John McDowell

John McDowell

Tim Thornton
Series: Philosophy Now
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 273
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  • Book Info
    John McDowell
    Book Description:

    John McDowell's contribution to philosophy has ranged across Greek philosophy, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and ethics. His writings have drawn from Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Sellars, and Davidson. In an exceptional exegesis suitable for advanced undergraduates, Tim Thornton has constructed a careful account of McDowell's main claims. Highlighting the interconnections between McDowell's arguments, Thornton shows how his individual projects are unified in a post-Kantian context that articulates the preconditions of thought and language. Thornton's exposition of Mind and World and the differing strands of McDowell's broader philosophical vision provides an interpretative and critical framework that will help shape ongoing debates. He also discusses McDowell's work on ethical judgments, theories of sense, meaning, truth, the role of experience in epistemology, and Wittgenstein's discussion of normativity and considers whether McDowell's therapeutic approach to philosophy, which owes much to the later Wittgenstein, is consistent with the substance of McDowell's discussion of nature, which uses the vocabulary of other philosophers, particularly Kant.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8501-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    When John McDowell’sMind and Worldwas published in 1994 it created great excitement in the world of philosophy. It was widely read and debated by professional philosophers and students alike. Many philosophy books are published each year but there was clear agreement that this one was exceptional. Of course, philosophy is a contested discipline. There was, and remains, widespread disagreement with many, perhaps all, of McDowell’s key claims, butMind and Worldhas continued to exercise a powerful hold on the imagination of philosophers. Why did it generate such interest? I think there are three main reasons and these...

  5. Chapter 1 Wittgenstein on philosophy, normativity and understanding
    (pp. 25-62)

    In this chapter, I shall examine McDowell’s interpretation of Wittgenstein’s discussion of normative rules that govern, among other things, the meaning of words. Given that McDowell’s central project is shedding light on the relation of mind and world, concentrating on rules in this chapter may seem to be heading in a different direction. But Mc-Dowell thinks that what makes the relation of mind and world seem problematic is a deeper dualism between norms and nature. By norms he means normative rules. The deeper dualism is between the kind of intelligibility exemplified in what Sellars calls the “space of reasons”, which...

  6. Chapter 2 Value judgements
    (pp. 63-100)

    In this chapter, I shall describe McDowell’s account of the moral world. Roughly, McDowell supports a form of moral realism. He argues that the world includes moral features as well as the features described by the physical sciences. More precisely, he characterizes his aim rather as defending “anti-anti-realism” (McDowell 1998b: viii). The distinction between realism and anti-anti-realism will become clear in this chapter.

    The moral world is not, however, pictured as completely independent of us, or of subjectivity. Moral features do not “belong, mysteriously, in a reality that is wholly independent of our subjectivity and set over against it”(ibid.:...

  7. Chapter 3 Formal theories of meaning and theories of sense
    (pp. 101-140)

    In this chapter I shall describe the background to, and the main themes of, McDowell’s investigation of a Davidsonian “truth theory” of meaning. Such a theory of meaning aims to articulate the structure of natural language by drawing on the logical machinery of Tarski’s semantic conception of truth. Its aim, in a sense to be clarified below, is to shed light on the nature of linguistic meaning.

    Two major themes will emerge. One is McDowell’s thinking that a theory of meaning cannot hope to explain meaning using meaningfree notions. The best approach to a theory of meaning isnotto...

  8. Chapter 4 Singular thought and the Cartesian picture of mind
    (pp. 141-176)

    A theme common to Chapters 1-3 is this: McDowell’s approach to rulegoverned practice, to moral judgements and to grasp of meaning within a language has been to emphasize the impossibility of adopting a useful philosophical stance “outside” the area of judgement in question. There is no prospect of a fruitful analysis that starts outside a region of conceptual judgement and attempts, for example, to ground those judgements using a description of the world couched in independent concepts. To put the point less metaphorically, McDowell rejects any form of philosophical analysis that consists of providing areductionof one set of...

  9. Chapter 5 Experience, knowledge and openness to the world
    (pp. 177-208)

    In this chapter I shall set out the epistemological consequences of Mc-Dowell’s approach to the relation of mind and world, which centres on an account of experience. McDowell defends a form of externalism in epistemology but it is one based on the idea that knowledge depends on reasons. This contrasts with most contemporary forms of externalism-such as reliabilism-that dispense with the notion ofreasonsaltogether in favour of talk of the reliability of belief-forming mechanisms. On the other hand, by advocating a form of externalism, McDowell’s account of knowledge differs from most reason-or justification-based accounts. His account is externalism because...

  10. Chapter 6 Mind and World and idealism
    (pp. 209-244)

    In this final chapter, I shall examine McDowell’s influential bookMind and World(1994), which is based on his John Locke Lectures at Oxford in 1991.I shall first describe some of the main themes of the book and its overall organization before returning to one of the questions that has been implicit in much of the discussion in previous chapters: can McDowell articulate an account of the world or nature that neither is wholly independent of rational subjects nor falls into a form of idealism?

    In Section I, I shall set out the central account of experience inMind and...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 245-250)
  12. Guide to further reading
    (pp. 251-254)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-260)
  14. Index
    (pp. 261-266)