Is seeing a mode of awareness?

It seems very natural to think of sight as a mode of awareness. For example, it seems natural to think of seeing a cat as a way—one way amongst other possible ways—of being aware of the cat. The natural thought is captured, at least in part, in the following general claim:

(A1) If S sees O, then S is aware of O.

(Since seeing is, at best, one mode of awareness amongst others, the converse claim, A2, is false:

(A2) If S is aware of O, then S sees O.)

However, on seemingly plausible assumptions, (A1) appears to be subject to counterexamples. For, given those plausible assumptions, there appear to be objects of seeing that are not objects of awareness. The assumptions at issue are the following:

(A3) If S is aware of O, then there’s a sentence of the form “S is aware of N” (with “N” useable to refer to O) that can be used to express a truth.

(A4) If “S is aware of N” can be used to express a truth, then “S is aware of N” is a grammatical sentence of English.

It follows from (A3) and (A4) that if there’s no grammatical sentence of the form “S is aware of N” (with “N” useable to refer to O) then it can’t be that S is aware of O.

In order to explain the next assumption, it will be useful consider the following examples:

(1)  Jill saw John run.

(2)  Jill saw John running.

In both (1) and (2), the object of Jill’s seeing is explained by use of small clauses, phrases that lack tense, and so cannot appear alone. Thus, (3) and (4) are ungrammatical:

(3)  *John run.

(4)  *John running.

The important point for our purposes is that the objects of Jill’s seeing in (1) and (2) seem to differ, a difference reflected in the different aspects of the object phrase, simple in (1) and progressive in (2). This can be seen more clearly by appeal to object phrases that specify achievements:

(5)  Jill saw John finish the race.

(6)  Jill saw John finishing the race.

Plausibly, (5) is useable to state a truth if Jill saw John cross the finish line. By contrast, (6) might be used to state a truth if Jill saw John’s finishing the race in progress. For just as John might have been finishing the race when he collapsed and so failed, ultimately, to finish the race, Jill might have seen John finishing the race, even though she then witnessed his collapse and failure to finish the race. One natural characterisation of what is going on here would be the following: the small clause with simple aspect characterises (albeit tenselessly) an event—in this case, an achievement of the goal of finishing the race; by contrast, the small clause with progressive aspect characterises (again, tenselessly) a process—in this case, a process structured by the goal of finishing the race. A natural generalisation of the natural characterisation would include the following two further assumptions:

(A5) Simple aspect small clauses refer only to events and never to processes.

(A6) Progressive aspect small clauses refer only to processes and never to events.

With our assumptions in place, we can now present apparent counterexamples to (A1). For consider that, although (7) appears useable, in propitious circumstances, in order to state a truth, (8) appears ungrammatical and so, given (A4), not to be so useable.

(7)  Jill is aware of John finishing the race.

(8)  *Jill is aware of John finish the race.

(Interestingly (9) seems grammatical, but seems not to provide a way to characterise Jill’s awareness of the object Jill sees according to (5):

(9)  Jill is aware of Jill’s seeing John finish the race.)

Even accepting our assumptions, a response to the apparent counterexample may be available. For it may be that there is an expression “N”—distinct from “John finish the race”—that meets the following conditions: (i) it is useable to refer to the event to which, in (5), “John finish the race” refers; and (ii) it can be substituted for “John finish the race” in (8) in a way that restores grammaticality. Failing such a response, a defender of (A1) would, I think, need to revisit one or another of our other assumptions.

  1. FWIW, your remarks here reminded me of the following (only partially on-point) passage from Hall’s “Our Knowledge of Fact and Value” (1960)–

    “Cognitive verbs can take not only nouns but also substantival clauses, and infinitive and participial phrases, as objective complements. A common case and one perhaps most easily analyzed is a clause introduced by “that” as a subordinating conjunction. I may see a man and I may see that he is bald; although I am permitted (linguistically, that is) to strike him, I cannot strike that he is bald. I am allowed to feel the board and to feel that it is rough;

    “I can sandpaper the board only, I must not sandpaper that it is rough.

