Mind and World: With a New Introduction by the Author

Mind and World: With a New Introduction by the Author

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...

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Title:Mind and World: With a New Introduction by the Author
Author:John Henry McDowell
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Mind and World: With a New Introduction by the Author Reviews

  • Ben Labe

    In Mind and World, a printed recreation of John McDowell's 1991 John Locke lectures, McDowell attempts to dissolve one of modern philosophy's most pressing anxieties. Our equally strong desires to grant empirical observation a role in justification and to deny a place for the objects of observation within the space of reasons (the conceptual complex in which human minds operate and consider possibilities freely) have presented us with an apparently serious gap between mind and world.

    Until now,

    In Mind and World, a printed recreation of John McDowell's 1991 John Locke lectures, McDowell attempts to dissolve one of modern philosophy's most pressing anxieties. Our equally strong desires to grant empirical observation a role in justification and to deny a place for the objects of observation within the space of reasons (the conceptual complex in which human minds operate and consider possibilities freely) have presented us with an apparently serious gap between mind and world.

    Until now, modern philosophers have fallen victim to a distressing oscillation, wavering between outright denials of the possibility of empirically grounded justification and more or less veiled appeals to the so-called Myth of the Given. Attempts to bridge this gap have been marked by philosophers positioning themselves on one side of the gap and subsequently trying to build their way to the other to retrieve what cannot acceptably be lost.

    McDowell, however, finds this treatment to be misguided. Instead of working from one side of the gap to the other, his aim is to remove it entirely by exposing the faulty dualism that has led us to observe it in the first place. Resurrecting the language of Kant and Wittgenstein, McDowell argues for both sides at once. Empirical observation does not stand outside of the space of reasons, he says, but because observations are received passively, they impinge on that space in such a way as to provide the necessary constraints on our judgments of them to pass as justifications. When we look out into the world (engaging our "receptivity," in the Kantian nomenclature), our conceptual capacities ("spontaneity") are automatically and inevitably summoned. And because we perceive that such and such is the case first within the space of reasons, it does not require any impossible feat of translation for us to place it there in the form of a judgment or belief.

    But certainly animals do not possess such a rational framework; we can't consider it natural. So how have humans developed it? McDowell explains this using concepts found in Aristotle. Aristotle defines humans fairly simply as "rational animals." Likewise, McDowell conceives of humans as possessing two natures: the animal and the rational, where our rational nature is actually more like a second nature that we are introduced to through language. While the notion of a second nature is certainly a metaphor that requires some fleshing out, here it seems like an illuminating one.

    In Mind and World, McDowell seems to provide an accommodating synthesis of much of modern philosophy. While the book is pedantic, I found his repetitions to be beneficial for a firm understanding of the abstruse views that he means to express. McDowell is a superb mediator. When presenting an opinion, he provides details that are relevant and keeps them within a context that displays exactly where they will fit into his arguments. While some people are not sympathetic to his sort of "quietism," I am, and will hope to apply similar treatments to my own discipline in the future.

  • Brandon

    A monumental, brilliant book. I hope to have more to say about it soon.

  • Caleb

    Like After Virtue and Intention, Mind and World is a modern classic. What is McDowell up to here?

    He aims to chart a middle course behind Davidson's coherentism, where beliefs (and propositional attitudes, more generally) only relate to the world causally, rather than rationally; and various versions of the Myth of the Given where the world figures as a non-conceptual ground for beliefs. In McDowell's terms, according to Davidson's view, the world can exculpate but not justify beliefs. Likewise,

    Like After Virtue and Intention, Mind and World is a modern classic. What is McDowell up to here?

    He aims to chart a middle course behind Davidson's coherentism, where beliefs (and propositional attitudes, more generally) only relate to the world causally, rather than rationally; and various versions of the Myth of the Given where the world figures as a non-conceptual ground for beliefs. In McDowell's terms, according to Davidson's view, the world can exculpate but not justify beliefs. Likewise, the Myth of the Given takes it that the world can justify beliefs but leaves this mysterious since it views the world as standing outside of the space of reasons. Both of the accounts view the world as standing outside of the space of reasons, the scope of conceptual activity.

