World and Subject: Themes from McDowell

Dissertation, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (2008)
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This essay is an inquiry into John McDowell’s thinking on ‘subjectivity.’ The project consists in two parts. On the one hand, I will discuss how McDowell understands and responds to the various issues he is tackling; on the other, I will approach relevant issues concerning subjectivity by considering different aspects of it: a subject as a perceiver, knower, thinker, speaker, agent, person and (self-) conscious being in the world. The inquiry begins by identifying and resolving a tension generated by the very idea of ‘rational animal’: human beings are at the same time natural and rational. Later the inquiry proceeds by considering how McDowell’s notion of ‘second nature’ enables us to be human subjects with many faces. By going through the diagnoses and responses of McDowell, two central problems in modern and contemporary philosophy – the narrow conception of nature and the Cartesian inner space model – are identified and repelled. In Episode N I first urge that we should leave room for a certain notion of ‘world.’ I further argue that mentality has many aspects, and to understand those aspects is to understand the many faces of human subject. In Episode Ⅰ the Aristotelian notion of ‘second nature’ is discussed in order to resolve the tension in the very idea of ‘rational animal.’ Later I reply to some worries about this maneuver, including the objection from Crispin Wright. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s distinction between world and environment is introduced and related to McDowell’s thinking. Episode Ⅱ discusses perception and knowledge; McDowell’s main target – the Cartesian inner space – is introduced and criticized. Barry Stroud’s and Simon Blackburn’s positions are evaluated. Later I connect the main theme of Mind and World to the present context; in particular, I discuss McDowell’s invocation of Donald Davidson and Immanuel Kant. And then I discuss a common accusation of idealism, and Robert Brandom’s accusation of ‘residual individualism.’ Episode Ⅲ concentrates on Saul Kripke’s Wittgenstein, arguing that the master thesis behind the rule-following paradox is a version of the inner space model, and that Kripke’s Wittgenstein is not Wittgenstein. Martin Kusch’s objections are answered; Michael Dummett’s demand of reductionism is rebutted. After this, I turn to Davidson’s ‘no language’ claim, and discuss to what extent McDowell agrees with him. In Episode Ⅳ I evaluate objections from Hubert Dreyfus concerning action and agency. I discuss how Dreyfus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty commit ‘the Myth of the Disembodied Intellect’ identified by McDowell. I answer Michael Ayer’s charge of intellectualism in passing. Later I bring in McDowell’s objections to Derek Parfit on personhood and to Davidson on the mind-body relation. In Episode Ⅴ I focus on consciousness and self-consciousness. McDowell applies his argument against Parfit to Kant, but Maximilian de Gaynesford dissents. I reply to his objections on McDowell’s behalf. I further connect this to McDowell’s attacks on the dualism of scheme and content. This leads to my McDowellian rejection to the existence of qualia, and further brings me to the debate between intentionalism and disjunctivism in the context of the argument from illusion. I argue against Tim Crane’s ways of conceiving issues about intentionalism and the argument from illusion. Varieties of disjunctivism are also discussed. In my Epilogue, I express my worry about McDowell’s notion of ‘self-determining subjectivity.’ According to McDowell, human freedom consists in causations in the space of reason, but as Richard Gaskin points out, a satisfying story of it is yet to be provided. I close this essay with some rough ideas about how to fill in the details of the McDowellian picture.

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Tony Cheng
University College London


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