The Thinking Animal

The Engaged Intellect
Philosophical Essays
John McDowell
Harvard University Press, $45, 360 pp.

Having the World in View
Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars
John McDowell
Harvard University Press, $39.95, 304 pp.

When I was a college senior at the Catholic University of America and preparing to depart the comforts of the Catholic intellectual tradition for a career in mainstream “analytic” philosophy, I was sent out the door with a steady stream of warnings about the unhistorical character of the philosophical thinking I was about to encounter. I nodded and agreed that I would need to be on the lookout for this defect, but deep down the prospect excited me. It meant liberation from scholastic disputations and the philosophical categories of Plato and Aristotle; it meant a chance to consider contemporary problems in contemporary terms. I would now be doing philosophy, as I sometimes put it to myself, instead of just reading or studying it—creating new ideas rather than simply shuffling old ones around.

As it turned out, those who warned me about the perils of contemporary philosophy were wrong, but so was I. It was naive of me to think that textual interpretation wasn’t a genuine philosophical activity, or that classical texts didn’t have value except insofar as they related to problems I regarded as “current.” My undergraduate teachers, on the other hand, weren’t giving enough credit to the very illuminating historical work being done by philosophers clearly identifiable as part of the analytic tradition. During its early twentieth-century origins, when doing analytic philosophy meant regarding linguistic analysis as the philosopher’s primary task, that tradition...

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About the Author

John Schwenkler is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.