    Accordingly to McDowell's view, the world does not stand outside of the space of reasons, and when judgments are true, they do not stop short of the world. In other words, the world falls within the conceptual sphere and this sphere is open to human animals whose second nature enables them to possess the conceptual capacities needed to grasp the world that is encountered through the senses. The same considerations, McDowell argues, are in play when considering rational agency.

    McDowell shows that Kant, Hegel, and Wittgenstein, can be read along with Aristotle, in a manner that provides a compelling approach to a range of philosophical problems concerning perception, knowledge, and action. While he has modified some of his claims in later papers, the mainlines of Mind and World are still relevant to contemporary debates.

  • Utility

    I vividly remember my very first graduate seminar. We were taking turns introducing ourselves and saying a couple of words about our interests. One student, who was that point partly through his doctoral studies, said that he was interested in “trying to understand McDowell’s project.” To which the professor grumbled, only half-jokingly, “I don’t think even McDowell understands McDowell’s project.” Incidentally, the student never attended that seminar again.

    John McDowell has been one of the

    I vividly remember my very first graduate seminar. We were taking turns introducing ourselves and saying a couple of words about our interests. One student, who was that point partly through his doctoral studies, said that he was interested in “trying to understand McDowell’s project.” To which the professor grumbled, only half-jokingly, “I don’t think even McDowell understands McDowell’s project.” Incidentally, the student never attended that seminar again.

    John McDowell has been one of the biggest names in Anglo-American philosophy since the 1990s. Yet jabs like this about the impenetrability of McDowell’s prose, the unclarity his thought, or the incoherence of his positions abound in Anglo-American circles. It is not uncommon to hear him dismissed as a “relativist” or an “idealist,” or else lambasted his espousal of value-realism—though the latter has gained considerable ground in recent years. However, these are, more often than not, highly uncharitable readings. It is true that McDowell’s prose can be opaque at times, and true also that there are certain points of unclarity in his thought. At the same time, however, the overall thrust of his work possess such a subtlety and such a brilliance that it makes up for it many times over.

    Nowhere is McDowell’s particular brand of counterintuitive genius more prominent than in the lectures that make up his landmark

    (1994). The starting point of these lectures is the dualism of scheme and content that has defines modern epistemology. The idea is that representational content—the content of our perceptions—are the result of an interplay between

    , which are the product of human understanding, and

    , which are understood as a non-conceptual bits of experiential intake. The postulate of a non-conceptual Given underlying our perceptual experience is supposed to serve a justificatory function: it serves as an external constraint on our judgments, something to which we can point once all conceptual moves are exhausted. Pure, unadulterated sense experience thus serves as the rock bottom of all our inferences about the world, behind which we can go no further.

    Having thus explained the function of what he calls the Myth of the Given, McDowell identifies a flaw in the myth so subtle that it has escaped the notice of philosophers for over two hundred years. The appeal to non-conceptual experiential content, he points out, cannot accomplish the justificatory function for which we required it in the first place. For insofar as it represents passively received sense data, it is the result of a purely

    process that imposes itself upon us: where we wanted “justifications” for our beliefs, the myth of the Given gives us only “exculpations” (p. 8). This leads him to what is perhaps his most well-known—and certainly his most controversial—move: if we are to circumvent this problem, then we need to suppose that receptivity itself draws on conceptual capacities, and thus that there is no such thing as a Given in perceptual experience. Only under these conditions can reality exert a rational, and not merely a causal, influence on our thoughts.

