Provocations

My new book Philosophical Provocations: 55 Short Essays (MIT Press) came in the mail the other day (publication date 18 August). I won’t comment on the content but the form struck me immediately: it is unusually wide, about an inch wider than a standard book. I don’t know if this is because the publisher wanted to avoid too many pages so made the pages wider. In any case, I rather like it—such heft! 300 pages and hardly any footnotes.

27 responses to “Provocations”

  1. Alan says:

    I can barely tolerate the weight

  2. Joe Mckay says:

    Can’t wait for this book!

    By the way – here in the UK – Amazon is listing the publication date as September 15th.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Philosophical-Provocations-55-Short-Essays/dp/0262036193/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501424573&sr=8-1&keywords=colin+mcginn

  3. Alan says:

    Paradoxes arising from the instantiation of phenomenal properties which supervene on Kant’s noumenal world?
    Unapologetically brilliant.

  4. Alan says:

    So might the instantiation relation give rise to a sort of chirality with respect to certain phenomenal properties?

  5. Alan says:

    I watched the TV news coverage. Shattering. I thought of you. Perversely, I wondered if you’d face the break like Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi. The horror indeed. Deontological theodicy? Thoughtfully clarifying essay on de re necessity. Most provocative piece on laughter (afterwards, I tried to ‘curb my enthusiasm’ but I couldn’t stifle it)

    • Something for everyone. You have to work at not laughing. I got through the nights by a cold shower, sleeping in a soaked T shirt with a wet towel on my head, and a battery powered fan a foot from my body.

  6. Alan says:

    Good piece on modesty too. Proper pride.

  7. Alan says:

    Superb. Constipation brings a new meaning to the ‘hard problem’. Might help to explain why I sometimes crave a kilo of dried apricots (my second mind has the decorum of a brass band from Yorkshire). Perhaps more seriously, it potentially alters the way we might think of maladies like Crohn’s disease (more like MS of the gut).

    • That’s an interesting point about gut maladies being partly psychological. I’m interested in whether readers find the idea of the second mind as fascinating as I do from a philosophical point of view.

  8. Alan says:

    I’m sure we all should be fascinated likewise. The possibility of my colon’s having concepts, intentional objects, memories, a (distinct?) self, etc. is hard to countenance. I shall never again ‘see a friend off to the coast’ with quite the same perfunctory disregard as before. Now, when I ‘give birth to Meatloaf’s daughter’, the movement will be accompanied by a pang of concern.

  9. Alan says:

    Perhaps, unlike ourselves, our guts have a grasp of absolute motion? Maybe that’s why we may feel we should understand it?

  10. Alan says:

    That’s difficult for me to judge. I think the idea that our conventional vocabulary for evolutionary processes (particularly our talk of “selection”) skews the view of what’s actually going on will be thought shocking by readers of ‘popular science’. As will the idea that traits are what competitive ‘selection’ roots out or for. Similarly, I think scientists would find it impossible to accept that colours were another sort of extended phenotype (they’re likely to be prejudiced by a reductive bias which regards colours as identical to wavelengths of light and hence not any kind of phenotypic candidate).
    Wittgensteinians may be shocked by your essay on meaning without language (nothing to be used) although, as a musician, I was intrigued. The essay on possible worlds invites the fuller treatment (the ‘copula modifier’ theory) you provided in Logical Properties but may be thought shocking by traditionalists unfamiliar with your work.

  11. Alan says:

    “Selfish Genes and Moral Parasites” is quite shocking, perhaps because it raises the profile of the is/ought dichotomy in bas-relief, forcing us to confront the possibility of aeons of unconscious manipulation with goodness as its object. I won’t rehearse its contents here but I did find it highly compelling. Very persuasive and enjoyable.

  12. Alan says:

    Yes, “Knowledge and Emotion” does raise the bar. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the nature/nurture dichotomy, insofar as we may allow our conceptual borders to be breeched by leaching categorical traits. People are (surprisingly) surprised to discover that language has an innate basis, since its development is clearly also heavily influenced by the environment. The notion of the extended phenotype was introduced, I believe, to help bridge this conceptual chasm.
    But, as you make clear in your essay (and elsewhere) if our concepts don’t provide an adequate categorical basis for properly grounding these distinctions with respect to reality, then this has potentially warping consequences for (in particular) theories of ethics and aesthetics. Noncognitivism and cognitivism don’t get close enough.

  13. Alan says:

    I actually found it reassuring. I’ve always been unsettled by the general view that logic could be purely anthropocentric. Perhaps some of my unease derives from how widespread and inert the ‘anthropo-subjective’ view appears to be. But I’m quite sure my cat exhibits symptoms of logical awareness. And doesn’t the basic fact of our logical fallibility suggest some kind of ‘gap’ between our cognisance of logic and the mind of our particular species? Of course if we innately understand logic then there is a sense in which its epistemology is borne of the subject but, as you’ve explained elsewhere, we face similar difficulties in accounting for our knowledge of other ‘objective’ properties. The heuristic aspect of the essay also reminded me of the way you lay out the topography of the instantiation relation with respect to predication in Logical Properties: very helpful. Logical knowledge is a bit like proprioception. Just as I can play the piano blindfolded (I don’t even need to ‘feel’ my way across the keyboard – I just know, albeit fallibly, where the keys should be – and not just their spatial relations, for my knowledge here is additionally guided by enharmonicity), so can I also ‘know’ the logical texture of the world. I think the mind itself is more ‘objective’ than we tend to suppose.

  14. DD says:

    Reading PP, thanks for yet another intellectually honest and thought provoking book. Great points on outdated separation of knowledge and emotion.
    Have a few questions when you have the time:
    a) In Deontological Theodicy, which you conclude with a very vivid example of doctor Peter while arguing with extreme utilitarians, the analogy of his with God’s situation with regards to minimization of evil breaks. The former is not and the latter is all-powerful, so presumable God has the infinite capacity to eradicate evil whereas Peter hasn’t.
    b) In Logic w/o propositions (I probably just don’t get it): while you distance yourself from D Lewis, isn’t extreme logical realism with regards to universals leading to very similar problems of his modal realism? What in your conception excludes the commitment to an endless variety of “grue” type of universals? A conceptualist position with regards to universals doesn’t have this problem because universals are “in the head” and in there anything goes thus allowing for endless variety of concepts of universals.
    c) in Selfish Gene…: you appear to accept Dawkins’ stance on altruism. However the feeling is that people sometimes genuinely care not because they are gullible etc. How does that work in this Darwinian framework?

    • I’m glad you are enjoying it. A lot to say in reply to your questions, but let me remark that Peter is like God in that he has the power to eradicate evil in distant lands by going there but he fails to do so, preferring to remove a lesser amount of evil at home–yet he isn’t equivalent to a murderer of those he fails to save by making this choice.

    • Interesting that you call it “intellectually honest” as if this were a rare quality.

      I imagine the warbler also genuinely cares about the cuckoo parasite. And animals always care about those they share genes with (or think they do).

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