Entries by Colin McGinn

The Alphabet of Thought

The Alphabet of Thought An alphabet consists of a relatively small number of letters correlated with simple sounds. The modern English alphabet (deriving from the Latin alphabet) has 26 letters. The sounds represented are those found in speech, so the alphabet is a way to code the sound structure of speech. Writing consists of strings […]

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Naming and Knowledge

Naming and Knowledge A long and winding tradition in philosophy has it that naming is the essence of language. You name it it’s a name. Or at least all words are name-like: names are representative of language in general. Names denote and language is in the denotation business. I am going to argue that this position is […]

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The Many Minds Problem

The Many Minds Problem When it comes to other minds we are notably weak from an epistemic point of view. We are just not very good at knowing about them. Epistemic inadequacy is our standing condition. This comes out in two ways: first, we find it difficult to justify our ascriptions of mental states to […]

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The “Notorious” Nabokovian RBG

The “Notorious” Nabokovian RBG I was pleased to read in today’s (September 20, 2020) New York Times these words from Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “At Cornell University, my professor of European literature, Vladimir Nabokov, changed the way I read and I write. Choosing the right word, and the right word order, he illustrated, could make an […]

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Other Brains

Other Brains I was watching a nature documentary the other night about slime (The Secret Mind of Slime, PBS). Scientists have experimented on slime and discovered that it can perceive, process information, learn, memorize, and even decide. Slime is smart. Slime is intelligent. One of the scientists (“slimatologists”) speculated agreeably that slime could be the […]

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Sameness and Skepticism

Sameness and Skepticism The concept of identity is central to philosophy. Philosophers are characteristically concerned with whether A is identical to B. Is the mind identical to the brain, is knowledge true justified belief, is the good maximum utility, are numbers sets, is meaning reference, is the good life the intellectual life? Some philosophers favor identity, keeping things […]

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The Parasitic Meme

The Parasitic Meme When Richard Dawkins introduced the word “meme” in The Selfish Gene he did so on the model of the word “gene”, and his discussion of the concept urged an analogy with genes—notably because both are replicators. I want to urge a different analogy (possibly identity), between memes and organisms: the meme is like (maybe is) […]

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Is Instantiation a Relation?

Is Instantiation a Relation? I propose to address a question of high obscurity, hoping at least to make some clear points. As philosophers we are accustomed to using the word “instantiate” to describe what is involved when an object has a property—say, a ball is red. We say that the ball instantiates the property of […]

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