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Encyclopedia > John McDowell

John Henry McDowell (born 1942) is a contemporary philosopher, formerly a fellow of University College, Oxford and now University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Although he has written extensively on metaphysics, epistemology, ancient philosophy, and meta-ethics, McDowell's most influential work has been in the philosophy of mind and language. 1942 (MCMXLII) was a common year starting on Thursday (the link is to a full 1942 calendar). ... A philosopher is a person who thinks deeply regarding people, society, the world, and/or the universe. ... A fellow in the broadest sense is someone who is an equal or a comrade. ... University College (in full, the College of the Great Hall of the University, commonly known as University College in the University of Oxford, usually known by its derivative, Univ), is a contender for the claim to be the oldest of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the... The University of Oxford, located in the city of Oxford in England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. ... The University of Pittsburgh is a state-related, doctoral/research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ... Plato and Aristotle, by Raphael (Stanza della Segnatura, Rome). ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... This page lists some links to ancient philosophy, although for Western thinkers prior to Socrates, see Pre-Socratic philosophy. ... In philosophy, meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties (if there are any), and ethical statements, attitudes, and judgments. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... A Phrenological mapping of the brain. ...



McDowell's early work was in ancient philosophy, most notably including a translation of and commentary on Plato's Theaetetus. In the 1970s he was active in the Davidsonian project of providing a semantic theory for natural language, co-editing (with Gareth Evans) a volume of essays entitled Truth and Meaning. McDowell edited and published Evans's influential posthumous book The Varieties of Reference (1982). For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation). ... Theaetetus ( 417 B.C. – 369 B.C.) was a Greek mathematician of Geometry. ... The 1970s decade refers to the years from 1970 to 1979, inclusive. ... Donald Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an American philosopher and the Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. ... The term natural language is used to distinguish languages spoken and signed (by hand signals and facial expressions) by humans for general-purpose communication from constructs such as writing, computer-programming languages or the languages used in the study of formal logic, especially mathematical logic. ... Gareth Evans (12 May 1946 – 10 August 1980) was a British philosopher at Oxford University during the 1970s. ...

McDowell is both one of the most insightful interpreters of the later philosophy of Wittgenstein and one of the few philosophers to have developed Wittgensteinian themes in an original way. McDowell has, throughout his career, understood philosophy to be "therapeutic" and thereby to "leave everything as it is", which McDowell understands to be a form of philosophical quietism. The philosophical quietist believes that philosophy cannot make any explanatory comment about how, for example, thought and talk relate to the world but can, by offering re-descriptions of philosophically problematic cases, return the confused philosopher to a state of intellectual quietude. However, in defending this quietistic perspective McDowell has engaged with the work of leading contemporaries in such a way as to both therapeutically dissolve what he takes to be philosophical error, while developing original and distinctive theses about language, mind and value.

In his early work, McDowell was very much involved both with the development of the Davidsonian semantic programme and with the internecine dispute between those who take the core of a theory that can play the role of a theory of meaning to involve the grasp of truth conditions, and those, such as Michael Dummett, who argued that linguistic understanding must, at its core, involve the grasp of assertion conditions. If, Dummett argued, the core of a theory that is going to do duty for a theory of a meaning is supposed to represent a speaker's understanding, then that understanding must be something of which a speaker can manifest a grasp. McDowell successfully argued, against this Dummettian view and its development by such contemporaries as Crispin Wright, both that this claim did not, as Dummett supposed, represent a Wittgensteinian requirement on a theory of meaning and that it rested on a suspect asymmetry between the evidence for the expressions of mind in the speech of others and the thoughts so expressed. Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett F.B.A., D. Litt, (born 1925) is a leading British philosopher. ... Crispin Wright (born 1942) is a British philosopher, who has written on neo-Fregean philosophy of mathematics, Wittgensteins later philosophy, and on issues related to truth, realism, cognitivism, skepticism, knowledge, and objectivity. ...

In these early exchanges and in the parallel debate over the proper understanding of Wittgenstein's remarks on rule following, some of McDowell's characteristic intellectual stances were formed: to borrow a Wittgensteinian expression, the defence of a realism without empiricism, an emphasis on the human limits of our aspiration to objectivity, the idea that meaning and mind can be directly manifested in the action, particularly linguistic action, of other people, and a distinctive disjunctive theory of perceptual experience. The latter is an account of perceptual experience, developed at the service of McDowell's realism, in which it is denied that the argument from illusion supports an indirect or representative theory of perception as that argument presuspposes that there is "highest common factor" shared by veridical and illusory (or, more accurately, delusive) experiences.