    “It might be thought, upon first consideration, that “hearing” is different from other cognitive verbs, especially verbs expressing sensory perception, in this respect. But if there is a difference I think it is one of degree only. I admit that such expressions as “I hear that your father has a bad cough” and “I hear that the second viohn was off key” mean to state another person’s report, not one’s own auditory perception, but we are allowed to say, “I hear your father coughing” and “I can hear that the second violin is slightly off key.” And something similar is true of “seeing.” When one says, “I see that Mr. Wilson’s hair is white,” one may be reporting an item in a newspaper one has read or, on the other hand, one’s own direct visual perception.

    “When we come to more abstract cognitive terms, such as “knowing,” “believing,” “thinking,” we find that English usage is even more complicated. “I believe Mr. Coughlin” means that I believe what Mr. Coughlin has said. “I know Mr. Coughlin” means that I am directly acquainted with him, have seen him and can recognize him. But all these subtleties and variations may be put aside for our present purpose. The simple point is that cognitive verbs can take as objective complements clauses and phrases which can be made into independent sentences themselves by suitable modification of their verbal constituents. As an example, consider the sentence, “I presume that he has met our president.” Here we can eliminate the “that” without a change of meaning. Then we have the clause “he has met our president” immediately after “I presume” and serving as its object. Lift it from this context and it is a perfectly good sentence in its own right.

    “This is not true of verbs expressing ordinary physical action; they must always take nouns or pronouns, never “sentences,” that is, substantival clauses, as objects. Let us investigate what this implies.

    “An ordinary English sentence in the indicative mood asserts a fact (or if generalized, a set of facts). This is perhaps the best way of stating what a fact is, namely, that it is that which is asserted by a true, affirmative, indicative sentence. The fact that I have a sheet of paper before me is precisely what is affirmed by the sentence, “I have a sheet of paper before me.” Facts are fragile; try to modify one and you find you have destroyed it, have replaced it by another. Change anything about the fact that I have a sheet of paper before me—put the paper behind me, crumple it so that it is no longer a sheet, replace the paper by a book—and the original fact is exterminated. This is not true of an individual thing (still going by the grammar of everyday English). It has many accidents (in Aristotle’s sense) any of which can be modified without destroying it. The sheet of paper can be written upon, given to a student, placed in a desk without being destroyed.”


    There is a pretty thorough discussion of this how states of affairs like that John is running may be referred to and other related stuff in Romane Clark’s “Facts”


    • Thanks, very interesting. Will need to think more. I guess this bears also on my “Surveying the Facts”.

  2. Hi there.

    I enjoyed this post, very thought provoking! Reminds me a little of an argument employed by Wilfrid Sellars to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as sense data, at least not in the sense that certain empiricists have sometimes tried to use it, i.e as an epistemic foundation. (I doubt that’s got anything to do with what you’re arguing here though!)

    So, what I gather from this is that while processes can be objects of both seeing and awareness, events appear to be possible objects of seeing but not of awareness. I’m tempted to deny that events can be the objects of seeings (it strikes me the events have no temporal extension, unlike processes), and that therefore there’s some trickery going on in the counterexample.

    The counterexample appears to hinge on 5 being useable to state the truth that Jill saw the event of John crossing the finish line. I’d contend that it is not useable this way, because there can be no such truth. To my mind, the truth being stated in “Jill saw John finish the race” is not that Jill saw some event, but the conjunctive truth of Jill having seen a process (John finishing the race) and a fact about the past (John finished the race), i.e that “Jill saw John finish the race” is equivalent to “Jill saw John finishing the race and John finished the race.” In short, I think the counterexample may not work, because the sense 5 needs to taken to make it work is not the one in which it can be used to express a truth.

    That’s a bit rushed but hopefully gets the point across!


