What is 'Conceptual Activity'?

Robert Pippin
University of Chicago
One of the most discussed and disputed claims in John McDowell’s Mind and World is the claim that we should not think that in experience, “conceptual capacities are exercised on non-conceptual deliverances of sensibility.” Rather, “Conceptual capacities are already operative in the deliverances of sensibility themselves.” Such capacities are said to be operative, but not in the same way they are operative when the faculty of assertoric judgment is explicitly exercised. This position preserves the passivity and receptivity necessary for McDowell to defend a picture of our thought as constrained by the world. (“The constraints come from outside thinking, but not from outside what is thinkable.”) And it maintains his Sellarsean criticism of the “Myth of the Given,” such that when we trace justification back we do not reach something that, because non-conceptual, could not play any role in such justification. The fact that the deliverances of sensibility are conceptually shaped (I will take this mean “have a conceptual form”) insures that sensibility can indeed play such a justificatory role in perceptual beliefs
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