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Hypothesis and Theory ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02580

Inferential Integrity and Attention

  • 1San Francisco State University, United States

How should we define inferential reasoning in high-level cognition? Can non-conscious representations guide or even determine high-level cognition? If so, what are the properties of such non-conscious representations? Two contemporary debates on high-level cognition center on these issues. The first concerns the possibility of cognitive penetration, or the degree and extent to which high-level cognition influences or determines low-level cognition. The second focuses on the epistemic status of conscious cognition, and on whether or not non-conscious cognition could play a similar, albeit not as fundamental, justificatory role as conscious cognition. This latter issue is at the heart of the question concerning the epistemic status of conscious awareness.

This paper focuses on the epistemic standard required for inference, or inferential reasoning, to count as justificatory. The debates on the epistemic status of consciousness and cognitive penetration typically assume such a standard because high-level cognition is associated with rationality, inferentially-structured thought, and the epistemic responsibility one has for the conclusions drawn through one’s inferences. The paper proposes an account of inferential-attention that explains how cognitive penetration of non-phenomenally conscious cognition and perception is possible, and why there are unconscious processes that should be considered as essential components of high-level cognition. Sections 1 and 2 provide a theoretical framework for understanding the multiple criteria that an adequate account of inference and rational thought must satisfy. Sections 3 and 4 articulate the inferential-attention account and explain how it meets the descriptive and normative criteria for epistemic responsibility and rationality.

In particular, section 3 defends an agential interpretation of inferential-attention, which offers a resolution of the tension between conservative or consciousness-based approaches to inference and liberal approaches that allow for types of unconscious or subdoxastic processes. The key is to identify this kind of epistemic agency with attention. Section 4 compares this inferential-attention account with an influential agential account of inference based on conscious intuition, and it argues that the former account is preferable. This section also demonstrates the significance of inferential-attention in higher cognition, even when it is non-phenomenally conscious.

Keywords: inference, Rationality (descriptive and normative), Consciousness, Attention, Agency theory

Received: 07 Jul 2019; Accepted: 31 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Montemayor. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Carlos Montemayor, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, United States, cmontema@sfsu.edu