The return of the myth of the mental

Inquiry 50 (4):352 – 365 (2007)
McDowell's claim that "in mature human beings, embodied coping is permeated with mindedness",1 suggests a new version of the mentalist myth which, like the others, is untrue to the phenomenon. The phenomena show that embodied skills, when we are fully absorbed in enacting them, have a kind of non-mental content that is non-conceptual, non-propositional, non-rational and non-linguistic. This is not to deny that we can monitor our activity while performing it. For solving problems, learning a new skill, receiving coaching, and so forth, such monitoring is invaluable. But monitoring what we are doing as we are doing it degrades performance to at best competence. On McDowell's view, there is no way to account for such a degradation in performance since the same sort of content would be involved whether we were fully absorbed in or paying attention to what we were doing. McDowell claims that it is an advantage of his conceptualism that it avoids any foundationalist attempt to build up the objective world on the basis of an indubitable Given or any other ground-floor experience. And, indeed, if the world is all that is the case and our minds are unproblematically open to it, all experience is on the same footing. But one must distinguish motor intentionality, and the interrelated solicitations our coping body is intertwined with, from conceptual intentionality and the world of propositional structures it opens onto. The existential phenomenologist can then agree with McDowell in rejecting traditional foundationalisms, while yet affirming and describing the ground-floor role of motor intentionality in providing the support on which all forms of conceptual intentionality are based.
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