    To say that conceptuality reaches all the way down into receptivity—or, in McDowell’s terms, that the conceptual is

    —is, of course, not to say that there is no external reality. On the contrary, McDowell insists that what is sometimes called “outer experience” cannot be understood except as awareness of a reality independent from experience. The content of a perceptual experience is

    —that is, it is “a perceptible fact, an aspect of the perceptible world” (p. 26). In fact, even so innocuous an experience as the perception of colour is fraught with rational connections that imply a world beyond what is manifest in the experience itself: concepts of visible surfaces, of objects, of the lighting conditions under which these are presented. Thus, the object of experience is always integrated into a wider reality, one “embraceable in thought but not all available in this experience” (p. 32). This is what allows us to make sense of the idea that the world would be as the experience reveals it to be even if it were not being experienced.

    McDowell’s argument about the “unboundedness of the conceptual” leaves him in a bind. For sensibility is a purely natural phenomenon that we share with nonhuman animals and,

    natural, are presumably explicable according to laws. Yet conceptual capacities, which he claims are involved in human perceptual experience, are generally thought to involve a kind of spontaneity that cannot be explicated according to mere law. The logical conclusion, it seems, is to say that operations of our perceptual capacities must be distinguished from those of our conceptual capacities. McDowell’s resolution of this apparent difficulty is ingenious; the solution lies not, as the scientistic worldview would have it, in denying the spontaneity of human conceptual capacities by reducing all activity to the action of natural laws, but in rejecting the disenchanted conception of nature as the realm of law. As he puts it, “exercises of spontaneity”—that is, thinking and acting in accordance with

    —”belong to our way of actualizing ourselves as animals” (p. 78). In other words, human beings possess what he terms “second nature”—that is, habits of thought and action that result from being initiated into what Wilfrid Sellars calls the “space of reasons” by upbringing.

    is among the most interesting and the most original works published in English-language philosophy in the last fifty years. Along with other game-changers like Derek Parfit’s

    , it has broken new ground in how we understand ourselves in relation to the world and to each other. The idea that human beings are naturally receptive to rational demands of which they become aware by initiation into a tradition of thought has also gone a long way toward loosening the grip of anti-realism on Anglo-American meta-ethics. Along with the work of contemporaries like Charles Taylor, Richard Rorty, and Robert Brandom, it has served to undermine the dominant Humean paradigm of the 20th century and to inaugurate what some have called the “Hegelian phase” of analytic philosophy. And while I am unsure as to just how convincing I find McDowell’s argument, it is at the very least exciting and worth considering. To get the full implications of his epistemology, I recommend reading this one in conjunction with the collection of essays

    (1998).

  • VII

    Another annoying writer who rarely uses examples and prefers to stay abstract, which makes him really hard to read. I don't think I care for his constructive philosophy but I learned a lot from his criticism to Davidson, Sellars and Quine.

    The familiar problem in epistemology is the conversion of sense contents into concepts. Common sense dictates that all our beliefs are formed from sense contents we get from the empirical world but how, if we accept that the logical space of nature is different

    Another annoying writer who rarely uses examples and prefers to stay abstract, which makes him really hard to read. I don't think I care for his constructive philosophy but I learned a lot from his criticism to Davidson, Sellars and Quine.

    The familiar problem in epistemology is the conversion of sense contents into concepts. Common sense dictates that all our beliefs are formed from sense contents we get from the empirical world but how, if we accept that the logical space of nature is different from the logical space of reasons. The distinction between those two different spaces however is not a common-sensical one outside philosophy. With science dominating, naturalism also dominates in culture. The common sense position is that this logical space of reasons either doesn't exist (some form of reductionism) or can be described in terms of the logical space of nature (bald naturalism in Mcdowell's terms). But we should make the distinction. The natural space of reasons consists mostly of causal descriptions, while the space of reasons is to have concepts and to form beliefs by using justifications. The first is to view things from the outside while the second if from the inside.