    • I think we can see events, including the rather special case of achievements. For example, I think it obvious that I can see a ball begin to move, or come to a halt.

      Furthermore, I don’t think it’s possible–or, at least, straightforward–to give a reductive account of the sort you sketch. For example, I might see John finishing the race, but turn away, go blind, &c., before he finished the race, even though in fact he finished it. Moreover, suppose that I saw all of a process that involved John finishing the race, and included a stretch of time after John finished the race. It would seem odd to me, given that the interval included John’s finishing the race, to claim that although I saw the process, I failed to see the event of John’s finishing the race.

      • I see what you’re getting at, and yes if I saw a processes unfold over an interval, I agree it would be odd to say that I didn’t see the events occurring in that interval.

        That said, I still don’t think it makes much sense to treat events as objects of seeings. When we say “I saw event E”, isn’t this just a shorthand for “I saw some process P over time T, and E was an element of P occurring in T”?

        For this reason, I’d question how accurate it is to say that I saw John finishing the race if I turned away before he crossed the finish line. Didn’t I just see John coming very close to finishing the race, while in addition John did finish the race?

      • There are two issues here, one about whether we see events, another about the demands on seeing processes.

        The issue about events, I think, might be finessed as follows. I think your concern is fundamentally based on resistance to the claim that we might see an event–in particular, an achievement–and see nothing else. I agree that that claim isn’t generally true. For example, I think that seeing a ball begin to move requires seeing the ball over a period during which it is both still and moving. It’s just that I think that’s a requirement on something additional: seeing the ball begin to move. So, if I’m right about the basic source of your resistance, I think it can easily be neutralised.

        The other issue concerns whether one can see a process that by nature has a specific telos, or termination point, where one doesn’t see it to completion. Here, the appeal I made was to what is sometimes called the Imperfective paradox–e.g. the fact that it can be true that one can be, and have been, walking to the shops, even if one never reaches the shops. Since I think telic processes generally are like that, and since I’m inclined to think that seeing a telic process is itself a telic process, I’m inclined to think one can see someone walking to the shops even if one doesn’t see them reach the shops, and even if they don’t make it.

  3. Aren’t there empirical (psychological) tests that indicate the falsity of A1? I mean, it’s pretty clear that we can only remember that somebody was wearing blue jeans if we saw that he was. But doesn’t it regularly occur that we aren’t aware of what somebody is/was wearing until asked later? I thought this was a fairly commonly studied phenomena.

    • I don’t see why one would put the obvious facts like that. First, I don’t think it’s true that one can only explain why e.g. one only later knows one was looking at one’s cufflinks by assuming one saw that at the time. Perhaps one didn’t see the cufflinks, but one’s visual system stored information in useable form and one later exploited it. Second, I don’t see why we should characterise cases of seeing as involving lack of awareness, rather than failure to notice. Why shouldn’t there equally be awareness conjoined with failure to notice? It’s not as though people who describe such cases think of them as involving blindsight. Or, if they do, that will cast doubt on the claim that they are obviously cases of seeing. So, anyway, I think it would be a mistake to think any such description is obviously correct.

  4. There seem to be a grammatical difference in the usage of “seeing” and “being aware of” but if we take this difference seriously, aren’t we led to assume that being aware of events is impossible? This seem counterintuitive.
    Maybe (8) could be: “Jill is aware of the event when John finishes the race”, or maybe in the case of “being aware of”, “John finishing the race” should be interpreted as an event whereas something like “John being finishing the race” would be a process?

    • You’re right that one way of responding would be to find acceptable grammatical forms for referring to the target events, as I point out in the final paragraph of the post. However, I don’t find either of your proposals at all plausible. What’s wanted at that stage is some reason to think they’re able to do what they’re required to do–namely, refer to the same events as the simple aspect small clauses.

