In his Dewey Lectures (published as Putnam 1999), Hilary Putnam argues eloquently against a picture according to which in perception our minds relate to the world outside our skins only at an interface constituted by our sensory receptors. This picture can seem compulsory if we identify our minds with machinery inside us: our nervous systems, or parts of them. But Putnam urges that we should not make that identification. We should understand talk of minds as a way of talking about minded beings qua minded. And to be minded – to “have” a mind – is (among other things) to have cognitive capacities that reach beyond our sensory surfaces, all the way to the things we perceive or think about. Charles Travis thinks he can exploit Putnam’s rejection of the interface pic-

ture in arguing against the very idea that perceptual experiences have content. He thinks the idea that distinctively rational capacities are operative in the experience of rational animals, in a way that is up to a point analogous to the way conceptual capacities are operative in their judgments, tends in the direction of the interface picture. He thinks it risks forcing us to suppose that what we encounter in perception is not the objects in the environment that we, for instance, see, but instead some items inside the supposed interface. But a general association between the very idea of content and the inter-

face picture cannot be right. In rejecting the interface picture, Putnam is concerned with conception, as he puts it, just as much as with perception. His point is not just that our perceptual capacities can reach all the way to the worldly things that we, for instance, see. Even when our capacities for thought are directed at a subject matter that is not perceptually present to us, they can reach all the way to the reality in virtue of which, in the best case, our thinking represents things as they are. Modifying a remark of Wittgenstein’s that Putnam cites approvingly we can say: “When we think that such-and-such is the case, we – and our thinking – do not

stop anywhere short of the fact; but we think: this – is – so” (Wittgenstein 1953: §95). And it would be absurd to suppose the claim that thought reaches all the way to its subject matter debars us from crediting acts of thinking with content. The idea of content-involving states or goings-on does not bring the interface picture with it. So far as rejecting the interface picture goes, the idea that experiences have content may be innocuous. Putnam thinks it is a mistake to follow Kant in working with a restricted

notion of experience, one that fits only rational animals, in something like the traditional sense. Putnam insists that if we want to say “No percepts without concepts,” we have to accept that animals that are not rational have concepts. And of course that is right if we make “percepts” apply indifferently, as of course it can, to the upshots of perceptual capacities in rational and non-rational animals. But Putnam thinks this rules out supposing that conceptual capacities, in a sense in which only rational animals can have such capacities, might be operative in the perceptual experience of rational animals, even though such capacities are ex hypothesi not operative in the perception of non-rational animals. I think this reflects a blind spot for the point of the restrictiveness that characterizes the Kantian notion of experience, and for the possibilities of combining it with common sense about what perception is for non-rational animals. Travis shares this blind spot. And Travis connects this with resistance

to the interface picture. The Kantian conception, with its insistence on seeing the experiences of rational animals as actualizations of capacities that belong to their rationality, figures for Travis as a way to succumb to the pressure to look inward, rather than to the surroundings of perceiving animals, for the objects of their experiences: that is, as a way to lose Putnam’s admirable insistence that the interface picture is wrong, that in our experience we are open to the world. I think Travis is out on a limb of his own here. Putnam’s objection to the

Kantian conception is not that he thinks, as Travis does, that it pushes us towards the interface picture in our understanding of the perceptual capacities we rational animals have. Putnam’s objection to the Kantian conception is that he thinks it cannot do justice to the way perceptual capacities enable non-rational animals to be on to things in their environments. As I said, I think this is a blind spot on Putnam’s part. The Kantian

conception does not threaten a sane understanding of what perception is for non-rational animals. Nothing in the Kantian conception requires its adherents to resist if

someone, for instance Putnam, wants to use the word “experience” differently, so that it fits whenever a creature, rational or not, is on to things through the operation of perceptual capacities. If “percept” goes with “experience,” and if we use “concept” in such a way that only rational animals can have concepts, that would mean that we cannot say “No percepts without

concepts.” Alternatively, we could keep “No percepts without concepts” by giving “concepts” a different use. Nothing in the Kantian conception requires its adherents to resist if someone wants to use the word “concept” in such a way that any creature, rational or not, that can discriminate X’s from non-X’s thereby counts as having the concept of an X. We would just need a different expression to apply to capacities that are distinctive in being operative in rational thought. There are no substantive divergences yet in view; we just have to take care to keep track of the different ways of using these words. An adherent of the Kantian conception can acknowledge that the perceptual

