On Whether We Can See Intentions


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Theorists from various fields argue that we can see others’ mental states, i.e., that we perceive others’ mental states with the same immediacy and directness that we perceive ordinary objects in the world. This view is known as Direct Perception. I evaluate Direct Perception by considering whether we can see intentions, a particularly promising candidate for Direct Perception. I argue that Direct Perception proponents equivocate on the notion of intention. Disambiguating the Direct Perception claim reveals a troubling dilemma for the view: either it is banal or highly implausible. The failure to establish that we can directly perceive intentions in any interesting sense spells trouble for the general Direct Perception account. Given that Direct Perception fails in the best-case scenario, it is unlikely to succeed for other kinds of mental states, such as beliefs and desires. Thus, this result is a serious blow to the Direct Perception account.

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