Mind and World by John McDowell

This is a serious work of philosophy that deserves more than one reading. McDowell says that he is trying to overcome the philosophical tendency “to oscillate between a pair of unsatisfying positions: on one side a coherentism that threatens to disconnect thought from reality, and on the other side a vain appeal to the Given”. He suggests that in order to escape this oscillation, “we need to recognize that experiences themselves…combine receptivity and spontaneity”. Kant distinguished between the receptivity involved in receiving sense impressions and the spontaneity involved in rational thought. 

One way of describing McDowell’s position is that experience always involves the application of concepts. Experience, therefore, exposes us to nature (the realm of law) while standing in rational relations to beliefs and judgments (the normative space of reasons). According to McDowell, this dual aspect of experiences allows us to find a resting place between the two unsatisfactory positions referred to above. As we mature and learn to speak a language, we acquire the ability to use concepts. This is a completely natural process, what he calls “naturalized platonism”, as opposed to an otherworldly “rampant platonism”.  (3/31/10)

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