Volume 10, 2018
Robin M. Muller
McDowell’s Romantic Conceptualism
My paper is motivated by two thoughts: (1) that there’s significant overlap between J. G. Herder’s romanticism and, what I call, the ‘late’ conceptualism of John McDowell; (2) that recognizing this helps to settle a dispute in contemporary epistemology concerning the contents of perception. I argue, on the basis of that overlap, that “romantic conceptualism” avoids two pressing criticisms of conceptualism: It offers a reply to the argument from the fineness of grain of perceptual experience and it explains the relationship between human perceptual experience and the perceptual experiences of non-human animals. I start with the interpretation of McDowell’s views, tracing the significant revisions in the period following the publication of Mind and World; then I try to compare his views with Herder’s, trying to establish a framework for responding to the more trenchant criticisms of McDowell’s non-conceptualist opponents, and the explanatory force of conceptualist hypotheses beyond the context of contemporary epistemology. The first arc of the paper, therefore, traces the evolution of McDowell’s thought concerning perceptual contents. The second attempts to demonstrate where (and with what consequences) that view converges with a romantic philosophy of mind.