A Model for McDowell: An Abstract

This essay appears here in six different parts. Each part contains about 3,000 words. My intention is to propose a visual model for John McDowell’s theory that human perception is characterized by conceptualizing. The model I am proposing appeared to me in a dream in 1976, but I believe it is of use in the present for picturing the central features of McDowell’s theory. I use the dream’s narrative of the model in its setting to provide an item-by-item visual depiction of what has been called McDowell’s “pervasiveness theory.” It is particularly intended as an aid in understanding the central feature of McDowell’s theory, the idea that conceptual capacities pervade human sensory contact with the world’s objects in such a way that our knowledge of the world can have objective validity when the conditions are right. These sorts of “right condition” experiences, McDowell claims, provide immediate contact between the mind and the world in a way that undermines both traditional empiricist skepticism and Cartesian downplaying of the role of the senses. McDowell’s approach has deep roots in the epistemologies of Kant and Wilfrid Sellars; I will show how the model represents McDowell’s inspiration by and distinction from each. Most significantly, the model visualizes McDowell’s formula for salvaging a reformed empiricism by employing an “innocent” version of Sellars’ dreaded Myth of the Given. The key to McDowell’s approach is his notion that sensibility implicitly possesses conceptual capacities which make “available’ to our understanding the possibility of believing in, warranting, and justifying the reality of objects which we observe under the right conditions. My goal is to show how by helping us to visualize McDowell’s theory my model provides us with a better grasp of that theory.

Full Paper

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

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Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Salve Regina University

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