Macquarie University
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Perception and action

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posted on 2022-03-28, 21:51 authored by Kevin David Sinclair
This thesis is an exploration and analysis of Alva Noë and J. Kevin O'Regan's “enactive” approach to perception. In this thesis I examine the enactive approach, evaluate what the enactive approach to perception entails, and assess what needs to be further refined in order to provide a satisfactory account of perceptual experience. The enactive account of perceptual experience aims to be both an explanation of the way that we come to have perceptual experiences and an explanation of the phenomenology of our perceptual experiences. It is a response to recent discoveries in the cognitive sciences that demonstrate the limits and fallibility of our perceptual experiences as well as a challenge to “dualist” and “representationalist” accounts of perceptual experience. The enactive account of perceptual experience argues that perceptual experience is constituted by the perceiver's mastery of the laws of movement-related sensorimotor contingencies, rather than by the perceiver's purported ability to translate sensory data into a representation of the world. The enactive approach of Noë and O'Regan has, and continues to be; debated, critiqued; and occasionally amended. Criticism has focused on the difficulty in clearly determining what the nature of perceptual experience is according to the enactive thesis as well as problems associated with understanding perceptual experience as a form of sensorimotor knowledge. Firstly I will discuss in detail the main features of the enactive approach and define the key aspects, including; the aims of the enactive approach in general, support for the enactive approach, and consequences of accepting such an account. I will also introduce some of the controversial aspects of the enactive approach that I will address throughout the thesis, in particular, the nature of perceptual content and what the enactive accounts' opposition to representational theories of perception amounts to. One of the difficulties in evaluating the enactive approach is that the authors take various positions on the nature of perceptual content and the role that the brain plays in generating such perceptual content. As a response to problems such as the “explanatory gap” as well as research into the capacity of our brain and nervous system the enactive approach can be understood as an argument for quite limited perceptual content. On the other hand, as an account that emphasises the embodied, embedded and extended nature of perceptual experience it also can be understood as an explanation of the way that we come to have perceptual experiences that seem to be rich or detailed in nature. In the second chapter of this thesis I analyse these issues and demonstrate the necessity of modifying certain claims of the enactive approach. I also argue that in order to form a coherent account of perceptual experience the enactive account must carefully distinguish between different types of content, and, that it must also explain the constitutive role that the brain plays in perception. One of the claims of Noë and O'Regan is that their approach is relevant across all perceptual modalities. However they do not discuss in detail how it applies to modalities other than vision and touch. In the third chapter of this thesis I explore whether or not this claim holds water. Focussing primarily on olfaction and gustation, I evaluate recent empirical research and theories to ascertain whether or not it makes any sense at all to apply the enactive approach to certain modalities, that is, whether or not the enactive account fits with the empirical evidence. As I demonstrate the evidence does provide some support for the enactive approach as well as raise challenges to it. I argue that the result of these challenges is that the enactive approach, if it is to apply to all perceptual modalities, must be refined in certain ways, and, that the empirical evidence from other sensory modalities can be used to explain the role that the brain plays in perceptual experience. Noë and O'Regan acknowledge that the brain plays a role in perceptual experience. They also refer to the content of perceptual experience as “virtual content.” In the final chapter of this thesis I discuss Bergson's sensorimotor account of perceptual experience. Bergson draws a distinction between “virtual images” and “virtual memory”. I argue that applying these distinctions within the enactive framework can provide a useful way of distinguishing between, and accounting for, different types of perceptual experience as well as an explanation of the constitutive role that the brain plays in perceptual experience. A consequence of this is that the enactive account of experience must accept that a form of brain/nerve state, a “representation”, does play a role in perceptual experience. I also argue that understanding perceptual experience as representational in the way I propose is supported by the empirical evidence; and that accepting this proposal improves the overall explanatory power of the enactive thesis.


Alternative Title

Perception AND action.

Table of Contents

1. The enactive account of perception: a skill-based sensorimotor understanding of perceptual activity -- 2. Perceptual content and the enactive approach to perception -- 3. The reach of the enactive approach -- 4. Action and perception: the way to make sense of the (enactive) sensorimotor approach to perception.


Bibliography: p. 149-151 Typescript.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis masters research


Thesis (MA) , Macquarie University, Dept. of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Timothy Bayne


Copyright Kevin David Sinclair 2008. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (xvii, 152 p., bound) ill

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