    So we need to justify our beliefs using observations from the world but if we accept the distinction and Sellars' myth of the Given, we can't use the observations (the sense contents) to do so. Mcdowell wants to provide a cure for this tension. Bald naturalism denies the myth, while Davidson by accepting it but keeping the conversion causal is led to a coherentism that Mcdowell finds unsatisfying because it loses contact with the empirical world. Mcdowell's solution is to keep the distinction but refuse to equate nature with the familiar scientific (descriptive) talk. He says that something can be natural but still belong to the space of reasons and the key for this is to introduce some kind of second nature to humans. Our second nature is connected with our initiation to concepts during our upbringing, but ultimately it is in our nature. This allows him to say that when we have an experience both our senses and our conceptual machinery work at the same time, refusing to accept there are pure sense contents or pure concepts that are somehow combined. The sense contents have to be infused with concepts at the time of the experience. I have to say I am not convinced by the notion of second nature, as it ascribes humans with something special but also doesn't explain how it happens. Mcdowell knows this and stresses that we shouldn't worry about how it happens. It is a question that can't be answered right now and he doesn't find it very pressing. In a way it is a similar solution to the one bald naturalism offers but more satisfying for him, because it doesn't avoid the question; it recognizes its importance but dispels it. This is the main idea.

    My biggest problem with Mcdowell is that he tackles these issues with certain assumptions in place. He wants to find a way to make our common assumptions (the manifest image in Sellarsian terms) intelligible and not to examine the validity of these assumptions. His whole endeavor is to keep certain beliefs that we have for ourselves like rationality and freedom of choice, by finding a way to make them palatable and not too inconsistent with other beliefs that are gaining ground, like naturalism, while keeping some issues outside discourse because they are "unsolvable". He even writes that “philosophy's task is to dislodge the assumptions that make it look difficult to find a place for meaning in the world”, basically because meaning is already part of our lives and our conception of ourselves. This way of doing philosophy seems limited. It is choosing a starting and an end point and trying to find the best route between them but without ever doubting those two points. Ultimately it assumes that our assumptions about ourselves are correct and undoubtable and he is willing to change our conception of nature before changing our conception of ourselves. It is of course (as anything) a viable choice but it is arbitrary.

  • Alina W.

    McDowell addresses a

    fundamental problem in philosophy; he shows that the 'ontological gap' between mind and world is illusory. That gap is the foundation of various seminal philosophical problems, including: How can empirical experience justify knowledge? How can bodily activity be intentional? How can linguistic signs be meaningful?

    McDowell addresses all of these questions, and mostly focuses on the first of them. The problem is epistemological in nature. How is knowledge ultimately

    McDowell addresses a

    fundamental problem in philosophy; he shows that the 'ontological gap' between mind and world is illusory. That gap is the foundation of various seminal philosophical problems, including: How can empirical experience justify knowledge? How can bodily activity be intentional? How can linguistic signs be meaningful?

    McDowell addresses all of these questions, and mostly focuses on the first of them. The problem is epistemological in nature. How is knowledge ultimately grounded? If we take any statement, and trace back to the premises that support it, to fully justify this statement we'd need to justify those premises. But then we'd end up with further sets of premises that led to those; and a regress becomes quickly apparent. What is the ultimate ground of knowledge, which would stop this regress?

    There have traditionally been two types of responses to this question. One type is embodied in traditional empiricism (e.g., Hume). Such empiricist philosophers hold that in our perceptual receptivity to the world, we receive sensory impressions. Such impressions are supposedly independent of all our knowledge, and ultimately ground all knowledge. But this view is problematic. In order for any sensory impression to be able to justify a judgment, it must be conceptual in form. If an impression had no conceptual articulation whatsoever, it could not be 'plugged into' premises nor justify anything. So empirical experience must be conceptual, if it is to be able to factor into knowledge.

    But if empirical experience is conceptual, then it seems like it cannot serve as an ultimate ground of knowledge. Concepts penetrate perception, and these concepts could be ill-formed, so perception cannot be trusted as a source of ultimate justification. This is a grave situation. Now, it seems we are forced to say that the justification of any judgment must be found in other judgements; knowledge is like a vast echo-chamber. If this is truly the case--if there are no external constraints relative to our reasoning capacities--it seems that what we believed to be knowledge isn't knowledge at all. Knowledge is supposed to be factual and justified, and without appealing to any sturdy ground outside of itself, it can be neither.

