Perceptual capacitism: an argument for disjunctive disunity

James Openshaw, Assaf Weksler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to capacitism, to perceive is to employ personal-level, perceptual capacities. In a series of publications, Schellenberg (2016, 2018, 2019b, 2020) has argued that capacitism offers unified analyses of perceptual particularity, perceptual content, perceptual consciousness, perceptual evidence, and perceptual knowledge. “Capacities first” (2020: 715); appealing accounts of an impressive array of perceptual and epistemological phenomena will follow. We argue that, given the Schellenbergian way of individuating perceptual capacities which underpins the above analyses, perceiving an object does not require employing a perceptual capacity which picks it out. Although each eye, used on its own, can suffice for perceiving objects in one’s environment, binocular vision allows one to see the same object(s) via both eyes, taking advantage of informational disparities registered by each eye. Yet in certain conditions it is possible to simultaneously see one object via the left eye and a distinct object via the right eye (at least when the inputs are sufficiently similar to prevent the onset of binocular rivalry). We argue that capacitism has trouble making sense of this. After surveying responses, we conclude that not all of the above phenomena can be unified under the capacitist framework. We then present a more nuanced, disjunctivist account of how capacities are individuated. While it may be illuminating to think of perceiving as the employment of perceptual capacities, this picture does not best favour a ‘common factor’ theory of perceptual content in the way existing presentations have envisaged.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Studies
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors contributed equally to this paper. We would like to thank Eva Schmidt’s reading group at the Technische Universität Dortmund for a helpful discussion of an early draft. The paper also benefited from the comments of Aliza Avraham, Jonathan Berg, Benjamin Henke, Arnon Keren, and Sam Lebens, thanks to the University of Haifa’s work in progress seminar, and those of two anonymous referees for this journal. Finally, we are very grateful to Susanna Schellenberg for discussing these ideas with us at an early stage of writing. This research was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 101032391, a Mind Association research studentship, and an Israel Science Foundation grant (project no. 715/20).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Common factor theories
  • Disjunctivism
  • Perceptual capacities
  • Perceptual consciousness
  • Perceptual content
  • Perceptual experience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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