The Border between Cognition and Perception


Note: the last meeting of the term is Monday, December 12, 2016.  The class will not meet on Tuesday December 13th. 







PHIL-GA 3010; Topics in the Philosophy of Mind; Monday 7-9; Room 202, 5 Washington Place

Instructors: Ned Block and Eric Mandelbaum 

Send email to Ned Block

Send email to Eric Mandelbaum

Send comments on broken links to Ned Block

The writing for this class will be a term paper of around 20-25 pages due on December 12th.  Alternatively, you can do two shorter papers, the first of which is due October 31st and the second December 12th.  Students in their first few years are strongly encouraged to do the two papers.  You can do one paper, get feedback and then submit a revised version for the second paper.


NYU students who require accommodation for a disability should consult with the Henry and Lucy Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at


Readings for the class

August 29: No class


Sept 12:

Modularity and Cognitive Penetration

Visitor: Chaz Firestone


Chaz Firestone and Brian Scholl,  Cognition does not affect perception: Evaluating the evidence for top-down effects, forthcoming in The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  If this link is problematic, try this.

Note: the following articles are passworded.  If you are attending the course, you can get the password by emailing Ned Block or Eric Mandelbaum.

Comments on Firestone and Scholl  The comments by Gur, Balcetis, Clore, Witzel, Levin, Block and Cutler are more likely than the others to be discussed in class.  Also read the replies by Firestone and Scholl to these commentators.  (You can access them by searching their replies for the name of the commentator.)

Replies by Firestone and Scholl  or here


Sept 19:

Modularity and a Joint in Nature between Cognition and Perception


Ned Block, How the ideas of modularity and cognitive penetration have misled us for a generation


Sept 26:

Moral Empiricism and Statistical Learning

Visitor: Shaun Nichols


Shaun Nichols and Shikhar Kumar, Rational learners and moral rules.  Forthcoming in Mind & Language

Alisabeth Ayars and Shaun Nichols,  Moral empiricism and the bias for act-based rules


Oct 3:

Perception as Conceptual


Eric Mandelbaum, Seeing and Conceptualizing: Modularity and the Shallow Contents of Perception, forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research


Experimental papers that Eric's paper draws on:


Maguire & Howe (important qualifications on Potter)

Grill-Spector & Kanwisher



Page from Ned's paper from 2 weeks ago critiquing an earlier version of Eric's paper


Oct 10: No class


Oct 17:


Visitor: Eric Schwitzgebel


Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs or the Gulf between occurrent judgment and dispositional belief Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 2010


Eric Schwitzgebel, A Dispositional Approach to Attitudes: Thinking Outside the Belief Box in Nottelman, New Essays on Belief, 2013

Eric Mandelbaum, Against Alief

Eric Mandelbaum (2013). Thinking is Believing. Inquiry, 57(1), 55-96.



Oct 24:

Fragmentation of Belief

Visitor: Andy Egan


Seeing and believing: perception, belief formation and the divided mind, Philosophical Studies 140 (1):47 - 63 (2008)


Fodor, J. (1983) Chapter 4 of Modularity of Mind: An Essay on Faculty Psychology:

A scanned copy of the book is available at a passworded site here. 

Mandelbaum, E. (2013). Thinking is Believing. Inquiry, 57(1), 55-96.

Tamar Gendler, Alief and Belief

Eric Mandelbaum, Against Alief


Oct 31:

Bayesianism and Predictive Coding


Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis: How Robust Are Probabilistic Models of Higher-Level Cognition?;

Goodman et al's Relevant and Robust: A reply to Marcus and Davis

Eric Mandelbaum, Troubles with Bayesianism: An Introduction to the Psychological Immune System  

Background (you should read one or two of these):

Bowers and Davis 2012 Bayesian Just so Stories in Psychology and Neuroscience.

Bowers and Davis, Is That What Bayesians Believe?_Reply to Griffiths, Chater, Norris, and Pouget

Sobel et al Childrens causal inferences from indirect evidence: Backwards blocking and Bayesian reasoning in preschoolers

Perfors et al. A Tutorial Introduction to Bayesian Models of Cognitive Development.

Xu and Tenenbaum: Sensitivity to Sampling in Bayesian Word Learning;

Endress: Bayesian learning and the psychology of rule induction;

Frank: Reply to Endress;

Rescorla, Bayesian Sensorimotor Psychology;

Goodman et al. Concepts in a Probabilistic Language of Thought;

Andy Clark: Whatever Next


Nov 7:

The Perception/Cognition Interface Reconsidered

Visitor: Jesse Prinz


Jesse Prinz, The Return of Concept Empiricism

Jesse Prinz, Faculty Psychology without Modularity

Background: There are way too many to read carefully but with many of the experimental papers you can read the intro and the discussion and skim the middle part.