    That it unacceptable. So another possible response is to maintain that knowledge is indeed self-contained, but the natural world serves as a causal constraint on the possibilities of knowledge. We just never personally encounter this natural world, in itself; and we never appeal to it to justify our knowledge. Donald Davidson holds such a view. But that seems unacceptable as well. We clearly appeal to empirical experience in our justifactory practices.

    McDowell shows a way out. He focuses on the fact that this entire dilemma presupposes this picture of cognition: we are contained in a 'space of reasons' (e.g. a conceptual world, in which we make claims and justify them), and this space is bounded by another space, the 'space of nature'. The latter stands for the natural world, populated by mind-independent objects. McDowell argues that there is no such cleavage between mind and world. His argument is essentially Kantian.

    Everything we can possibly perceive or encounter in the world is already conceptual in nature. Conceptual faculties that we actively use to reason and form judgments are also employed in the synthesis of the phenomenal world. Although perception is indeed receptive, this passive nature does not rule out that conceptual faculties can operate; they do so, without our self-consciously needing to direct such faculties. This view can still be naturalistic. The mind-independent universe is

    in nature; we can never access it, but we are within it, and it has some causal constraint on us.

    McDowell's view is nonetheless distinct from Davidson's; we can appeal to experience as a source of justification because experience is already conceptual in form. Of course any particular experience cannot serve as the ultimate grounds of justification; but we shouldn't think that we are entitled to such ultimate grounds in any case. Knowledge is never totally absolute, and we humans continually intellectual advancements over our history.

    I mainly read this book because of it is frequently referred to by the contemporary literature at large. I didn't learn anything new though. McDowell's points have all been argued for by philosophers like Kant, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty (among other post-Kantian continental philosophers). Sure, McDowell neatly lays out a precise argument targeted at analytic philosophers. But I think Sellars has already done that in

    . One could say that Sellars is notoriously difficult to read, but I think McDowell isn't that much clearer as a writer.

    The fame of McDowell's book shows to me that the Anglo-American philosophers McDowell addressed had severe misunderstandings of Kant, and were ignorant of continental philosophical traditions. Only in that case could McDowell's work be so 'groundbreaking'. I'd nonetheless recommend this book to readers interested in Kantian epistemology and Wittgensteinian skepticism.

  • Otto Lehto

    I disagree with the author, but I must admit the book contains many great insights.

    The book revisits the Kantian idea that perception must be shaped by our conceptual capacities (our capacity for reason, freedom, and language). It builds a carefully constructed case by engaging with contemporary authors, but the basic premise is a form of neo-Kantian epistemology. To be clear, I do NOT have an objection to this Kantian project - only to McDowell's formulation of it.

    His central claim? That in

    I disagree with the author, but I must admit the book contains many great insights.

    The book revisits the Kantian idea that perception must be shaped by our conceptual capacities (our capacity for reason, freedom, and language). It builds a carefully constructed case by engaging with contemporary authors, but the basic premise is a form of neo-Kantian epistemology. To be clear, I do NOT have an objection to this Kantian project - only to McDowell's formulation of it.

    His central claim? That in order to show how perception can ground judgment (e.g. belief), we must be able to say that the same capacities must operate in perception that operate in our "higher" faculties. To sum up: the mind is in touch with reality, which has conceptual form, directly, and this is possible because we are "rational animals" whose faculties are shaped by that rationality.

    Towards that Aristotelean conclusion, McDowell combines Kant, Wittgenstein and Hegel.

    The Kantian element is obvious and pervasive, since the very notion of conceptual capacities, and the epistemological problematic, derives fundamentally from Kant's 1st Critique.