In this claim that a successful perceptual encounter with the world and a failed encounter share no highest common factor, a theme is visible that runs throughout McDowell's work, namely, a commitment to seeing thoughts as essentially individuable only in their social and physical environment, so called externalism about the mental. McDowell defends, in addition to a general externalism about the mental, a specific thesis about the understanding of demonstrative expressions as involving so-called "singular" or "Russellian" thoughts about particular objects that reflects the influence on his views of Gareth Evans. According to this view, if the putative object picked out by the demonstrative does not exist, then such an object dependent thought cannot exist - it is, in the most literal sense, not available to be thought.

In parallel with the development of this work on mind and language, McDowell also made significant contributions to moral philosophy, specifically meta-ethical debates over the nature of moral reasons and moral objectivity. McDowell developed the view that has come to be known as secondary property realism, or sensibility or moral sense theory. The theory proceeds via the device of an ideally virtuous agent: such an agent has two connected capacities. She has the right concepts and the correct grasp of concepts to think about situations in which she finds herself by coming to moral beliefs. Secondly, for such a person such moral beliefs are automatically overriding over other reasons she may have and in a particular way: they "silence" other reasons, as McDowell puts it. He believes that this is the best way to capture the traditional idea that moral reasons are specially authoritative.

McDowell also here departs from the standard interpretation of the Humean theory of how action is motivated. The Humean claims that any intentional action, hence any moral action, is motivated by a combination of two mental states, one a belief and one a desire. The belief functions as a passive representation; the desire functions to supply the distinctively motivational part of the combination. On the basis of his account of the virtuous moral agent, McDowell follows Thomas Nagel in rejecting this account as inaccurate: it is more truthful to say that in the case of a moral action, the virtuous agent's perception of the circumstances (that is, her belief) itself justifies both the action and the desire. For example, we cannot understand the desire, as a Humean original existence, without relating it back to the circumstances that impinged on the agent and made her feel compelled to act. So while the Humean thesis may be a truth about explanation it is not true about the structure of justification and it ought to be replaced by Nagel's motivated desire theory as set out in his The Possibility of Altruism (Oxford University Press, 1970).

Implicit in this account is a theory of the metaphysical status of values: moral agents form beliefs about the moral facts, which can be straightforwardly true or false. However, the facts themselves, like facts about colour experience, combine anthropocentricity with realism. Values are not there in the world for any observer, for example, one without our human interest in morality. However, in that sense, colours are not in the world either, but one cannot deny that colours are both present in our experience and needed for good explanations in our common sense understanding of the world. The test for an objectivity of a property is whether it used in judgements for which there are developed standards of rational argument and whether they are needed to explain aspects of our experience that are otherwise inexplicable. McDowell thinks that on both these test moral properties are in a sense "subjective" but not in a way that undermines their reality. There are established standards of rational argument and moral properties fall into the general class of those properties that are both anthropocentric but real.

The connection between McDowell's general metaphysics and this particular claim about moral properties is that all claims about objectivity are to be made from the internal perspective of our actual practices, the part of his view that he takes from the later Wittgenstein. There is no standpoint from outside our best theories of thought and language from which we can classify secondary properties as "second grade" or "less real" than the properties described, for example, by a mature science such as physics. Characterising the place of values in our worldview is not, in McDowell's view, to downgrade them as less real than talk of quarks or the Higgs boson.

The later development of McDowell's work came more strongly to reflect the influence on him of Rorty and Sellars and, in particular, both Mind and World and McDowell's later Woodbridge lectures focus on a broadly Kantian understanding of intentionality, of the mind's capacity to represent. Mind and World sets itself the task of understanding the sense in which we are active even in our perceptual experience of the world. Influenced by Sellars's famous diagnosis of the "myth of the given" in traditional empiricism, in which Sellars argued that the blankly causal impingement of the external world on judgement failed to supply justification, as only something with a belief like conceptual structure could engage with rational justification, McDowell tries to explain how one can accept that we are passive in our perceptual experience of the world while active in how we conceptualise it. McDowell subtly develops an account of that which Kant called the "spontaneity" of our judgement in perceptual experience, while avoiding the suggestion that the resulting account has any connection with idealism.

Mind and World rejects, in the course of its argument, the position that McDowell takes to be the working ideology of most of his philosophical contemporaries, namely, a reductively naturalistic account that McDowell labels "bald naturalism". He contrasts with his own, broadly naturalistic perspective in which the distinctive capacities of mind are a cultural achievement of our "second nature". The book concludes with a successful critique of Quine's narrow conception of empirical experience and a much less successful critique of Donald Davidson's views on belief as inherently veridical, in which Davidson plays the role of the pure coherentist. Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 – December 25, 2000), usually cited as W.V. Quine or W.V.O. Quine but known to his friends as Van, was one of the most influential American philosophers and logicians of the 20th century. ... Donald Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an American philosopher and the Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. ...

