In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Perception, Cognition, Action

  • Introduction
  • What is Perception?
  • What is Action?
  • What is in Between?
  • The Classical Sandwich
  • The Rochester Garbage Plate
  • The Haute Cuisine
  • Perception → Cognition
  • Cognition → Perception
  • Cognition → Action
  • Action → Cognition
  • Perception → Action
  • Action → Perception

Philosophy Perception, Cognition, Action
Bence Nanay
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0326


What mediates between perception and action? This question is as basic as it gets when it comes to understanding the mind. You see an apple, something happens in your head and your hand reaches out to grab it. What is it that happens in your head? Using the placeholder “cognition” for whatever happens between perception and action, this raises a number of questions about the nature of the relation between these three mental processes: perception, cognition, action. The aim of this article is to analyze the six possible interactions between these three mental states.

What is Perception?

One important question about perception concerns the perception/cognition boundary: Where does perception stop and cognition begin (Burge 2014)? Seeing an apple is different from believing that there is an apple in front of us, not what exactly is this difference? And what methodology should we use to keep perception and cognition apart? Is there a difference in format (Peacocke 1983, Peacocke 1992)? In determinacy (Dennett 1996)? Or in the way these mental states represent (Bayne 2009, Siegel 2006, Siegel 2007, Nanay 2011)?

  • Bayne, Tim. “Perception and the Reach of Phenomenal Content.” Philosophical Quarterly 59 (2009): 385–404.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9213.2009.631.x

    This paper uses empirical findings about agnosia patients in order to determine whether sortal properties are represented in perception. In general, it argues that such an empirically based approach is superior to the phenomenological contrast approach.

  • Burge, Tyler. “Perception: Where Mind Begins.” Philosophy 89.3 (2014): 385–403.

    DOI: 10.1017/S003181911400014X

    This paper argues that perceptual states are the most primitive kinds of representational states: they may or may not be conscious, but they display perceptual constancies (unlike sensory stimulation, which doesn’t).

  • Dennett, Daniel C. “Seeing Is Believing—or Is It?” In Perception. Edited by Kathleen Akins, 111–131. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    This short paper argues against the influential philosophical and folk view that the difference between perception and cognition/belief is that of determinacy—that perception is necessarily more determinate.

  • Nanay, Bence. “Do We Sense Modalities with Our Sense Modalities?” Ratio 24 (2011): 299–310.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9329.2011.00501.x

    This is another methodological paper that focuses on what the question about whether certain properties are represented in perception really means—is it about conscious perceptual experiences or potentially unconscious perceptual states in general, or about what we take to be perceiving? It also argues that dispositional properties are represented perceptually.

  • Peacocke, Christopher. Sense and Content. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

    The classic account of drawing the distinction between perception and belief in terms of their content, with influential discussion of perceptual constancies.

  • Peacocke, Christopher. “Scenarios, Concepts and Perception.” In The Contents of Experience. Edited by Tim Crane, 105–135. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511554582.006

    Peacocke’s positive statement of how perceptual content is structured spatially. It differs from the view defended in Peacocke 1983 inasmuch as concepts play a less constitutive role in perceptual content than they did in Peacocke 1983.

  • Siegel, Susanna. “Which Properties Are Represented in Perception?” In Perceptual Experience. Edited by Tamar Gendler and John Hawthorne, 481–503. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199289769.003.0015

    A modern classic that argues (with the help of the phenomenal contrast method) that sortal properties (like being a table or being a pine tree) are perceptually represented.

  • Siegel, Susanna. “How Can We Discover the Contents of Experience?” Southern Journal of Philosophy (Suppl.) 45 (2007): 127–142.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2007.tb00118.x

    It’s a paper about the methodology of finding out the content of perceptual experiences, which defends the method of phenomenal contrast—comparing two perceptual experiences that differ in one aspect: whether a certain property is represented in them. If their perceptual phenomenology also differs, then this property is represented perceptually.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.