Conceptualism and practical significance: the McDowell-Dreyfus debate

Cumming, T., 2019. Conceptualism and practical significance: the McDowell-Dreyfus debate. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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The purpose of this thesis is to offer a synoptic and distinctive resolution to the debate between Hubert Dreyfus and John McDowell, which concerns the extent to which conceptual capacities are involved in human perceptual experience and intentional action. My resolution demonstrates how conceptualism accommodates the phenomenon of unreflective action, avoiding “Cartesian” implications, and preserving distinctive insights from existential phenomenology.

In my first chapter, I expound Dreyfus’s non-conceptualist account of the phenomenon of “unreflective action”. I highlight how such an account is supposed to avoid a Cartesian picture of the relationship between the human being and the world. In my second chapter, I demonstrate how conceptual involvement arises in practically engaged experience. This undermines Dreyfus’s argument that conceptual involvement necessarily entails Cartesianism. In my third chapter, I demonstrate the incoherence of a non-conceptualist account of intentional responses, with reference to Wilfred Sellars’ critique of the “given”, and go on to demonstrate how McDowell’s conceptualism avoids Cartesianism. In my fourth chapter, I argue that the intentional character of unreflective action necessarily entails that the agent possesses the relevant concepts. I then demonstrate how the apparently non-conceptual “motor intentional” content that Dreyfus highlights only plays a normative role through its integration into a framework of operative conceptual capacities. In my fifth chapter, I secure the idea that perceptual content can be “intrinsically” practically significant in a way consistent with its normative relation to unreflective action. I provide a distinctive conceptualist interpretation of Heidegger’s notion of the “ready-tohand” in order to do this.

My resolution therefore demonstrates how a conceptualist account of intentional content accommodates the phenomenon that Dreyfus appeals to; the unreflective, embodied and practical way in which human beings engage with their environment. This resolution allows for a post-Cartesian conception of the mind, where the mind is integrated into practically engaged experience.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Cumming, T.
Date: September 2019
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed in the owner(s) of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 27 Nov 2020 16:30
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:12

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