Experience, action and representations: Critical realism and the enactive theory of vision

Paul Coates

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This paper defends a dynamic model of the way in which perception is integrated with action, a model I refer to as ‘the navigational account’. According to this account, employing vision and other forms of distance perception, a creature acquires information about its surroundings via the senses, information that enables it to select and navigate routes through its environment, so as to attain objects that satisfy its needs. This form of perceptually guided activity should be distinguished from other kinds of semi-automatic responses to visual stimuli that do not necessarily involve conscious experiences. It essentially involves inner states, which involve both the awareness of phenomenal qualities, and also a representational component. The navigational account is compared here with the enactive approach to perception, which opposes the view that perceptual experiences are inner states. This paper argues that a full account of perception raises a number of different questions. One central explanatory project concerns questions about the kinds of processes that currently enable a creature to identify and respond appropriately to distant objects: the answer, it is argued, lies in acknowledging the role of conscious inner representations in guiding navigational behaviour through complex environments. The fact that perception and action are interdependent does not conflict with the claim that inner representational states comprise an essential stage in visual processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-462
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Navigational account of perception


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