Entries by Colin McGinn

Existence and Non-Existence

Existence and Non-Existence We have puzzled over the nature of existence and the nature of non-existence, but we don’t ask how these two categories relate to each other. Does one entail the other? Not in the sense that if something exists then it doesn’t exist, and vice versa, but in the sense that if one […]

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Metaphysical Meaning

Metaphysical Meaning The positivists declared metaphysical sentences meaningless. This required them to be able to identify a metaphysical sentence. But how could they do that if such sentences literally have no meaning? It could not be by recognizing them as meaningless, though that is certainly an intelligible mental act, because many sentences are meaningless without […]

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Metaphysical Cravings

Metaphysical Cravings The soul craves metaphysics.[1] The thinking self wants to think about metaphysical questions. Why do they attract us so? I believe it is because we know (clearly and distinctly) that we are thinking beings: we are directly aware of ourselves as thinking beings. Not necessarily infallibly aware, but aware enough that we don’t […]

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A Taxonomy of Reference

A Taxonomy of Reference Wittgenstein would say that reference comes in many varieties, like sentences; the concept of reference is a family resemblance concept. We should be wary of the urge to assimilate, unify; we should respect the multiplicity (his word) of reference, like the multiplicity of language games. Gareth Evans called his book The […]

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Why Do We Imagine?

Why Do We Imagine? If we ask why humans perceive and remember, the answer is not far to seek: for the same reason many animals, particularly mammals, perceive and remember, viz. these are obviously useful traits to possess. They enable the reception and storage of information. There is no evolutionary puzzle about the existence of […]

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Why Do We Think?

Why Do We Think? Intelligent thought (cleverness, creativity, insight) is not common in the animal world. Intelligence without thought, and thought without intelligence, are more common, but the combination is rare. That may seem odd, given that intelligent thought is such a dandy adaptation (it can get you to the moon and back)—why isn’t it […]

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Why Do We Speak?

Why Do We Speak? As has often been remarked, language is a rare biological accomplishment. It is not spread widely across the animal world and took billions of years to evolve. I am referring here to communicative speech not the cognitive machinery that underlies human linguistic competence (which may be directed more towards the use […]

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Skepticism and Time

Skepticism and Time We can’t be certain the ordinary world of material objects exists: we might be brains in a vat or perpetually dreaming. We can’t be certain that space exists, at least in the form we think of it, for the same reasons. But what about time? We are familiar with skepticism with respect […]

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