      You suggest that it’s implausible to deny that we can be aware of the target events. But why is that implausible? Why think that awareness-of covers all cases? Perhaps we have some other form of conscious engagement with events. I’d be more inclined to find it implausible if I thought it involved rejecting ordinary claims that we ordinarily take to be obviously correct. But it’s not clear that that’s so, especially given the difficulty in finding language forms that clearly give expression to the required claims.

      • quen_tin said:

        Another option: (8) John saw Jill who finished the race.

        I find it implausible because one could say for example “I saw Jill finish the race. It was a great event and I’m glad I was aware of it.”
        More generally what bothers me is that you draw metaphysical conclusions from linguistic premises. I tend to be suspicious about th

      • There are two issues here, one proposal for an eventive object of awareness, and one argument that there must be such objects.

        The proposal won’t work, I think, since one might see John who finished the race by only seeing John a week after the event.

        The argument is very interesting. A better case might be: “John finished the race and Jill was aware of it”. The immediate problems here are two. First, “John finished the race” seems quite different from the tenseless small clause, “John finish the race,” so argument would be needed that they can be used make reference to the same event. Second, and related, “John finished the race,” serves to specify something like a fact or state of affairs, also captured by a propositional clause: “the fact that John finished the race”. Because of this, “it” in “Jill was aware of it” looks most naturally to specify reference to that fact, as spelled out in: “and Jill was aware of the fact that John finished the race.” The argument form is interesting, and warrants further reflection. But as it stands, I think that it fails to decide the issue.

      • quen_tin said:

        intuitively I would say my option is ambiguous and can be interpreted in two ways (either synonymous with ” John saw Jill finish the race”, or “John saw Jill who, by the way, finished the race”). Similarly, “being aware of something” is ambiguous and can be interpreted as “knowing something” (a fact) or “being phenomenally conscious of something”.

      • I agree that “aware of” and “see” are prima facie ambiguous, or at least polysemous. I’m not sure which option you’re referring to. If “Jill saw John who finished the race,” I think it has no natural reading on which it’s required that Jill saw John finish the race. Better would be “Jill saw John as he finished the race.” But even there, I think it’s open that Jill might do that without seeing John finish. And if not, I think it’s an entailment of what Jill’s said to see that she also sees John finish, rather than merely what she is said to see.

      • quen_tin said:

        Ok I see the difficulty.
        An hypothesis would be that the grammatical form
        “I saw John finish the race” involves a mixture of awareness and knowledge (something like “I was aware of the event corresponding to the fact that John finished the race, from which I directly knew this fact”) which cannot be expressed using “aware” alone…

      • I don’t think that’s true about “Jill saw John finish the race.” Standardly, it’s allowed that Jill could do that without realising (say, until much later) that that’s what she saw, so without (e.g. then) knowing that John finished the race. Moreover, given that “aware that such and such” is fine, it’s hard to see how it would help explain why “Jill was aware of John finish” is not permitted.

      • I must say I am not a native english speaker and I rely on french usage of similar grammatical forms for my intuitions. But it seems to me that “I saw X do Y” is used to convey the fact that X did Y, as well as the fact that I could not know better since I was directly acquainted to it (and although I might not have realised the fact at that time, now I do). For example: “has John left? – yes, I saw him leave”.

        I would say that such things cannot be expressed with “aware” because it would involve a confusion between two distinct meanings of “aware” whereas apparently “see” seems able to convey both awareness and the potential knowledge associated with it, which supports your idea that seeing is not simply a mode of awareness (at least in the way the word is used).