    The Wittgensteinian element is more subtle, but it is reflected in McDowell's aim - to do therapy to bad philosophy by showing that we shouldn't be led astray by false problems - and in his methodology - to refuse doing "positive" philosophy in the sense of formulating new paradigms. He wishes to justify common sense realism, and to show that epistemology is non-problematic. (But this gets more complicated once we combine the Kantian, Hegelian and Davidsonian pictures to it.)

    The Hegelian elements are rather underdeveloped. He suggests that "absolute idealism" and "common sense" must ultimately coincide. And his philosophy could be read as "common sense Hegelianism." But these elements are rather suppressed - perhaps because Kant, Wittgenstein and the analytical tradition are foregrounded? But this should not come as a big surprise: it would be difficult to really combine the three into a synthesis where ALL the parts were equally represented.

    A McDowell thesis with Hegel foregrounded would look rather different.

    In addition, more contemporarily, people like Davidson, Quine, Evans and Rorty form the immediate setting of the argument. McDowell does not write in a vacuum. He engages with living and dead authors.

    The book is a competent and, at times, brilliant work, but it has many problems:

    1) Since it is based on a lecture structure, it repeats itself WAY too much.

    2) The writing is dry, tedious and mostly boring. Not very joyous.

    3) Some of his central arguments are way too obscure. There's too much technical jargon.

    4) The unholy admixture of Kant, Wittgenstein and Hegel, while interesting, is a bit monstrous.

    5) By claiming that he is only doing "therapy" to poor philosophy, he can hide behind a "doctor's" attitude.

    6) For an analytical philosopher, his style is often quite hermetic, mysterious, even dogmatic. He rarely justifies his premises.

    The seventh and last point I wish to treat separately because it is the most important:

    7) The book is permeated with the notion that human beings are not (just) "animals" because we have rationality. By rationality he means the Aristotelean notion that humans are "rational animals" combined with the Cartesian-Kantian notion that the mind (of humans) is essentially an "I think" that posits the world. However, after Darwin, to claim that human beings are ESSENTIALLY superior (in all our perception and thinking) to other animals, because we are "rational animals," is a suspect notion. This would require a whole rebuttal, but suffice it to say that McDowell has serious problems here, since this notion underlies - and motivates - his whole epistemology. This is not a slam-dunk case against him, but it means we perhaps need some modifications, or softenings, to his thesis that human beings are essentially motivated by reasons while animals are motivated by mere environmental inputs (neither of which statement seems self-evident).

    I think the book ultimately fails because it is built upon faulty premises. However, this should not blind us to the fact that McDowell is an interesting philosopher.

    The proposed project of synthesizing Kant, Hegel, Wittgenstein and contemporary analytical philosophy is a fruitful one.

    I believe, or hope, that if one were to combine his central insights (which are fascinating) with a bit of Freud and Darwin, one would be getting closer to a true rendering of the human experience.

    (PS. McDowell's later work addresses some of the shortcomings of this book, but doesn't completely extricate itself from its hyper-rationalist framework of the human mind. At least he is persistent and consistent. I find his later work more plausible, or less obviously wrong. So I would recommend you search out some of his later essays.)

  • Blakely

    Invocative. Impossible to remember.

  • Maggie Roessler

    Much in it is true and insightful, but so stubbornly

    - I don't agree that you should stop there! The continuity between the gegenstandsbezogene consciousness and the rational self-consciousness belongs explicated!

    Pedagogically stellar. The repetition is no mistake. All novel formulations and important points are plain as day, so no scavengering about in search of McDowell's true intent.

    And I just feel good reading it. I'm not sure what it is in a book that gives me this feeling, but I

    Much in it is true and insightful, but so stubbornly

    - I don't agree that you should stop there! The continuity between the gegenstandsbezogene consciousness and the rational self-consciousness belongs explicated!

    Pedagogically stellar. The repetition is no mistake. All novel formulations and important points are plain as day, so no scavengering about in search of McDowell's true intent.

    And I just feel good reading it. I'm not sure what it is in a book that gives me this feeling, but I suspect it has something to do with a winning combination of honesty, humility, and competence.

