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on November 19, 2001
This text with its new Introduction clearly demonstrates McDowell's prominence in American philosophy. McDowell is certainly one of the most important, careful, and creative minds in the field. Mind and World is crucial reading material on perceptual content, judgment, and experience.
Inspired by Sellars's Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, McDowell interrogates the notion of a 'logical space of reasons' as having location in the natural world. At times adopting an obscure and abstract prose style, McDowell nevertheless identifies specific anxieties concerning the realtion between mind and world: tensions between a Kantian sensible intuition (or 'minimal empiricism')--how our thoughts are answerable to and directed at the world--and the idea of receiving an impression (or Kantian humility) as a transaction with the world, placing it in a 'logical space of reasons.' So there is a tension between a normative context, that is, how the world 'impinges' on us, which is within the logical space of reasons, and empirical concepts that are supposed to be within the logical space of nature. But if we take Sellars seriously, identifying something as an impression--an economy of logical space of nature 'giving' or 'impinging' on the mind, then we are responsible to characterize just how an 'impinging world' is different from justifying or placing a verdict on empirical descriptions. McDowell's tension is between a 'minimal empiricism'--thought is answerable to a tribunal of experience--and how experience is indeed a tribunal, which attributes verdicts on thoughts.
Along the way, McDowell critiques the Myth of the Given, Davidson's coherentism, and argues for 'direct realism.'
McDowell has a flair for characterizing and 'exorcising' philosophical anxieties between empiricism and naturalism, and he employs creative metaphors that are extremely helpful, such as the 'seesaw' and a 'sideways on view.'
The first three lectures are most important, wherein he discusses conceptual and non-conceptual content. Here he engages the views of Sellars, Quine, Davidson, Evans, and Peacocke.
Mind and World is a masterful example of careful and thorough-going philosophy--at its best.
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on March 9, 2004
Logical grammar concerns itself with "functors", devices that transform parts of language into other parts. For example, predicates combine with names of objects to form sentences. One of the less-celebrated functor types is the "subnector", which transforms sentences into terms: returning from the complex to the simple. *Mind and World* is a subnector of a book. The philosophical issues it engages with are central ones, but they are developed against a background of baroque analytical machinery. In other words, you really have to know in quite a bit of detail what several difficult figures had to say before McDowell's own concerns are at all clear.

This should not be surprising, given that the book was originally the 1991 John Locke Lectures at Oxford: these lectures are delivered yearly to professional philosophers who have formalized theories and intricate arguments well in hand, but are looking to re-evaluate the "big picture" of the philosophical enterprise. McDowell accordingly polemically bases his presentation on philosophers he was closely linked to in earlier work, Donald Davidson and Gareth Evans. McDowell has elsewhere spent a great deal of energy defending and refining their ideas, but the emphasis here is on his divergence from them concerning the role of concepts in our experience of the world.

Beginning from Wilfrid Sellars' rejection of givenness, yet serious about maintaining the objective purport of perception, McDowell aims to vindicate a view of experience derived from Kant: that experience requires the exercise of conceptual capacities (such as the ability to discriminate facts about the object which might be true of other objects) and an element corresponding to Kantian "intuitions", the influence of independent realities. McDowell argues that both elements are essential to including true, meaningful experience as a core element in our rational thought: misconstruing them as inessentially linked at will or heterogeneous and incapable of mixing leads to the reappearance of many traditional problems of epistemology we could otherwise opt out of.

McDowell then goes on to consider how such conceptual capacities could be part of the repertoire of a natural creature such as a human being, without appealing to an extra-natural "soul". His theory is derived from Aristotle's account of moral formation; Aristotle makes this out to be a matter of "second nature", which McDowell generalizes to cover the development of all "normative" conceptualization of the world, including our sense of action, under the heading of *Bildung* (a concept borrowed from the German pedagogical tradition). He ends his lectures by considering, in this light, Marx on the relationship of man to his world and Gadamer on the importance of tradition for rational thought.

This relates to McDowell's stated intention in the preface, that the whole work serve as a prolegomenon to the reading of Hegel's *Phenomenology of Spirit*. (In my opinion, the work fails to serve this purpose: the only Hegel quotation in the lectures is tendentiously interpreted, and Hegel's own treatment of *Bildung* in the *Phenomenology* makes it a critical and anti-traditional moment of the development of Spirit.) Those hoping for insight about historical materialism's relation to Hegel will be disappointed: in fact, as might be expected given his many favorable references to Gadamer, McDowell's own conclusions are in many ways diametrically opposite to those of the "Hegelian Marxists".