      • Different cases are involved, at least in English. “I saw John run to the shop” is special, in that it is typically a first personal avowal; one wouldn’t say it unless (roughly) one believed it to be true. So, it’s better to focus on “Jill saw John run to the shop”. That can’t be true unless there was an event of John running that terminated at the shops, so in that sense it conveys the fact that John ran to the shop. But it’s one thing to convey that, and another to convey that that which Jill saw was the fact that John ran to the shop, or even that Jill saw that John ran to the shop. The former is problematic, at least on many views, since facts that such and such don’t seem to be the sorts of things one can see. The latter is fine, but appears not to be entailed by “Jill saw John run to the shop”, for reasons I gave: one might see John run to the shop without realising it’s John that one sees, without realising that he’s running (perhaps one believes that he’s skipping), and without having a clue that he is running to the shops (as opposed to running further, or to the gym next door, &c.).

        I think both seeing and awareness carry potential to make one knowledgeable. And as I said, both naturally take “Vs that p” form. So, it would take much more work to see how some specific difference between them with respect to fact-like or propositional complements could explain the apparent difference in their functioning. A more natural place to look for an explanation would be to the different ways in which cases of seeing versus awareness can occupy time, and the ways in which those differences impact on the ways in which things one can see versus things of which one can be aware, occupy time. At least, that would be the place I’d be inclined to look first.

      • I admit that the relation to the subject knowing the fact is unclear and should be analysed further, but at least “John saw Gill finish the race” conveys a fact as well as an awareness. I am not sure if “John was aware of Gill finishing the race” conveys a fact in exactly the same way, and “John is aware that Gill finished the race” does not imply any direct awareness of an event or process.
        But maybe you are right that a fact is conveyed in any case and maybe the difference lies in the temporal features of the object…

      • quen_tin said:

        that. It would be interesting to see if the same observation apply to other languages as well or if it is specific to some languages (I can tell the problem translates well to french “j’ai vu Jean finir/finissant la course” but english and french have a very similar grammar)

      • About the general suspicion of language based arguments, I somewhat share it. That’s why I was fairly explicit about the required assumptions. However, I think there are plenty of cases where language determines worldly conditions on appropriate, or correct, use, including use to stare truths. And we can use our knowledge of, or sensitivity to, those cases, and those conditions, in drawing conclusions about whether, and if so, how, those conditions are met. As long as we are careful.

    • You seem to assume that (1) refers to an event whereas (2) and (8) refer to processes (or at least that the grammatical difference expresses a temporal difference in the objects, which is uniform whether “see” or “being aware of” is used). I am more inclined to think that (1) emphasises on a fact whereas (2) and (8) do not.

      So what do you think of the following sentences?
      – Jill saw the ice melt slowly
      – Jill saw John sleep outside
      – Jill was aware of the glass breaking
      Do you think they are not natural things to say (maybe the last one should be “aware of seeing the glass break”), or that the objects should be interpreted as events/processes respectively in the two first and last sentence despite their temporal aspects?

      • I think one can see processes, so the first is fine. The second seems to concern a state, rather than a process: being asleep, rather than (more plausibly a process) sleeping. The seeing of states is often problematic. It would be better, I think, with “asleep”, and I think is plausibly equivalent to “Jill saw John while he was asleep outside”. Alternatively, “Jill watched John sleep outside” also seems fine. “Jill saw John sleep outside” seems odd to me, though perhaps acceptable. Alternatively again, “Jill saw John sleeping outside” seems fine, but seems to concern the seeing of a process. “Jill was aware of the glass breaking” is fine, but again seems to concern a process, while the apparent difficultly raised in the post concerned an achievement. As I suggested in the post, I’d be inclined to say the same about “Jill was aware of seeing the glass break”. Here, the relevant case would be the unacceptable: “Jill was aware of the glass break”.

      • To me “Jill saw John sleep outside” is really close in meaning to “Jill saw that John slept outside” and not so much to “Jill saw John asleep outside”… In the latter case he could have been asleep for just one moment.

        If the first sentence is fine and is about a process, what difference do you make between “John saw the ice melt” and “John saw the glass melting”?

      • As I said, I think “Jill saw John sleep outside” is, at best, borderline acceptable, and probably isn’t really acceptable, except when parsed as one of the alternatives. So, I don’t really think there’s a good question about which acceptable alternative is best.

