Current Topic: Attention and Salience


The world is a pretty cluttered space full of objects and agents, events and information, noise and feelings. Thankfully, not all of them sweep our minds at once; we are highly selective in what we perceive, what we think about, and what we tend to ignore. Attention and salience are the two mean guides of this selection process: Attention is something that can sometimes be consciously controlled, sometimes is unconsciously drawn to something. Salience, on the other hand, determines what it is natural to pay attention to, what appears to us as striking, what separates the relevant aspects of a phenomenon from those we tend to pay less heed to.

This year, we are going to tackle attention and salience from various directions. We will look into the most fundamental questions relating to these phenomena: Does attention arise out of cognitive limitations, or is it perhaps even a fundamental element of consciousness? Should we have just one concept for salience, or is salience as multi-facetted as the areas it is relevant in?

Furthermore, we will look into the explanatory roles attention and salience play in areas outside of philosophy of mind; into attention’s role in limiting our options to act and thereby guiding our decision-making processes, and into salience’s relevance for our linguistic communication.

Finally, we will discuss ethical and applied questions surrounding the two: Are there moral demands on what we should direct our attention to and what we should ignore? Should politics intervene with which aspects of our social lifes are the most salient to us? In this context, we will also encounter recent attempts to account for stereotypes and their associated -isms as misattributions of attention.