I get to choose the excerpts, so take all this with a grain of salt (though I've tried to be reasonably balanced). Reviews are arranged chronologically (until I stopped updating this page, in 1998). I've also included a few non review articles focusing on the book. I give some very brief replies here; I have a separate page for more detailed responses to some articles on my work.
In a sense, all technology is biotechnology: machines interacting with human organisms. Technology is designed to overcome the frailties and limitations of human beings in a state of nature -- to make us faster, stronger, longer-lived, smarter, happier. And all technology raises questions about its real contribution to human welfare: are our lives really better for the existence of the automobile, television, nuclear power? These questions are ethical and political, as well as medical; and they even reach to the philosophical (...) and spiritual. On the whole, we seem pretty well adapted to our technology, at least on the face of it -- but there have always been doubts about whether the human soul thrives best in the oppressively technological world we have created for ourselves. (I am continually struck by how much time I have to spend fixing the machines that supposedly improve my life.). (shrink)
What kind of subject is philosophy? Colin McGinn takes up this perennial question, defending the view that philosophy consists of conceptual analysis, construed broadly. Conceptual analysis is understood to involve the search for de re essences, but McGinn takes up various challenges to this meta-philosophy: that some concepts are merely family resemblance concepts with no definition in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions ("game", "language"); that it is impossible to provide sufficient conditions for some philosophically important concepts without circularity ("knowledge", (...) "intentional action"); that there exists an unsolved paradox of analysis; that there is no well-defined analytic-synthetic distinction; that names have no definition; and that conceptual analysis is not properly naturalistic. Ultimately, McGinn finds none of these objections convincing: analysis emerges as both possible and fruitful. At the same time, he rejects the idea of the "linguistic turn", arguing that analysis is not directed to language as such, but at reality. Going on to distinguish several types of analysis, with an emphasis on classical decompositional analysis, he shows different philosophical traditions to be engaged in conceptual analysis when properly understood. Philosophical activity has the kind of value possessed by play, McGinn claims, which differs from the kind of value possessed by scientific activity. The book concludes with an analytic discussion of the prospects for traditional ontology and the nature of instantiation. -/- McGinn's study of the nature of philosophy shows us how philosophy can maintain its connection to the past while looking forward to a bright future. (shrink)
Disgust has a strong claim to be a distinctively human emotion. But what is it to be disgusting? What unifies the class of disgusting things? Colin McGinn sets out to analyze the content of disgust, arguing that life and death are implicit in its meaning. Disgust is a kind of philosophical emotion, reflecting the human attitude to the biological world. Yet it is an emotion we strive to repress. It may have initially arisen as a method of curbing voracious human (...) desire, which itself results from our powerful imagination. Because we feel disgust towards ourselves as a species, we are placed in a fraught emotional predicament: we admire ourselves for our achievements, but we also experience revulsion at our necessary organic nature. We are subject to an affective split. Death involves the disgusting, in the shape of the rotting corpse, and our complex attitudes towards death feed into our feelings of disgust. We are beings with a <"disgust consciousness>", unlike animals and gods-and we cannot shake our self-ambivalence. Existentialism and psychoanalysis sought a general theory of human emotion; this book seeks to replace them with a theory in which our primary mode of feeling centers around disgust. The Meaning of Disgust is an original study of a fascinating but neglected subject, which attempts to tell the disturbing truth about the human condition. (shrink)
Colin McGinn has written on a wide range of philosophical issues and is best known for his argument that the human mind is incapable of understanding itself, and that therefore attempts to understand the nature of consciousness are doomed. He has written a novel and a memoir, and has recently turned his attention to the cinema and Shakespeare. He is professor of philosophy at Miami University.
