Volume 33, Issue 1, Spring 2003
The Myth of the Given, Coherentism, and the Justification of Empirical Knowledge Claims
How to Solve McDowell’s Problem
In this paper I make some critical comments on John McDowell’s Mind and World and offer suggestions as to how it might be possible to solve John McDowell’s problem of finding a safe passage between the Scylla of the “Myth of the Given” (Sellars) and the Charybdis of a Davidsonian linguistic coherentism. McDowell’s defense of a minimal empiricism depends on the largely unargued and ultimately untenable assumption that epistemic justification can only operate at the level of conceptual or propositional entities. Drawing on contemporary analytic philosophy of mind and continental philosophy of subjectivity, I try to show that epistemic normativity already comes into play at two levels of experience—sensory observation and self-knowledge—that are more basic than the conceptual. What McDowell needs is a philosophy of subjectivity that would allow him to identify primary sources of epistemic normativity that are both subjectcentered and pre-conceptual.