04 August 2008

A note of McDowell Trivia

I have been listening to Conant's "Varieties of Skepticism" lectures lately. In his second lecture on Putnam's "Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses" (which was published as the first part of "The Threefold Cord"), he notes that McDowell often works up material for lecturing ("because he needs a lecture") that he only agrees to publish some years later. Conant's example is McDowell's piece from "the Davidson Fechtschrift", which he says was written about twelve years earlier, and was "the seed out of which Mind and World grew". Presumably, this is "Scheme-Content Dualism and Empiricism", from the "Library of Living Philosophers" volume on Davidson, which was published in 1999.

I found it interesting to learn that SCD&E was earlier than M&W, at least.

(Incidentally, there's a used copy of the Fechtschrift on Amazon for $72; that's a good hundred bucks less than the last one I saw on there, and for a long time there'd been none at all. Though the book is not too hard to find, if you don't mind not getting it on paper. I don't know why the book hasn't had a paperback reprinting yet; I guess it did not sell as well as the Hintikka volume.)

PS: There is stuff to read in the comments of my most recent McDowell posts, for those who are not sick of "Avoiding the Myth of the Given" already.

edit: It would probably make sense to say a little something about the Conant lectures, since I'm halfway through them now. So: The class-lectures suffer from being class-lectures; if you listen to them back-to-back-to-back there is a lot of repetition of material, and some of the student questions are... not so great. Most of the stuff about "Kantian" and "Cartesian" skeptical problems is more straightforwardly presented in "John McDowell's Kant". There is some interesting discussion of C.I. Lewis's continuing relevance in the earlier lectures, but it's not really fleshed out much -- though it does make me want to read "Mind and the World Order" some more.

The "Sense, Nonsense, and the Senses" lectures are good, though; it's no surprise that Conant has interesting things to say about Putnam. Hopefully the early lectures were just throat-clearing, and the second half will be as good as the Putnam lectures were.


Currence said...

I think I'll go ahead and give these lectures another listen (these are the lectures available at the University of Bergen website, no?). I remember that the Q&A questions were largely unhelpful, so this time I think I'll write down the questions I would have liked to ask.

Also, not to be a downer but I don't remember the lectures getting much better at the end (in terms of, say, the ratio of content to repeated content, Conantian "flourish", tangents, etc.). Because I hadn't read Kant carefully yet when I first heard the lectures, most of what I got of philosophical value was a way of putting Kant and Descartes (or "Kant" and "Descartes", figureheads for families of philosophical positions in a skeptically-inspired dialectic) directly into conversation.

I don't know if Conant mentions it, but one paper in which McDowell makes explicit the Cartesian-to-Kantian transition is in "Singular Thought and the Extent of Inner Space" (the conclusion of that transition -- the realization that exposes our original Cartesian conception to have been illusory/nonsensical (not McDowell's phrasing) -- is: "Everything goes dark in the interior as we picture it." (McDowell's phrasing)).

Daniel Lindquist said...

Yeah, the Bergen lectures. It's a good site.

I've listened through the Kripkenstein lectures now; the Putnam lectures are still the high-point, but the McDowell/Kripkenstein lectures were still better than the first few lectures. Overall, the lectures have done a fine job for what I wanted them to do: Provide something not-too-difficult-to-listen-to while I finished up some grinding in FFTA2.

Conant does mention "Singular Thought", in just that context.