While, overall, Mind and World remains one of the most insightful developments of a Kantian approach to contemporary philosophy of mind and metaphysics written by a contemporary philosopher, one or two of the uncharitable interpretations of Kant's work in that book receive important revisions in McDowell's later Woodbridge Lectures, published in the Journal of Philosophy, xcv, 1998, pp. 431-491. McDowell has, since the publication of Mind and World, largely continued to re-iterate his distinctive positions that go against the grain of much contemporary work on language, mind and value, particularly in North America where the influence of Wittgenstein has significantly waned. McDowell remains one of the most admired, if not most frequently imitated, of contemporary philosophers, who has consistently produced work of the highest originality and importance.

McDowell has advocated what has been called an externalist theory of mind, and contends that a due respect for scientific naturalism should not preclude our treating mentalistic vocabulary as real — as actually referring to and describing the world. ... Humanistic naturalism places the emphasis upon a naturalistic outlook based upon the scientific method of reasoning, qualified by a complementary emphasis upon the humanities. ...

Collected Papers

Many of McDowell's papers are collected in Mind, Value, and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998) and Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998). In 1991 he gave the John Locke Lectures at Oxford. A revised version of these lectures was published as Mind and World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994; reissued with a new introduction, 1996). It is an influential but difficult work that provides a controversial account of empirical justification for beliefs, covering some of the same ground as Hegel's critique of Kant but informed by a deep sensitivity to contemporary modes of scientific naturalism.   Settled: 1630 â€“ Incorporated: 1636 Zip Code(s): 02138, 02139, 02140, 02141, 02142 â€“ Area Code(s): 617 / 857 Official website: http://www. ... Official language(s) English Capital Boston Largest city Boston Area  Ranked 44th  - Total 10,555 sq mi (27,360 km²)  - Width 183 miles (295 km)  - Length 113 miles (182 km)  - % water 13. ... The Harvard University Press is a publishing house, a division of Harvard University, that is highly respected in academic publishing. ... 1998 (MCMXCVIII) was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar, and was designated the International Year of the Ocean. ... 1991 (MCMXCI) was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Gregorian calendar. ... John Locke (August 29, 1632 – October 28, 1704) was an influential English philosopher. ... A lecture on linear algebra at the Helsinki University of Technology A lecture is an oral presentation intended to teach people about a particular subject, for example by a university or college teacher. ... 1994 (MCMXCIV) was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar, and was designated as the International Year of the Family and the International Year of the Sport and the Olympic Ideal by United Nations. ... 1996 (MCMXCVI) was a leap year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar, and was designated the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. ... Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 - November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. ... Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804), was a German philosopher from Königsberg in East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). ...


His work has been also heavily influenced by, among others, Ludwig Wittgenstein, P. F. Strawson, David Wiggins, and, especially, Wilfrid Sellars. Many of the central themes in McDowell's work have also been pursued in similar ways by his Pittsburgh colleague Robert Brandom (though McDowell has stated strong disagreement with some of Brandom's readings and appropriations of his work). Both have been strongly influenced by Richard Rorty, in particular Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979). In the preface to Mind and World (pp. ix-x) McDowell states that "it will be obvious that Rorty's work is [...] central for the way I define my stance here". Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (IPA: ) (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking works to contemporary philosophy, primarily on the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind. ... Professor Sir Peter Frederick Strawson (November 23, 1919 – 13 February 2006) was an English philosopher. ... David Wiggins (born 8 March 1933) is a British moral philosopher, metaphysician, and philosophical logician working especially on identity. ... Wilfrid Stalker Sellars (May 20, 1912 - July 2, 1989) was an American philosopher. ... The University of Pittsburgh is a state-related, doctoral/research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ... Robert Brandom (1950- ), nicknamed the Iron City Kant, is American philosopher who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. ... Richard McKay Rorty (born October 4, 1931 in New York City) is an American philosopher. ...

McDowell is rumoured to be a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. City Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Team colors Black and Gold Head Coach Bill Cowher Owner Dan Rooney General manager Kevin Colbert League/Conference affiliations National Football League (1933–present) Eastern Division (1933-1943; 1945-1949) Western Division (1944) American Conference (1950-1952) Eastern Conference (1953-1969) Century Division (1967-1969) American Football...

External link

  • McDowell's home page. Includes a CV and a list of representative publications.

  Results from FactBites:
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John McDowell has set the philosophical world alight with a revolutionary approach to the subject, illuminating old problems with dazzling particularity.
McDowell claims that philosophy has itself to blame if these questions seem problematic, and this book's animating purpose is to see what sense can be made of this notorious claim.
In McDowell's view, the illusion that our fundamental relations with the world are truly problematic is traceable to false views about nature.
McDOWELL: Descendants of John McDowell Sr. (1768-1837) and Sarah Gettys (1774-1816) (682 words)
John was a farmer and miller, he was farming the Ruston tract prior to its purchase by his father, and inherited the 100 acres from his father upon his death in 1815.
Andrew Boyd McDowell was born in 1803, farmed the Buttonwoods pastures, and died at the age of 74, unmarried.
Elizabeth McDowell was born in 1805 and died at the age of 12.
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