22 March 2009

A Puzzle about Reception History

In "Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective" McDowell wishes that Davidson offered us an account of brutes which had more to say than the rough, unsatisfying bits he actually offered. It's clear in the context that McDowell doesn't just wish that Davidson had offered a fuller account, but that he wants a fuller account period. Davidson's story is (at best) frighteningly incomplete, and probably just wrong on a lot, but McDowell doesn't have anything to offer in its place.

This essay was published in 2003. It can't have been written much earlier, since it was presented at a symposium devoted to Davidson's third collection (thus the title), and that collection didn't come out until 2001.

Michael Thompson had been an assistant professor at Pitt since 1992. He'd been an associate professor since 1999. "The Representation of Life" was first published in 1995.

It seems implausible that McDowell would not have mentioned "The Representation of Life" in this context, if he'd read it. It offers him just the sort of thing he asked for. It's not particularly subtle about it, either. McDowell wants a better treatment of brutes: here it is! That is all it is about! It is devoted to doing justice to just the sorts of facts that Davidson has to paper over!

But, McDowell shows no indication of being familiar with Thompson's treatment of brutes.

How could McDowell have missed reading one of Thompson's key essays for so long? Or if he hadn't, what the hell happened here? It can't be that he thought Thompson would be inimicable to Davidson (because of essentialism or whatever), since McDowell is normally fine with urging things on Davidson. But what problem could McDowell have had with Thompson? (There are no hedges when he footnotes "The Representation of Life" in "Avoiding the Myth of the Given" three years later, where he is drawing explicitly on Thompson's treatment of animals.)

I guess we all have things we mean to read, but haven't gotten around to....

No comments: