McDowell on Kant: Redrawing the Bounds of Sense

Metaphilosophy 31 (4):382-411 (2000)
Abstract
John McDowell’s Mind and World is a notable attempt to redirect the interest of analytic philosophers toward certain themes in Kantian and more recent continental thought. Only thus, he believes, can we move beyond the various failed attempts – by Quine, Davidson, Rorty, and others – to achieve a naturalised epistemology that casts off the various residual “dogmas” of old-style logical empiricism. In particular, McDowell suggests that we return to Kant's ideas of “spontaneity” and “receptivity” as the two jointly operative powers of mind which enable thought to transcend the otherwise unbridgeable gulf between sensuous intuitions and concepts of understanding. However, this project miscarries for several reasons. Chief among them is the highly problematical nature of Kant's claims, taken over by McDowell without reference to their later treatment at the hands of subjective and objective idealists. Hence he tends to fall back into different versions of the same mind/world dualism. I then question McDowell's idea that Kant can be “naturalised” by reinterpreting those claims from a more hermeneutic or communitarian standpoint with its sources in Hegel, Wittgenstein, and Gadamer. For the result is to deprive Kant’s philosophy of its distinctively critical dimension not only with regard to epistemological issues but also in relation to matters of ethical and sociopolitical judgement.
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