The lectures are followed by four postscripts, which expand upon technical disagreements between McDowell and other analytic philosophers mentioned in passing in the lectures. All of these will be of some interest to those who follow analytic philosophy closely, especially the interpretation of Wittgenstein: but there is less "systematic" content in these and the introduction (added for the paperback edition). One might hope for a "Briefer History of World" to make laypersons better acquainted with the important motifs of McDowell's philosophy; but unfortunately *Mind and World* will have to do as an introduction to McDowell's thought. Dense, but an essential part of contemporary philosophical discourse.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 11, 2014
I have been reading this book in a group that includes some philosophers, and that has been very helpful in coming to grips with it. My own interest in mind/world relations has its roots in romantic poetry, Wordsworth specifically, where experiences of nature that seem to be meaningful are presented and reflected on, but not with philosophical rigor. For all that, the rhetorical power of the poetry was compelling and it gave me much to think about. For all his lack of rigor, Wordsworth was as concerned as modern philosophers are with the claims of science to have privileged access to the world and to have developed a language that "represents" the world ("is made true by the world") better than any other. [Philosopher and scientist friends tell me that that idea of "science" is more a straw man set up by some philosophers than it is a very accurate account of what scientists really care about.] One way of combatting this vision of science is to largely ignore these imperialistic claims and to develop a way of thinking that avoids the difficulties of deciding what is or is not a "true representation," on the grounds that we can never find a stance from which to judge with certainty the truth of a claim about this or that "representation." So pragmatist and neo-pragmatist philosophers will talk of "intersubjective agreement" within a culture's language-games and not make claims about "truth" that go outside these parameters. The idea of what would be the case even if no human beings existed is not an idea that they find interesting. McDowell shares many of the views of such philosophers, but he has a healthy respect for science and believes that we cannot think clearly about knowledge unless we can give a naturalistic account of how our concepts are in fact connected to the world. Descartes and Kant have given unsatisfactory accounts -- accounts that flirt with a non-naturalistic "platonism" -- and yet McDowell resists the idea that our concepts are imposed on the world -- the famous "scheme-content" idea critiqued by Donald Davidson. He argues that in our experience as knowers there is ALWAYS a conceptual component, even in the passive reception of data from the world. An apple is known as an apple. It's not a piece of space-time on which we impose the concept apple. We are socialized through language into a world that we receive passively as conceptually loaded, but we also have as natural beings the capacity to construct concepts. It is with concepts that we can justify our beliefs and thus claim that what we believe is true. This idea that our conceptual powers are grounded in our experience of the world is "disenchanting" in a positive way, but our conceptual powers are what enable us to think about, construct, and critique "meanings" in what McDowell calls "the space of reasons" within which notions like justification are operative. There is an alternative space of "law" that explains causes and effects in the way we associate with natural science. Thus McDowell has accounted for a grounded empiricism that isn't crudely reducible to scientific explanation. Reductively, you can think of a table as "really" subatomic particles in certain relations to one another, but in McDowell's view there are things that are true of tables that aren't reducible to that and that belong to the "space of reasons." For a good review of the book by someone more philosophically acute than I am, see Jeffrey Rubard's review of March 2004. Rubard is aware of both the importance and the difficulty of the book. I'm not sure that I would have understood it, even to the limited extent that I do, without help.
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on June 26, 2016
It's interesting that many people complain about McDowell's prose. I think his writing is particularly clear. However, that doesn't mean it's easy. But this is top notch. McDowell makes accessible many of the central issues in Hegel and Kant. To be sure, these issues are not only found in Hegel and Kant--much of post-Kantian continental philosophy has been grappling with these issues, and the issues came to be recognized among analytic philosophers such as Sellars, Rorty, Strawson and others. It is pretty inspiring to see how much ground McDowell covers within this volume, all while keeping the focus around a small set of philosophical problems.

Expect to glean some insight on the nature of reason, the plausibility of certain conceptions of naturalism, and the nature of conceptual content. This is some of the most fun I've had reading philosophy in a while.

Some of the terminology is obscure. I've found that having a background in Kant and Sellars is particularly helpful. I've found the Wittgenstein passages (especially I.7) to be hard to wrap my head around, probably because I have less of a background in Wittgenstein.
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on November 8, 2015
McDowell's mind and world is one of the most original contributions to the modern philosophy. The names of philosophers mentioned in this book, including Hegel and Gadamer, undoubtedly show the divergence of McDowell's way of philosophizing from prevalent trends in analytic philosophy. In this book, McDowell tries to warn us against a pernicious assumption behind the most (all?) of the philosophical accounts for the relation of the mind and world. In other words, he tries to provide an explanation for this relation which makes the question of bridging these two absolutely unnecessary. In this sense, dualism of the mind and world is the main target of McDowell's project. I think that this book is full of insights, even for those people who do not agree with McDowell. The text is well-written and is full of interesting terms such as 'seesawing', 'oscillation', 'sideway on view' and etc. People familiar with McDowell's previous writings, such as virtue and reason, would find this book written in the similar manner, except that it is more fashionable in the form. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Epistemology and Philosophy of Mind.
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on January 17, 2016
McDowell attempts to resolve what he sees as an epistemic oscillation that drives contemporary thinkers toward what Sellars terms "the Given" as experienced reality whose interiority and dislocation from reliable verification tend toward a sterile nominalism with its attendant and severe limitations of interest. In rejecting this limited foundationalism, they then swing to the other extreme, an inclusive coherentism that McDowell appropriately terms "frictionless" for its inability to ground propositions by reference to externals. He seeks to develop a conceptualist brake on the expansive claims of a merely phenomenological epistemology by appealing to an essentially Kantian categorical schema, arguing that the rational conceptualization of phenomena that operates in consciousness provides sufficient friction to ground claims whereby the mind may claim to know the world. McDowell's original contribution in these lectures, I think, is to extend Kantian arguments that picture sense data constructions as irreducibly conceptual beyond their original limitations, arguing them to be reliable reconstructions of the world.
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on May 1, 2005
John McDowell's insight on how we acquire conceptual knowledge of the external world is brilliant. Basing his argument on the Kantian conception of receptitivity and spontaneity, John McDowell not only eases the philosophical anxiety of acquiring conceptual capacities and the epistemic role experience plays by destroying the need for the anxiety at all. I recommend this for any person interested in philosophy that is constructive and not just a response to someone else's question. McDowell, unlike most philosophers in our age, is not just picking at a niggling point, he is bringing fresh ideas to the philosophical table.
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on May 29, 2016
This, too, is an impressive, rather daunting book. Actually, I found it quite exciting.
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on July 24, 2015
Arrived very quickly! Completely satisfied!
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on July 23, 2016
Excellent text and service
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