Modern philosophy finds it difficult to give a satisfactory picture of the place of minds in the world. In Mind and World, based on the 1991 John Locke Lectures, one of the most distinguished philosophers writing today offers his diagnosis of this difficulty and points to a cure. In doing so, he delivers the most complete and ambitious statement to date of his own views, a statement that no one concerned with the future of philosophy can afford to ignore.
John McDowell amply illustrates a major problem of modern philosophy—the insidious persistence of dualism—in his discussion of empirical thought. Much as we would like to conceive empirical thought as rationally grounded in experience, pitfalls await anyone who tries to articulate this position, and McDowell exposes these traps by exploiting the work of contemporary philosophers from Wilfrid Sellars to Donald Davidson. These difficulties, he contends, reflect an understandable—but surmountable—failure to see how we might integrate what Sellars calls the “logical space of reasons” into the natural world. What underlies this impasse is a conception of nature that has certain attractions for the modern age, a conception that McDowell proposes to put aside, thus circumventing these philosophical difficulties. By returning to a pre-modern conception of nature but retaining the intellectual advance of modernity that has mistakenly been viewed as dislodging it, he makes room for a fully satisfying conception of experience as a rational openness to independent reality. This approach also overcomes other obstacles that impede a generally satisfying understanding of how we are placed in the world.
Ever since Descartes, a lot of the very best philosophers have thought of science as an invading army from whose depredations safe havens have somehow to be constructed. Philosophy patrols the borders, keeping the sciences ‘intellectually respectable’ by keeping them ‘within…proper bounds.’ But you have to look outside these bounds if what you care about is the life of the spirit or the life of the mind. McDowell’s is as good a contemporary representative of this kind of philosophical sensibility as you could hope to find.
Mind and World is, above all, a work of therapy; and, like every good talking cure, it is hard work. But the diagnosis is penetrating, deeply persuasive, and expressed with that ear for the right phrase precisely placed which is the literary equivalent of perfect pitch.
McDowell locates an important tension in our thinking about thought, suggests an attractive way of easing the tension, and offers a plausible diagnosis of why the tension is acute… Mind and World is a genuinely provocative book that should be discussed.
A powerfully impressive book which simply towers over the more routine contributions of current analytical philosophy.
- 224 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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