Perspectival Clashes: Salience as a Site of Contestation
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CitationYumusak, Ege. 2022. Perspectival Clashes: Salience as a Site of Contestation. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines how ideology is installed in our minds, generating social contestation not only over matters of fact or judgments of value but also over what’s salient to us. I call contestations over what’s salient perspectival clashes. From this starting point, I construct a novel theory of perspectives in which their primary function is organizing our inquiries into the world (including social relations therein) by setting our agendas. What emerges is a philosophy of the active and social mind in a politically fraught world—putting pressure on our preconceived notions of salience, open-mindedness, and partisanship.
Consider a classic example of generational difference. My late grandfather wore a suit and a necktie every day. If he had walked into a faculty meeting in 2021, he would be caught by surprise by something that many wouldn’t notice: that virtually nobody in the room is wearing a necktie. The salience of the bare necks of professors (to my grandfather) is an example of a difference in perspective between my grandfather and me. My grandfather and I can both see and report what the professors are wearing and yet still manifest a difference of perspective by virtue of an attentional difference—what I characterize as a difference in our salience maps. I use the prominence of bare necks as an innocuous example to build toward an exploration of how our beliefs, including our political beliefs, shape the patterns of salience in what we perceive and what we think.
My novel account of perspectives makes two theoretical contributions to the study of perspectives. The first is the identification of a particular form of epistemic contestation: perspectival clashes. Perspectival clashes are a subset of perspectival differences that generate social contestation. My grandfather and I can clash over the elegance of neckties (disagreement over the judgment of an aesthetic value), or debate the continued existence of a social convention to wear neckties in professional settings (disagreement over a social fact). While these disagreements can accompany our dispute, the perspectival clash between us arises out of the disparate availability of thoughts linking neckties and respect to each of us when we walk into the room. We clash over the fact that it simply wouldn’t occur to me to accuse someone of being disrespectful because they don’t wear a necktie. Nothing in what I see primes that thought. I make no inferences concerning the social meaning of neckties; I do not occupy myself with the question of whether they intend to slight anyone. The second contribution is the affordance-based account I provide for the mental content of perspectives. In my view, the experience of salience is associated with a mental affordance. To say that an object or a thought affords a mental action is to identify where a person’s mind is likely to go (like the perception of neckties priming the inference to a lack of respect by the professors). I argue that our salience distributions avail themselves of a set of affordances that foregrounds some alternatives for subsequent mental actions. These alternatives answer questions that implicitly direct the individual and constitute their agenda. Divergent agendas generate perspectival clashes. Patterns of salience that are shaped by ideological beliefs generate divergences that are ideological in character, deepening the chasm between what we believe and what we will come to believe.
The overview essay defines the project. Along the way, I challenge views upheld by perception theorists about the contributions of attention to perception (Essay 1), by philosophers of mind about the nature of perspectives (Essay 2), and by epistemologists about what virtues counter social contestation (Essay 3). Taken together, these essays show the need for three new analytic categories: mental affordances, agendas, and zetetic alignment.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37372156
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