        The first sentence is fine. The difference is (to a good first approximation) that “John saw the ice melt” concerns John seeing an event, while “John saw the ice melting” concerns John seeing an ongoing process. In these cases, since there is no telos–no achievement other than melting towards which the process by nature tends, and reaching which terminates the event–one seems to have a suitable event as soon as one has any of the process. But the difference is still present. It’s just more clearly present in the case of achievements (“start to melt”) and accomplishments (“run to the shops”).

      • The counterpart in french “J’ai vu John dormir dehors” is perfectly natural but we don’t have the present continuous tense so maybe the distinction between process and events is not often made as clear as in english. We would say “en train de” or “dormant” to convey an ongoing process explicitely. The fact that it is acceptable not to do so maybe interpreted as an acceptable omission (it would be kind of redundant), which would explain why the sentence is borderline in english where a specific tense is available. Yet all that makes me wonder whether english has more ressources to mark important distinctions, or if we are merely discussing grammatical peculiarities.

      • It may be that we are marking grammatical peculiarities, akin e.g. to case marking. But I’m inclined to think not, at least in the achievement vs process case. However, I don’t at all think the examples discussed in the post decide the issue.

        Issues about states are especially delicate, I think. I may discuss them in later posts. Initial inspection, with respect to English, suggests that typically we don’t see standing conditions or states, but the evidence is mixed. Thus compare:

        (1) ??I saw John’s anger.
        (2) I was aware of John’s anger.
        (3) ??I saw the table’s colour.
        (4) I was aware of the table’s colour.

        Possibly, the awareness constructions take a propositional reading in such cases. Anyway, there’s space for further reflection on combinations of psychological state, process, and event types with possible state, process, and event objects, and pertinent language forms in different languages.

  5. I think I’d prefer the first strategy for saving A1, if I wanted to argue for it. The claim that a “visual system” might have the capacity to store information that is technically “unseen” seems plausible. But the claim that S is aware of his cufflinks while failing to notice them, just seems bizarre.

    • The issue isn’t about saving one or another hypothesis, but about how best to describe or explain cases of inattention and the like.

      I don’t see anything at all bizarre in being aware of something that one hasn’t noticed, attended to, &c. It strikes me as far less odd than allowing that someone might see something while being entirely unaware of that thing (at least in cases in which awareness of such things is possible). If the latter weren’t (at best) very odd, then blindsight would be a whole lot less puzzling.

      Compare: “I must have been aware of the hum of the refrigerator for some time without noticing it, since I noticed its absence the moment it went off.” I don’t see anything at all odd or problematic in that description. And it seems perfectly appropriate as a description of many cases of inattention. There may be other cases where awareness and so seeing, or other modes of perception, is absent, but again, those wouldn’t be counterexamples to A1.

      Of course, people who fail to notice things they see might avow that they “weren’t aware of” the thing; but equally, they might avow that they “hadn’t seen it”. So, it seems to me that their avowals are neutral with respect to the present issue.

  6. It’s interesting to me that you don’t find “I must have been aware of the hum of the refrigerator for some time without noticing it” odd or bizarre. To me it’s wildly paradoxical.

    But suppose one accepts such a usage as perfectly fine, that we can take some uses of “aware of X” not to require noticing X. What can be inferred from that, do you think?

    • I think it’s a (indeed, the) perfectly normal use. And I’m not alone. See, e.g., relevant discussion in Soteriou, The Mind’s Construction. Furthermore, I find it far less odd than the idea that one can see an object and not be aware of it. That sounds like magic.

      What follows? All sorts of things. For present purposes, it follows that your immediate concern about A1 is not compelling.

