12 September 2007

So it turns out I have JSTOR access now

I now have a dozen more reviews of "Mind and World" than I had previously. Sadly, some of them are mislabeled; Noam Chomsky did not actually review "Mind and World." I am pretty sure McDowell didn't translate the Thaetetus, either, though I suppose he might have.

I also have McDowell's response to Dreyfus's APA address, along with Dreyfus's response to McDowell's response, McDowell's response to Dreyfus's response to McDowell's response to Dreyfus, and Dreyfus's response to McDowell's response to Dreyfus's response to McDowell's response to Dreyfus. I have no idea why, but for some reason all of these articles were free yesterday. I wasn't signed in, since the "sign in here" field was still visible, and I don't think UT subscribes to "Informaworld"; I know they don't list this "Inquiry" journal as one they have access to. I was actually looking at the Informaworld site yesterday so I could get an ISSN number for placing an interlibrary loan, but for some reason it had little green icons next to all of the articles.

But today the articles are all behind a paywall again. I am confused. I suspect I may actually have gained temporary access while signed on to the UT library site, but said site is currently 404ing on me, so I can't test this. But, if anyone wants access to the articles, feel free to e-mail me: dmlindquist at gmail. It looks like the issue in question might be viewable as a "free sample" if you register an account, but I know I never like having to futz around with journal sites any more than I have to.

So far I've only read McDowell's response, "What Myth?". McDowell answers Dreyfus's charges exactly like I'd thought he would: Dreyfus has an untenable view of language, of rationality, and of the conceptual (in all three cases, the flaw is that they are viewed as essentially situation-independent). These views are also attrubuted to Merleau-Ponty, but McDowell shies away from saying the same of Heidegger. (I wouldn't hesitate to lump Heidegger in with the other two, myself. But McDowell may be a more careful reader of the logos stuff than I am.) All of this is spelled out with reference to Aristotle's notion of phronesis, which is at least a start at elaborating on what McDowell gestured towards in lectures 4 & 6 of "Mind and World"; I know I've wanted to see him be more specific about what he was getting at with the "second nature" talk. I remember someone called him on this in the "Reading McDowell" volume and he demurred, claiming that his invocation of Aristotle was "merely suggestive" and meant to remind us that the notion of "nature" can be broader than "the realm of law". But if nobody can spell out how rationality is supposed to be a "second nature" for a human being, then it remains doubtful that the concept is up to the task demanded of it: in which case it wouldn't help us to see that "'nature' can be second nature" after all. McDowell's project needs a thicker conception of "second nature" than McDowell himself has thus far supplied.

Dreyfus had also made one of the most common charges leveled at McDowell's position, that it has to deny that non-rational animals can (for example) see that there is food in front of them. McDowell had already answered this in lecture 6 of "Mind and World", but I can understand why the complaint has stuck around: Lecture 6 is a mess, with far too much argumentative weight being put on a gesture to a distinction made by Gadamer (following Heidegger), that between "inhabiting an environment" and "being open to the world." McDowell really should have slowed down in that lecture; I know I couldn't figure out how his argument was supposed to work until I'd read a fair amount of McDowell's post-"Mind and World" work. It doesn't help that in "Mind and World" McDowell spells out the Gadamerian insight via reference to the early Marx -- one usually hopes for the explanans to be more readily understood than the explanandum!

In "What Myth?" McDowell revisits the issue again, and I think he does a much more satisfactory job of it. In response to the charge that because we share some of our perceptual capacities with some non-rational animals, our perceptual capacities cannot be "permeated with rationality", McDowell notes that "this sharing comes to no more than that there are descriptions that apply both to our competence and to the competence of other animals. I can acknowledge that, and still claim that there are further descriptions that fit our case only. There is more to our embodied coping than there is to the embodied coping of nonrational animals." Short & sweet.

(Hilary Putnam treats a very similar topic in chapter two of "Renewing Philosophy", part of an extended critique of Fodor. He brings it up again in "Mind, Body & World: The Threefold Cord". His treatment of non-rational animals' perceptual capacities is the best thing of Putnam's I've yet read.)

McDowell closes the essay with a section beginning thusly: "I am all for the project of giving an insightful phenomenology of our embodied coping. But a phenomenology of embodiment should be conceived not as a corrective to the thought that our orientation towards the world is permeated with conceptual rationality, but as a supplementation, filling out the details of something that needs to be presupposed by any acceptable version of that thought." Yes, exactly. Filling out the details in McDowell's story is precisely what I have been looking for in the phenomenologists. It is nice to see that McDowell is also interested in seeing this done; he's done a rather poor job of filling out the details himself, mainly due to sins of omission.

Will Dreyfus come to his senses? I have no idea! The title of his response essay doesn't exactly fill me with hope, but I haven't the slightest idea what Dreyfus would say against McDowell, here. Hopefully the whole thing doesn't devolve into exegesis of Aristotle, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty.

hat tip on the articles: spontaneity & receptivity


Shawn said...

Actually, it turns out that McDowell did translate Theatetus. I gather that his early work was in some ancient philosophy and epistemology. Feyerabend praises the translation in his Three Dialogues on Knowledge.

Duck said...

I would love to have these articles (I have Dreyfus's original salvo, in the APA Proceedings). Thank you! If you can't get JSTOR you should complain. It is to the squeaky wheel that is grease is applied.

I think the issue of non-rational animals is (at this point anyway) a big invitation to confusion. They're like us and they're not like us, and there's a loooong continuum from euglena to modern human. The McDowell quote is good.

I never try to put too much emphasis on "second nature". I always took it in the way he suggests in that response. If the issue is a "dualism of reason and nature" then let's talk about dualism, not nature.

I have a tentative take on why Dreyfus et al are so resistant to "conceptualism," but it's not ready for prime time. Check out Taylor on Davidson in his first collection.

And yes (as shawn says) McDowell did indeed translate the Theaetetus! How about that. Multitalented chap.