capacities of animals, whether rational or not, enable them to be on to things in their environments. There is no problem about combining that acknowledgment with holding that conceptual capacities, in a sense in which only rational animals can have conceptual capacities, are in play in the experience of rational animals. Putnam thinks the Kantian conception cannot cohere with registering a commonality between the perceptual capacities of rational animals and those of other animals. But that is simply wrong. Insisting on a discontinuity between what perception is for rational animals and what perception is for non-rational animals is perfectly consistent with acknowledging that in both cases capacities for perception put a creature that has them on to objects that are, for instance, in its field of view. What is the point of insisting on the discontinuity? Without prejudice to commonalities between rational and non-rational

animals, we can say that rational animals are special in being capable of knowledge on a demanding conception: roughly, belief for which a subject has an entitlement that is potentially self-conscious, an entitlement that includes a potential for knowing what it is that entitles one to one’s belief. As with “experience” and “concepts”, so with “knowledge.”We can concern ourselves with knowledge in this demanding sense without needing to deny that there is a perfectly good sense in which the perceptual capacities of non-rational animals equip them with knowledge. But to concern ourselves with the demanding conception is to concern ourselves with a kind of knowledge that draws on capacities possessed only by rational animals. Now it is obvious that perceptual acquisition of knowledge involves sensi-

bility: that is, a differential responsiveness to features of the environment, made possible by properly functioning sensory systems. But sensibility, so understood, is something we share with non-rational animals. So if perception is to afford us knowledge that conforms to that demanding conception, our having that knowledge available to us must involve not only sensibility but also capacities that belong to our rationality. It may seem that we can accommodate this thought without needing to

accept the Kantian idea that capacities distinctive to us as rational animals are operative in our experiences themselves. Consider Travis’s example of an experience in which he sees an animal in

a way that enables him to know that it is a peccary. This knowledge is

knowledge in the demanding sense. The concept of a peccary – the content deployed in exercises of a conceptual capacity, in a sense in which only rational animals can have conceptual capacities – figures in what Travis’s experience enables him to know. And we can accommodate this without supposing that a conceptual capacity with that content is in play in his experience itself. Travis’s possession of the concept of a peccary includes an ability to tell a peccary when he sees one, at least on a good enough sighting. On the occasion he envisages in his example, that ability is triggered into operation by the animal, which his experience anyway makes visually present to him. The force of that “anyway” is this: his having the experience we are considering, in which the animal is visually present to him, does not itself draw on the conceptual capacity that is operative when he thinks of things as peccaries. So far so good, I think. But Travis thinks the point generalizes, and that

is open to question. In Travis’s picture, perceptual acquisition of knowledge on the demanding conception draws on distinctively rational capacities only, so to speak, downstream from experiences themselves, in judgments in which one makes what one can of things that experiences anyway make perceptually present to one. And now the force of that “anyway” is quite general: having things present to one in experience does not itself draw on conceptual capacities. In Travis’s picture, we do not need to appeal to anything except sensibility, which we share with non-rational animals, in order to say how experience makes things present to us. Capacities that are special to rational animals, not shared with other possessors of sensibility, do not enter into our experiences themselves. This flies in the face of what I think is a Kantian insight. To have things

present to us in experience is to have things given to us for knowing on the demanding conception: that is, given to us as the rational subjects, the potential possessors of knowledge on the demanding conception, that we are. And Kant thinks capacities that are special to rational animals must be operative in our having things given to us in that way. That is, capacities that belong to our rationality must be operative in our experiences themselves, not just in judgments in which we apply concepts to things that our experiences anyway make present to us. As I have conceded, we need not suppose that a capacity whose content is given by “peccary” is operative in Travis’s experience of seeing a peccary, even though the experience enables him to know that what he sees is a peccary. But Kant’s idea implies that the point does not generalize in the way Travis thinks it does. Some conceptual capacities – perhaps capacities involving concepts of the animal’s colour, size, shape, posture, and so forth – must be operative in the peccary’s being visually present to Travis, visually given to him for knowing on the demanding conception. As the way I have expressed the thought indicates, there is nothing wrong

with holding that in experience things are given to us for knowing. But we can put the Kantian thought like this: when Travis takes it that sensibility

by itself suffices for things to be given to us in experience, he falls into a version of the Myth of the Given. What should be innocuous givenness degenerates into mythical Givenness. As Travis understands it, the Kantian thought implies that our con-

ceptual capacities shape what perceiving gives us to respond to. That is why he thinks it generates pressure towards the inward look. His conceptual capacities certainly do not shape the peccary he sees in his example. So the idea that his conceptual capacities shape what perceiving gives him to respond to would lead to looking elsewhere than in the environment, where the peccary is, for what his experience gives him to respond to. Where else, then, but inward? And then we lose Putnam’s insight that we must reject the interface picture. But this starts from a misunderstanding of the Kantian thought. The

