Research

To see my publications, go back, one level up, to alejandroarango.net/publications/

My main research interests are phenomenology and the philosophy of mind and social epistemology. My interests are grounded on a broad set of issues: the connections between individuality and sociality, and between nature and culture. This broad perspective has been a structuring and motivating concern in my work: What idea of the human being do our theories depend on, or entail? What type of being is the perceiver? In what sense does sociality shape the perceiver? How do perception and everyday experience interact? Does perception ever take the lead, as it were, in our epistemological practices? How do sociality and perception affect each other?

I am motivated by what I take to be the answerability of our thinking to our world—not just the physical world but also the social world. In our times this is about the polarization, the irreconcilability of different views, the tribalization. Questions about perception don’t seem to be sensitive to this type of desiderata, but the issue of a world that appears different to people from different groups seems likely to be at the core of deep tensions in the contemporary world. Further, the sociopolitical climate in most of the West gets a lot of traction on social identities, our ethnic origins, the visible displays of different faiths—and to all these aspects my theorizing is sensitive, and my goal is to see them reflected in my written work and my teaching.

In social epistemology, I engage with the work of scholars like Alcoff, Mills, Shotwell, Haslanger, Burge, Sullivan. In philosophy of perception, I defend a social enactivism about perception. My work here is both metaphysical and epistemological. In this area, I engage with the work of scholars like Snowdon, Noë, Siegel, Millar, Campbell, Gallagher, Logue, Schellenberg, and Nanay. Social cognition and cultural psychology work by scholars like Kitayama, Norenzayan, Tremoulet, R. Adams, and Kveraga also feeds my project.

Work-in-progress: social epistemology

I am currently working on two articles that explore the connections between the traditional “problem of other minds” and our social identities. These articles continue to address what I think is a key area in our understanding of sociality and social categories, namely, our conception of mentality. I explore different arguments that mentality should not be understood reductively as an individual-only affair. My arguments are epistemological, and in particular about the social dimension of our knowing practices.

  • Our understanding of others involves high-level perception. I refine the direct social perception (DSP) (Zahavi, Gallagher) view by applying the idea of high-level perception to the publicity of others’ moods and emotions. Strong arguments for the HLP view makes it plausible that this extends to our understanding of others, both at a fundamental level of perceiving humanness and animacy and also applied to some mental states. Precisions about the notion of directness in perception help respond to the charge that the use of context necessarily involves inferentialism.
  • Other minds and social identities (1): primary intersubjectivity. In this article, I argue that before dealing with other persons’ intentions, desires, and beliefs —the traditional domain of “mind”—, we understand others largely by perceiving them as animated beings, as causally efficacious, as persons, and also as Hispanic, or black, or women. Strong evidence coming from social psychology and social cognition (animacy, causality, face and voice perception) will be discussed.

Two more article-length pieces complete this area of inquiry, for the moment:

  • Other minds and social identities (2): secondary intersubjectivity. On how our perception of others as embodying social identities shapes our undertanding of intentions, beliefs, and desires
  • Other minds and social identities (3): affect, emotion, and goal-directed action.

Work-in-progress: perception

Project: The Aspectual Nature of Perception  

There are very few notions so basic to our understanding of perception as the notion of perspective or aspect. Surprisingly, there is little in the contemporary literature on perception that takes aspects and perspectives seriously. The literature addresses “appearances,” in general, but I think this is a unwarranted neglect.

In this area, I am developing an article in which I contribute to the critical realisms about perception debate by offering an analysis of the notion of aspect, not focused on vision, but in a modal-neutral way. I use the locution aspect to include also what others refer to as perspectives (which are strictly speaking spatial and visual) or as appearances. The analysis shows that objects and their aspects have a one-many structure, which grounds the reason why apparently conflicting aspects of the same object do not entail error. The analysis will show too that aspects are anchored in the physical reality of objects, and that they are perceiver-relative.

“And for this reason all plants seem to be alive, since they evidently have in themselves this sort of power and source, through which they have growth and decay in opposite directions, for they do not just grow up upward but not downward, but in both directions alike, and in every direction, all of them that are continually nourished and live for the sake of their ends…”

Aristotle, De Anima, II, 2, 413a25-30