  • Aaron

    I've only been reading philosophy for four years (at the time of writing), so this opinion should be taken with substantial salt, but: this is without a doubt my favorite work of philosophy. I've now read it three (four?) times, each more enlightening and more understandable than the last. McDowell beautifully and brilliantly argues for a picture of our relationship to the world that respects the indisiputable advances of modern science (especially its driving teleology out of the realm of law)

    I've only been reading philosophy for four years (at the time of writing), so this opinion should be taken with substantial salt, but: this is without a doubt my favorite work of philosophy. I've now read it three (four?) times, each more enlightening and more understandable than the last. McDowell beautifully and brilliantly argues for a picture of our relationship to the world that respects the indisiputable advances of modern science (especially its driving teleology out of the realm of law) without losing grasp on the relevant notions of freedom and intentionality that those advances can seem to threaten. This lays the groundwork for his work in other areas, e.g. metaethics.

    The book consists of an introduction, very mildly edited versions of his 1991 John Locke lectures (six chapters, the main body of the book), and a substantial afterword examining the relationship between his thought and Davidson's thought (as well as Rorty's—McDowell is excellent at separating the good points Rorty makes from the fashionable relativism) and expanding on various points from the lectures. Because this is basically the print record of his lectures, various aspects of the writing betray its origin as lectures. This is most noticeable in the degree of repetition. McDowell had to put forth extremely complex ideas orally, with lectures separated by a week between them. McDowell thus spends a lot of time summarizing arguments he's made previously. I find this repetition extraordinarily helpful. Even in print, where re-reading is possible, the ideas are difficult, and having the relevant aspects summarized as they are needed makes it much, much easier to get a grasp on them. Some may find it annoying—I find it one of the book's virtues.

    One criticism of the book I've seen and heard with some frequency is this: the writing is too opaque to really present McDowell's ideas clearly. As I've read and re-read the book, I've moved from agreeing with this criticism to understanding it in a detached way without agreeing with it. I find this criticism to be primarily a reflection of the fact that there is a reasonably steep learning curve for understanding both McDowell's ideas and the language in which he presents them. Now that I am acclimated to both, I in fact find that McDowell writes with a crystalline clarity that's very rare in philosophy, both in the sense that he understands the interconnections between relevant issues more clearly than most, and in that he describes these interconnections more lucidly than most. Compare Mind and World to the work of someone like Putnam. Putnam's language may seem clearer, but his ideas often are not, in ways not unrelated to the seeming surface clarity of his writing. Or hell, compare it to Kant or Sellars, two of the giants on whose shoulders McDowell stands. I find him much, much clearer than either, without any loss in profundity.

    Return to the philosophical content of the book, I'd like to briefly offer an apologia for some flaws. Because of its origin in lectures, McDowell is unable to address every relevant issue (very understandable), and occasionally glosses far too briefly over an issue that in fact is much more demanding. The clearest example of this in my mind is the discussion, in lecture six, of the issue of fallibility of perception, and the threat that this will lead to skeptical problems. McDowell insists that it does not lead to such problems, and he hints at why. It's possible to see how this hinted at but unpresented argument fits into a form similar to others presented in the book (though McDowell doesn't make this explicit). But the discussion actually present in the book is itself clearly insufficient. And I think there's an extent to which that's simply a feature of the origin in lectures of the book. Elsewhere (Perception as a Capacity for Knowledge), McDowell does tackle the issue (extremely well, I might add). So, in reading the book, I suggest you keep in mind that it's not of a sort that McDowell could address all the relevant issues fully, and at times he does have to merely hint at arguments (he doesn't do this for the most central issues, however). The book cannot stand alone, sufficient by itself. It requires the context of the rest of McDowell's philosophy, which fleshes out implications and provides arguments for key positions that figure in Mind and World, but which are insufficiently defended.

    The book is probably really only for the philosophy aficionado, but for such a person it's downright essential.

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