Kantian thought leaves unthreatened what Travis rightly insists on, that it is the peccary itself, not some inner item, that he encounters in his experience. The Kantian thought is not about what is encountered, but about capacities operative in encountering it in the way Travis does, which is its being given to him for knowing on the demanding conception of knowing. Suppose there is a cat with Travis on the occasion of his peccary sighting. The

Kantian conception does not threaten the idea Travis thinks it threatens, the idea that what Travis sees is the very same thing that the cat may also see, that is, the peccary. Travis’s seeing is special, according to the Kantian conception, but not in a way that implies a difference in what is there to be seen by him. In Travis’s experience the peccary – the same thing, by all means, that is also seen by the cat – is visually present to him. Its visual presence to him is its being visually given to him for knowing of the distinctively rational sort that he, and not the cat, is capable of. When one says the peccary is visually present to Travis, “is visually present to” expresses a relation whose obtaining draws on distinctively rational capacities had by one of the relata, namely, in this case, Travis. A relation of which that is true is not one in which peccaries, or anything, can stand to cats. But this leaves unthreatened what Travis wants to insist on. What stands in that relation to Travis is the peccary itself, the same thing that stands in a different relation, which we can of course express by “is seen by,” to the cat. I think this answers the question Travis puts to me at the end of his

remarks. The question reflects his suspicion of the Kantian conception. He thinks the Kantian conception leads to the conclusion that what rational animals encounter in perception is not what non-rational animals encounter in perception. But it does not. In forming an impression to the contrary, Travis ignores the difference between claims about the content of the perceptual experiences of rational animals and claims about their objects, what is encountered in them. Clarity about this is not helped by Travis’s treatment of the idea of things

being as they are or something’s being as it is. On the ground that items so

specifiable do not have the kind of generality he focuses on, Travis thinks such items belong on the other side of a divide from the conceptual, in a sense (harmlessly non-Fregean) in which the paradigm of the conceptual is a Fregean Gedanke. He conceives such items as objects for perceptual experience in something like the sense in which, say, peccaries can be objects for perceptual experience: things that are encountered in experience and, in the case of subjects with the requisite capacities, brought under concepts in judgments based on experience. I think this is confused. A peccary’s (say) being as it is does not stand to its being some particular way it can be truly said to be (say grunting) in anything like the relation in which the peccary, which is certainly not a conceptual item in that sense, stands to the concept of being that way: the relation we can express by saying the peccary falls under the concept of being engaged in grunting. The peccary’s being as it is does not fall under, but rather includes, its being any particular way it can be truly said to be, which is conceptual in the sense Travis uses. The peccary’s being as it is belongs on the same side of the divide Travis should be concerned with as its being any particular way it can truly be said to be. Putnam suggests that philosophers find the question how language (or

thought) makes contact with objects puzzling in a way they should not, and would not if they gave due heed to the retort: “How can there be a problem about talking about, say, houses and trees when we see them all the time?” I think Putnam is right about this, and the Kantian conception of experience, freed from Travis’s misreading of it, puts the point in just the right light. (Given his blind spot, this is a light that Putnam himself cannot quite contrive to see it in.) The point Putnam is making should not seem to turn on a one-way

explanatory dependence of conception on perception. If there were nothing to our seeing houses and trees apart from their impinging on our sensibility, how could the fact that we see them make our ability to direct our thoughts at them less mysterious? Houses and trees impinge on the sensibility of cats too, but that does not enable cats to direct thoughts at houses and trees in the sense in which we can, the sense that generates the puzzlement. But we can surely alleviate puzzlement about how our powers of thought can reach all the way to houses and trees, if we can see how such powers are in play not just in judging and claim-making, but also in experiences in which houses and trees themselves, not some internal surrogates, are perceptually, for instance visually, present to us.