  7. As I said, I find your intuition on the matter of being aware of something in spite of not noticing it heterodoxical, whatever Soteriou may say on the subject. In my (what I take to be pretty run-of-the-mill) idiom, “noticing X” and “being aware of X” are, if not synonymous, very nearly so. I’m now imagining a cross-examination in which the witness is asked, “Well then, which is it? Were you aware of the gun being there or were you not?” “Yes, as I said, I was quite well aware of it.” “And yet you didn’t notice.” “Oh, no. I never noticed it! How many times must I repeat this?!?”

    As to A1, as earlier indicated, I prefer your first response to this second one. That, at least, is how I would defend it.

    • I think your judgment here is skewed by your focus on a first personal case. Of course, someone able to report that they were aware of O, at least on ordinary first personal grounds (“from the inside”) must have noticed O. But the same is true of self-reports about what one sees. Try running your vignette with “see” in place of “aware of”. Again, one notices the humming has stopped, even though one hadn’t noticed the humming. How so? On your view, presumably not on the basis of having been aware of the humming. But if one wasn’t aware of it, what triggered one’s noticing its absence? Perhaps one’s perception of the humming, albeit without awareness. But now what is the role of awareness? It may be that, in addition to being distracted by first person forms, you’re distracted by thinking in terms of awareness that such and such, plausible (at least close to) a form of knowledge. It seems to me that one can’t be aware that the gun is in the drawer without knowing that it is, and so, plausibly, without noticing the gun (assuming one’s awareness-that is concurrent and perceptually based). But awareness-that, like seeing-that, is very different from awareness-of and objectual seeing.

  8. A few years ago, I was studying (note the imperfective) for a PhD on verbs of perception in Spanish and this was a key issue. I never got the chance to fully disentangle the issue, but here are a few thoughts.

    Seeing an object and seeing an event are different in important ways, but because “to see” is used with both, this fact is somewhat obscured. The senses of some counterparts of “to see” in English provide clearer evidence of the difference.

    “To see” is, typically, resultative: it describes the perception which ultimately occurs. The non-resultative counterpart of “to see” is “to look at” and the direct object of the former is generally a physical object of some kind: a picture, a chair, a person, etc. It’s possible (I think) to look at something without actually seeing it – perhaps this would be “noticing” it, following the above discussion. It’s interesting that “to look at” can’t normally take a subordinate clause as a direct object: *I looked (at) that…

    “To watch” might be thought to be a synonym of “to look at” but it is different in an important way: the direct object is usually an event – a concert or a TV programme, for example. It is possible for the direct object of “to watch” to be a person or physical object, but only if these things are carrying out, or are subject to, an event of some kind. So, “to watch” always has a temporal element: it implies “duration”.

    Contrast “I looked at John” with “I watched John”. In the first case, John may or may not be doing something, but this is irrelevant: I am paying attention to John’s physical appearance. The action might last the briefest moment or an extended period of time – this is not important. In the second case, the whole point is that I am attending specifically to what John is doing, or perhaps to the changes in John’s appearance while he is doing something. Watching must take place over a more extended period than that which is minimally necessary for looking at somethjng.

    The problem with “to see” is that it covers both senses: it can be used to refer to perceptions which occur during the briefest of moments (of physical objects) or those which last several hours (of events). Note that the verb “to witness” could be used in the second case, but not normally in the first: I witnessed the concert vs I witnessed the chair.

    Fred Dretske distinguished between non-epistemic seeing and epistemic seeing, calling the first type “simple seeing”, which would equate to seeing without awareness. I think this is possible: I can see something and yet not know what it is. In some situations, one can look at something for several seconds before realizing what one is seeing – even while conscious of “not knowing” and actively trying to verify what it is. This I think is the interesting thing: seeing *something*, rather than just seeing, implies some cognition or the application of some concepts and we could apply a sliding scale to this. The perception of events seems to involve more cognitive “work” than the perception of objects.

    1. I saw the cat.

    2. I saw the cat chasing a mouse.

    It seems clear that in the second case, more deductive (inductive?) reasoning is involved and I do think that one can equate it with “I saw that the cat was chasing the mouse”. Even if it is clear in the second case that one cannot literally see “that…”, pragmatically this is implied.

