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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: February 2013

14 - John McDowell: Mind and World


John McDowell's Mind and World was first published in 1994. Based on his six 1991 John Locke Lectures, it is the most free flowing of his published work. It is also the only book-length account of his philosophy. It is an important, dramatic and challenging work for three reasons.

First, it addresses what is perhaps the central question of modern philosophy since Descartes: what is the relation between mind and world? This large and rather abstract question is raised through a number of more specific, but still central, questions in philosophy. How is it possible for thoughts to be about the world, for intentionality to be possible? What must the world be like if it can be “taken in” by subjects in experiences? What role do the natural sciences play in describing the limits of the natural world, of what is really real?

Secondly, the cast of characters is impressive. McDowell's account of the relation between mind and world draws on the work, among others, of Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Sellars, Davidson and Evans. A number of other philosophers from the analytic tradition have a role, such as Strawson, Dummett and Kripke, but Weber, Gadamer and even Marx also make appearances. It is breathtaking that a work of contemporary philosophy should borrow so widely from the history of philosophy to attempt to present a coherent picture of our place in nature.