Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Philosophy (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Mark Rowlands

Second Committee Member

Risto Hilpinen

Third Committee Member

Amie Lynn Thomasson

Fourth Committee Member

Dan Zahavi


In an apparently original and radical departure from mainstream ideas, Alva Noë argues that perception does not involve inner representations but needs to be regarded a kind of active engagement with the environment. According to Noë’s enactive view, visual perception requires “sensorimotor knowhow”: the perceiver needs to have certain perceptual skills and expectations. In his influential book Action in Perception, Noë develops the enactive view as solution to the “problem of perceptual presence,” the problem of how to conceive of “the presence of that which, strictly speaking, I do not perceive” (Noë 2004, p. 60). According to Noë, the problem arises in various cases, e.g., the unattended parts of the perceptual scene, as well as objects’ back sides. Noë argues that it can be solved by appeal to the idea of sensorimotor knowhow. In a challenge to Noë, I argue for the thesis that his enactive view, as he states it in Action in Perception, does not succeed in solving or even adequately motivating the problem of perceptual presence, unless a Husserlian strand in his view is complemented by further Husserlian notions, especially fulfillment. For example, Noë has difficulty establishing that there even is a problem concerning the presence of the object’s back side. The prevalent view is that the object’s back sides are not perceptually present, i.e., they are not, in any sense, seen by the perceivers, and Noë has offered no argument to the contrary. Noë’s problem of perceptual presence is, in fact, ambiguous: there are two quite different problems and it takes quite different resources to solve them. First, there is the problem that the unattended parts of the perceptual scene may not be genuinely present to us: Noë presents us with empirical data which suggest that what seems to be plainly in view can be, “strictly speaking,” not seen by us. We may be subject to an illusion when we regard ourselves as having experience of the entire detailed scene. But Noë argues that the entire scene is genuinely present in the sense that it is readily accessible, by shifting one’s attention or making eye movements. Second, in cases like the object’s back side we are dealing with a different problem altogether. Noë concedes that the back side is not, “strictly speaking,” seen by the perceiver. Nevertheless, he argues, it is perceptually present, giving rise to the problem of how to account for its perceptual presence. Noë’s solution is that it is present by virtue of our having perceptual expectations about it. Notice that we cannot appeal to possible access to solve this problem: it may be impossible for the perceiver, say, to go round a house, to take a look. Husserl is centrally concerned with the latter problem, and the view Noë develops to solve it is rightly interpreted as a sketch of Husserl’s view, but it needs to be complemented with the crucial idea of fulfillment. When I look at an object, I experience the front side differently from the back side. This phenomenal difference can be captured by calling the experience of the front side “intuitive” and the experience of the back side “empty.” When I turn the object around, there is fulfillment, i.e., what was experienced emptily comes to be experienced intuitively. The back side can be regarded as perceptually present in the sense that we can have fulfillments (or disappointments) with regard to it. Husserl investigates perceptual content as determining fulfillment conditions, and not as determining accuracy conditions, as in the mainstream views. He engages in a kind of conceptual analysis, e.g., of the concept of shape or color, by investigating the fulfillment conditions pertinent to shape or color. Noë’s perceptual expectations are part of the Husserlian framework: they function to set the fulfillment conditions. Noë has given us parts and aspects of a comprehensive Husserlian framework. I aim to contribute to our understanding of it, and thereby of Noë’s enactive view.


phenomenology; philosophy of perception