    I think consideration of this issue can reveal a great deal about language and the conceptual system which underlies them. How much it actually reveals about the world in itself is less clear to me, but then if “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”, I suppose there is no other way of looking at it. Also, the visual metaphor for realizing “facts” is pervasive in English, Spanish and many other languages. It’s tempting to think it might be a universal, but I’m aware of some anecdotal evidence that some languages, such as ancient Hebrew, place more emphasis on other senses, such as hearing.

    • Thanks very much for those reflections. I’ll ponder and try to reply soon.

  9. andrew r said:

    I am curious as to the definition of “to see” being used. I can believe that I see a large crowd but am unaware of all activity withim the viewing range. That is, my eyes ans brain received those photons indicating a man kissing a woman in the large crowd, but I was only “seeing” the elephant on the tricycle in the foreground. The odd thing here is the paradoxical nature of it. If take receiving the range of view to imply seeing, then I’m the above example, you saw but were unaware. And thus the proposed logic fails. Perhaps it’s just a definition ammendmebt

    • Thanks. You suggest a problem here for the *claim* A1 (not a definition). Note that the post also suggests an apparent problem for A1, so leaves open that it may be false. Anyway, let’s consider the additional problem you raise.

      The problem, I take it, is supposed to be this: one can see a plurality, say a crowd, without being aware of each element of the plurality. If true, that would be a problem for some claims connecting seeing with awareness, including the claim that if one sees a plurality, then one is aware of each element of it. But that claim is obviously distinct from A1. To get a problem here for A1 one would need something like the following:

      P1. If one sees a plurality, then one sees each element of the plurality.

      P2. It’s possible to see a plurality without being aware of each element of the plurality.

      However, P1 seems no more plausible than the claim that if one sees a plurality, then one is aware of each element. Alternatively, someone willing to accept P1 is unlikely to accept P2, since they will claim that in seeing each element, one is thereby aware of each element.

      So, I don’t think that the issue you sketch presents a need to amend the claim (not definition) A1.

      • andrew r said:

        Indeed re: claim vs definition; thank you for making that point. I can’t disagree with you.

      • Thanks. I agree with you, though, that issues about seeing and awareness of pluralities and their (perceptible elements), and also wholes and their (perceptible) parts, warrant further reflection. The issues are not straightforward, I think.

  10. I saw this passage this morning in a (sour grapes) article about the tribulations of Kansas City Chiefs football.

    ‘I sometimes wonder what it is like to be a fan of a successful team. Do you grow oblivious to bad signs? Do they just bounce off you unnoticed? Or are you completely aware of bad signs but unbothered by them — you simply think: “Oh, this looks bad but, you know what? It will turn out just fine. It always does!”’

    • Brilliant! Thanks for that. Note use of “completely aware” as contrast with “unnoticed”, rather than the more minimal “aware”, which (I claim) needn’t so contrast.

  11. philori said:

    I’ve read nothing on this topic ever since I had to read Searle’s Intentionality when I was an undergraduate – long time ago… While I think that your conclusion is a viable hypothesis, I believe that the fact alone that English is not complete speaks against (A3).

    • Thanks. It depends a bit what you mean by English not being complete. If you mean, the fact that there are elements and properties that English can’t at present capture, then I think it’s a plausible claim, but not clearly evidence against A3, at least in the weaker form required for the argument. For one thing, English, like other natural languages is extensible, so that new expressive resources can be added.

      Furthermore, in this case, the elements and properties can be captures in English, it seems. So the form of incompleteness would need to be quite specific: there is evidence to think that English is incomplete in lacking resources to capture facts, the elements and properties composing which can be captured. For what is wanted, ultimately, is ground to think that there can be facts such that, if they were grammatical English, would be captured by the form, “S is aware of T VP,” and yet they cannot be so captured.

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