(Partially) Enchanted Amphibians: or, What Kant, McDowell and Aristotle Have to Teach Us About Our Second Nature

Modern philosophy can be characterized by two things: a deep hostility to any idea of ‘enchantment’ and a deep forgetfulness of the idea of ‘second nature’. Properly qualified, the former is acceptable (there need be no overarching enchanted metaphysical scheme underlying nature), but the latter is the source of some of the key problems of modernity, the most prominent of which might very well be the problem of the naturalness and mindedness of man. This is the axis on which German Idealism turned, and the answers the idealists struggled for continue to fund contemporary discussions; it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the question of naturalness and mindedness encompasses nearly every aspect of philosophy. The problem itself will be discussed first, then the idea of ‘second nature’. Continue reading

McDowell on Plato and Empiricism

‘What figures in plato as a distance between mere appearance and reality is not the distance that generates the characteristic anxiety of modern epistemology. Perhaps both Platonic and the Cartesian conceptions can be captured in terms of an image of  penetrating a veil of appearance and putting ourselves in touch with reality, but the image works differently in the two contexts. In the Platonic context, appearance does not figure as something that after all constitutes access to knowable reality, although it takes philosophy to show us how it can do so. Philosophy in Plato does not show how to bridge a gulf between appearance and an empirically knowable reality: it does not picture appearance as an avenue to knowledge at all. Correspondingly, the acknowledged and embraced remoteness of the knowable in Plato is quite unlike the threatened, but to be overcome, remoteness of the knowable in modern philosophy. Plato is nothing like a Cartesian sceptic or a British empiricist.’ (John McDowell, ‘The Engaged Intellect’, p. 207)