Department of Philosophy Spring 2024 Colloquium: Jonna Vance, Northern Arizona University

Affective Social Perception


3 to 5 p.m., Feb. 16, 2024

Department of Philosophy Colloquium with speaker Jonna Vance, Northern Arizona University.  The talk will take place from 3:00 - 5:00 pm in Social Science 224.

Abstract: Moral perceptualism is the view that our perceptual systems are attuned to pick up on some moral properties. According to a controversial version, perceptual experiences represent moral properties. Traditionally, arguments for moral perceptualism have been conducted primarily from the armchair, and its attractive upshots for moral epistemology and moral psychology have been central to whatever appeal it has. But the traditional approach has also left many of us skeptical. In this talk, I take a different approach. I initially argue not for moral perceptualism, but rather for affective social perceptualism: the claim that our perceptual systems assign affective valence to social events. The central argument employs a “hallmarks approach” and draws on perception science to argue that valence perception and social perception (separately and when combined in one episode) exhibit all the hallmarks of perception: speed, automaticity, search facilitation, etc. I then introduce two models of affective social perception and show how they can be used as models of (proto)moral perception. In one model, perception assigns thin (positive/negative) evaluative properties to social events. In  the other, perception assigns thick (harm/help) evaluative properties to social events. Finally, I argue that the empirical data supporting these models provides novel responses to two common objections against social/moral perception: the objection that socio-evaluative properties are not perceivable because they lack a distinctive “look”, and the objection that socio-evaluative properties aren’t perceivable because they’re intractably context-dependent. The emerging picture of affective social perception gives it a central role in our social and moral lives.