Thursday, October 06, 2005

Don't Give Up On The Given

Larmore (2002, ‘Attending to Reasons’, in N. Smith (ed.) Reading McDowell: On Mind and World, London: Routledge, pp. 193-208) writes:

.. the Given cannot serve as a justification for a belief, if it lacks conceptual articulation; yet to the extent that it is shaped by an understanding of the world we already possess, it cannot count as simply "given". (p. 196)

Larmore may be right that something like this is supposed to be 'the well-known trouble with [the] "foundationalist" approach'. But I don't see the force of the dilemma. We can accept the truth of the first horn, the claim that conceptual articulation is required in order for sensory input to justify a belief. But we do not thereby impale ourselves upon second horn. For provided this conceptualized sensory input is ‘shaped’ by an ‘understanding of the world’ which is itself shaped in response to what is given to us in (unconceptualized) sensory input, there is no reason to think that this understanding in any way distorts our experience of the world. Rather, we can hope that the conceptual shape of our conceptualized sensory input reflects the structure of the world.


Andrew said...

I'm not getting this. The understanding of the world = a set of justified beliefs with conceptualized contents, right? What does the 'shaping' of those by non-conceptually articulated input amount to? Not securing their justification, since you grant that only articulated things can justify. Not securing their conceptual articulation - for how can wholly unarticulated input serve to structure the content of a belief?

Or is the idea that the given has objective structure, corresponding to our eventual conceptual structure, so that it is articulated, but just not (yet) conceptualized? isn't that kind of McDowell's position? Or is the idea that only some aspect of our eventual conceptual structure is isomorphic to the objective structure of the world?

Carrie Jenkins said...

I think when he talks about our 'understanding of the world' - that which shapes the Given - Larmore means our concepts. I think sensitivity to unconceptualized input which has structure correlative to the objective structure of the world can result in our possessing concept which map the world's objective structure. I don't think that is very close to McDowell's view - my 'objective structure' is really objective, wholly mind-independent, and (in McDowellian language) our sensitivity to it is a matter of receptivity not sponteneity.

Does that help?