I find myself in agreement with almost all of Galen's paper (Strawson, 2006) -- except, that is, for his three main claims. These I take to be: that he has provided a substantive and useful definition of 'physicalism'; that physicalism entails panpsychism; and that panpsychism is a necessary and viable doctrine. But I find much to applaud in the incidentals Galen brings in to defend these three claims, particularly his eloquent and uncompromising rejection of the idea of brute emergence, as (...) well as his dissatisfaction with standard forms of physicalism. I certainly find his paper far more on target than most of the stuff I read on this topic. (shrink)
Colin McGinn presents his latest work on consciousness in ten interlinked papers, four of them previously unpublished. He extends and deepens his controversial solution to the mind-body problem, defending the view that consciousness is both ontologically unproblematic and epistemologically impenetrable. He also investigates the basis of our knowledge that there is a mind-body problem, and the bearing of this on attempted solutions. McGinn goes on to discuss the status of first-person authority, the possibility of atomism with respect to consciousness, extreme (...) dualism, and the role of non-existent objects in constituting intentionality. He argues that traditional claims about our knowledge of our own mind and of the external world can be inverted; that atomism about the conscious mind might turn out to be true; that dualism is more credible the more extreme it is; and that all intentionality involves non-existent objects. These are all surprising positions, but he contends that what the philosophy of mind needs now is 'methodological radicalism' - a willingness to consider new and seemingly extravagant ideas. (shrink)
Identity, existence, predication, necessity, and truth are vital concepts at the center of philosophy. Yet Colin McGinn believes that orthodox views of these topics are misguided in important ways. Philosophers and logicians have often distorted the nature of these concepts in an attempt to define them according to preconceived ideas. Logical Properties aims to respect the ordinary ways we talk and think when we employ these concepts, while at the same time showing that they are far more interesting and peculiar (...) than some have assumed; these notions correspond to real properties--logical properties--that challenge naturalistic metaphysical views. Written with a minimum of formal terminology, this book deals with logico-linguistic issues as well as ontological ones. The focus is on trying to get to the essence of the concept concerned, not merely finding some established notation for providing formal interpretations. (shrink)
This book brings together a selection of Colin McGinn's philosophical essays from the 1970s to the 1990s, whose unifying theme is the relation between the mind and the world. The essays range over a set of prominent topics in contemporary philosophy, including the analysis of knowledge, the a priori, necessity, possible worlds, realism, mental representation, appearance and reality, and color.
McGinn's latest brings together moral philosophy and literary analysis in a way that illuminates both. Setting out to enrich the domain of moral reflection by showing the value of literary texts as sources of moral illumination, McGinn starts by setting out an uncompromisingly realist ethical theory, arguing that morality is an area of objective truth and genuine knowledge. He goes on to address such subjects as the nature of goodness, evil character, and the meaning of monstrosity in the context of (...) an aesthetic theory of virtue, which maintains that goodness of character is the same thing as beauty of soul. Looking at such literary works as Billy Budd, Lolita, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Frankenstein, as well as examples from film and painting, Ethics, Evil, and Fiction is an original and compelling book by a leading philosopher who is also a critic and novelist. (shrink)
In Minds and Bodies, one of philosophy's most dynamic and versatile thinkers gathers nearly forty review essays written over the past twenty years for publications of a nonspecialized kind. They cover biography, particularly of Russell and Wittgenstein; philosophy of mind, especially consciousness; and ethics, with an emphasis on applied ethics. Lucid and accessible, these essays together form a vivid picture of contemporary philosophy for the general reader, and will be welcomed by those within the philosophical community for their crisp critical (...) insights and rigorous assessments. (shrink)
The Character of Mind provides a sweeping and accessible general introduction to the philosophy of mind. Colin McGinn covers all of the main topics--the mind-body problem, the nature of acquaintance, the relation between thought and language, agency, and the self.In particular, McGinn addresses the issue of consciousness, and the difficulty of combining the two very different perspectives on the mind that arise from introspection and from the observation of other people. This second edition has been updated with three new cutting-edge (...) chapters on consciousness, content, and cognitive science to make it the reader of choice on this vital topic. (shrink)
In this companion to ‘Charity, Interpretation, and Belief’, McGinn broadens his attack on Davidson's principle of charity, arguing that charity is no more required for the ascription of notional beliefs (i.e. shared concepts) than it is for the ascription of relational beliefs. His argument takes the form of a reductio: if Davidson were right that about the inherently charitable nature of interpretation, then, McGinn argues, traditional sceptical worries (e.g. concerning the external world, other minds) would not even arise. But that (...) is absurd. In the concluding section, McGinn presents his preferred (Quinean) method of interpretation, according to which the ascription of beliefs and meanings proceeds only after the attribution of perceptual experiences. (shrink)
This book investigates the subjective and objective representations of the world, developing analogies between secondary qualities and indexical thoughts and arguing that subjective representations are ineliminable. Throughout, McGinn brings together historical and contemporary discussions to illuminate old problems in a novel way.
Some have supposed that morality has its basis in altruistic emotions implanted in accordance with the standard principles of natural selection. It is argued, to the contrary, that the falsity of group selection theory precludes founding genuine altruism on such a basis, and that the correct theory of evolution renders morality possible only if a cognitivist conception of moral psychology is accepted. Some independent reasons are given for favouring that conception over its noncognitivist rival. Morality is then claimed to be (...) a necessary corollary of advanced intelligence, so that morality cannot easily be selected against. Finally, the bearing of the foregoing considerations on the normative contention commonly labelled 'species-ism' is assessed; it is concluded that a proper view of morality suggests the inclusion of (other) animals within its domain of concern. (shrink)