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Research Project

Beyond (Non-)Conceptualism. Kant, Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein on the Contents of Perception

The aim of my dissertation is to argue for a new position in the Philosophy of Perception that provides a solution to the problem of conceptual vs. nonconceptual content by drawing on ideas from the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I will propose an account of perception that thinks of perception as meaningful and rational without being conceptual all out which thus undermines the distinctions between conceptual/non-conceptual content and sensibilism/intellectualism that have dominated as distinctions in the Kantian-framed discussion in the philosophy of perception (cf. McLear 2021). The discussion about conceptual and non-conceptual content has often been held through an interpretation of Kant's view on this matter. I will thus argue for the Wittgenstein-Merleau-Ponty-account as the continuation of an often neglected third force in Kant's account of perception that undermines the strict distinction of sensible intuitions as nonconceptual content and intellectual concepts as conceptual content, namely imagination and schematism.

The first part of the dissertation will be an interpretation of Kant that will argue, mainly negatively, that Kant's strict distinction between sensibility and understanding does not hold up and that in his treatment of imagination and schematism he glanced at a possible third way of thinking about perception, that he was not able to fully sketch out within his own framework. Perception as meaningful without being conceptual is thus the "Unthought" in Kant's philosophy, that only becomes possible through his thought but is impossible for Kant himself to think through.

The second part of the dissertation will then argue, first, that from Merleau-Ponty's and Wittgenstein's works a positive account of perception as meaningful without being conceptual can be constructed, second, that it gives a satisfying answer to the question how perception is then connected to conceptuality and judgements and third, that this account can be read as a continuation of Kant's notions of imagination and schemata. It will further be argued that this account can satisfyingly address the worries that motivate both a conceptualist as well as a non-conceptualist view of perceptual content, namely the conceptualist worry that without conceptual content our thoughts cannot have objective purport, and the non-conceptualist argument that perception is more primitive than thought.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thiemo Breyer