” instead of “keep to the right”) ?” I should have made it explicit in my presentation and examine whether the notion of convention constructed from such an interest is appropriate for the comparison between relativistic morality and convention.
[Reported by Haruka Tsutsui]

Mineki Oguchi, “Conceptualism Revised: Through Criticizing Noë’s Enactive Approach”

The aims of the presentation are to criticize Alva Noё’s enactive (or sensorimotor) approach to perceptual experience, which is forcefully advocated in his seminal book Action in Perception, and to revise “conceptualism” about perceptual content (Noё is one of its advocates) through reflecting on the criticism.


At the core of Noё’s sensorimotor approach lies the constitutivist thesis: perceptual experience is constituted by sensorimotor skills. A sensorimotor skill is a kind of tacit knowledge about regular changes of sensory stimulations depending on bodily movements. Noё claims that the formation of perceptual experience constitutively depends on the acquisition of such skillful knowledge.

A claim which directly clashes with Noё’s constitutivist thesis can be drawn from “the dual stream model” proposed by two neuroscientists, Milner and Goodale. That is, the model tells that there is a kind of sensorimotor insensibility in perceptual experience. The model shows that there are two distinct neural streams in our visual system: the dorsal stream for motor control and the ventral stream for visual judgment. A double dissociation between these two streams can be verified by empirical findings of neurological disorders such as optic ataxia and visual agnosia. These findings also suggest that perceptual experience of a patient remains intact even when he/she suffers damage to the dorsal stream and that it is thus only the ventral stream that contributes to shape perceptual experience between the two streams. We can conclude, thus, that perceptual experience obtains at a certain distance from sensorimotor skills.

After making such a criticism, I argued that a different constitutivist thesis can be elicited from the dual stream model and that conceptualism about perceptual content, which is initially proposed by John McDowell, can be revised based on the new constitutivist thesis. According to a case report, a patient who suffers damage to the ventral stream, but does not suffer damage to the dorsal stream successfully grasps objects with his/her hands in a way suitable to their width or orientation, although not in a way suitable to their function or meaning. The patient has not lost sensorimotor skills but lost “epistemic skills,” which are dedicated to various tasks such as separation, classification and comparison. Through considering dominant suggestions about the conditions of conceptual capacity, I claimed that epistemic skills can be admitted as a sort of conceptual capacities. If, hence, perceptual experience is constituted by epistemic skills, the content of perceptual experience can be quali-fied as conceptual.


In the subsequent discussion, I received many crucial questions from the audience. For instance, they asked whether there is a substantial conflict between Prinz’s view and mine, or whether the lack of a truth-preserving relation between perception and perceptual judgment deprives perceptual content of the credential as the conceptual. Searching for the answers to these questions, I noticed several unexplored points which I have not yet explicitly recognized. These points are future tasks which I need to struggle with.
[Reported by Mineki Oguchi]

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