Durgin 2012

Durgin 2016

Schaffer 2013

Bhalla and Proffitt

Eric’s further suggestions:

1) Durgin et al 2011 (a manipulation of the Balcetis/Dunning distance perception paper),  

2) Durgin 2010 paper (replying to the Proffitt paper Ned attached), 

3) The Firestone/Scholl paper on Levin/Banaji (available here)

4) The Firestone Scholl reply to Gantman and Van Bavel. If you only have time for a short article I recommend reading this (its ~5 pages and very clear). The F&S original critical paper of G&VB is here

5) Firestone's "How Paternalistic is Vision" (his big critical paper of the Backpack literature. Many of Durgin's findings are summed up in it. If you have a bit more time I recommend reading this first).

6) F&S's "Overgeneralization Test" (which drives home the point that judgments don't cut ice one way or another in this debate)

On questions of massive modularity/central modules:

7) A Cosmides, Barrett, and Tooby paper on the evidence for Cheater Detection.

8) A paper summarizing some of the evidence for incest avoidance (Lieberman et al)

9) A paper arguing that our numerical processing is modular (this paper is an older one of mine, and is here)



Nov 14:



Block, N. (2014). Seeing-As in the Light of Vision Science. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

Ned Block, How the ideas of modularity and cognitive penetration have misled us for a generation  Although we discussed this on September 19th, some of the material we didn't get to will be discussed

Shea, N. (2013). Distinguishing Top-Down From Bottom-Up Effects. In S. Biggs, M. Matthen & D. Stokes (Eds.), Perception and Its Modalities. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Burge, T. (2014)  Reply to Block: Adaptation and the Upper Border of Perception, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research


Nov 21

Format and Architecture of Object Representation

Visitors: E.J. Green and Jake Quilty-Dunn


Jake Quilty-Dunn & E.J. Green, What is an object file?


Jake Quilty-Dunn, Iconicity and the Format of Perception, Journal of Consciousness Studies 23, 3-4:255-263

Jordan Suchow, Daryl Fougnie, George Alvarez and Tim Brady, Terms of the debate on the format and structure of visual memory, Attention, perception and Psychophysics, 2014


Nov 28

Core Cognition

Visitor: Susan Carey


Tyler Burge, "Steps toward Origins of Propositional Thought", Disputatio IV, 29.

Shilpa Mody & Susan Carey, The emergence of reasoning by the disjunctive syllogism in early childhood or here.  Cognition 154, 2016 (This is an experimental paper that carries out one aspect of the inquiry described in Burge's paper.)


Carey, S. (2015). Why Theories of Concepts Should Not Ignore the Problem of Acquisition. Or here. In Disputatio VII, November, 2015

Carey, S. (2011). The Origin of Concepts: A précis. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34, 113-167.


Dec 5



Eric Mandelbaum, Attitude, Inference,  Association", Nous 2014


SEP Entry on Associationist Theories of Thought:

SEP Entry on Implicit Bias: 

Bouton: "Context and Behavioral Processes in Extinction", Learning & Memory, 2004

Fodor: "Present Status of the Innateness Controversy"

Alex Madva and Michael Brownstein, "Stereotypes, Prejudice, and the Taxonomy of the Implicit Social Mind"

Neil Levy, "Neither Fish nor Fowl: Implicit Attitudes as Patchy Edorsements"

Alex Madva, "Why Implicit Attitude Probably are not Beliefs"



Dec 12



Eric Mandelbaum & Jake Quilty-Dunn, Against Dispositionalism: Belief in Cognitive Science

Ned Block, Troubles with Functionalism;

Jerry Fodor, Three Cheers for Propositional Attitudes

Selection from Psychosemantics.  Read Ch 4

Bertram Gawronski, Skyler Brannon and Galen Bodenhausen: The associative/propositional duality in the representation, formation, and expression of attitudes To appear in: R. Deutsch, B. Gawronski, & W. Hofmann (Eds.). Reflective and Impulsive Determinants of Human Behavior. New York: Psychology Press.

Eric Mandelbaum, Attitude, Inference, Association: On the Propositional Structure of Implicit Bias, Nous 50, 3, 2016:629-658