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Christopher Arthur Bruce Peacocke (born 22 May 1950, son of Arthur Peacocke) is a British philosopher especially known for his work in philosophy of mind and epistemology. His recent publications, in the field of epistemology, have defended a version of rationalism.
He was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics as an undergraduate, winning both the Webb Medley Prize in Economics and the Henry Wilde Prize in Philosophy in 1971, graduating with a first class degree. Later that year he was awarded a Kennedy Memorial Trust scholarship to study at Harvard University. He then continued at Oxford gaining a BPhil (1974) and DPhil (1979) in Philosophy, the latter under the supervision of Michael Dummett. He was Visiting Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, 1975-6, and in 1975 elected to a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford. He was the Susan Stebbing Professor of Philosophy at King's College London from 1985 to 1989 and Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University from 1989 to 2000, at which time he moved to New York University (NYU). He is a professor of philosophy at Columbia University, and in 2008 he was named to the Richard Wollheim chair in philosophy at University College, London, where he will teach in the third (summer) term each year. He lives with his wife and two children.
Of his earlier work, he is perhaps best known for the first chapter of his 1983 book, Sense and Content, entitled "Sensation and the Content of Experience." In this chapter, Peacocke defends the claim that perceptual experience, over and above its intentional content, has certain "sensational properties". He gives three different examples of visual scenarios where intentional content alone cannot capture every aspect of the experience. Those aspects which elude intentional content are thought to be the sensational properties of the experience. Some of those who defend qualia have used these examples as evidence of their existence. Several philosophers have criticized these examples (Michael Tye, Fred Dretske), claiming that the supposed extra quality can indeed be captured in terms of intentional content.
In Sense and Content, Peacocke assumed that the intentional content of mental states is exclusively conceptual content, i.e. the content is such that the subject of the state needs to possess all the concepts that specify the intentional content in question. From about 1986 and onwards, Peacocke abandoned this assumption, arguing that some mental states, in particular perceptual experiences and representational states implicated in subpersonal information processing (for example, in the subconscious parsing of heard speech), have non-conceptual intentional content. Peacocke is now often seen as a leading proponent of this notion of non-conceptual intentional content.
In his 1992 book A Study of Concepts, Peacocke gives a detailed exposition of a philosophical theory of concept possession, according to which the nature and identity conditions for concepts may be given, in a non-circular way, by the conditions a thinker has to satisfy in order to possess the relevant concepts. The theory is a version of a so-called "conceptual" or "inferential role" theory of concepts.
- Understanding logical constants: a realist's account (1987), British Academy lecture.
- "Truth Definitions and Actual Languages." In: Gareth Evans and John McDowell, eds., Truth and Meaning: Essays in Semantics, Oxford University Press, 1976.
- Holistic Explanation: Action, Space, Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 1979.
- Sense and Content, Oxford, 1983.
- Thoughts: An Essay on Content, Blackwell, 1986.
- A Study of Concepts, MIT, 1992.
- Being Known, Oxford, 1999.
- The Realm of Reason, Oxford, 2003.
- Truly Understood, Oxford, 2008.
(1) CV linked to Columbia homepage (CV dated 7 July 2009 can be found here)