John McDowell's work presents stimulating arguments on a broad variety of issues. In this thesis I shall look at three: his response to Dummett's manifestation argument (the argument that our understanding of truth must be evidence-constrained because we cannot manifest grasp of verification transcendent truth-conditions); his response to Wittgenstein's rule-following problem (the problem of how meaning is possible given that there don't seem to be any facts which constitute having a meaning in mind); and his argument for moral realism in response to Mackie and Blackburn. In each of these debates I shall focus on McDowell's central papers and the work of the philosophers which he engages with. Because of the dense and elusive nature of much of McDowell's writing I shall engage in a constructive exegesis of his arguments in order to evaluate them. This work often reveals what seem to be troubling gaps in the justification for his claims, but I am usually able to draw on his other work to provide the required justification. I conclude that McDowell's response to Dummett's manifestation argument is a success: he is right to claim that we are able to manifest our understanding of sentences simply by saying them to speakers of our language. I explain how McDowell is able to provide justification for the controversial premises in this argument by using his argument that theories of meaning must be modest, and shall use his arguments for fallibilism to save his argument from a fatal ambiguity. However, this reveals a weakness in McDowell's understanding of mathematics, and I argue that his is wrong to endorse mathematical anti-realism. Next I shall turn to McDowell's response to Wittgenstein's rule-following problem. I start by explaining why Kripke's and Wright's responses to the problem fail, and use that to describe the shape a successful response to the problem must take. I shall argue that McDowell provides a successful response to the rule-following problem, but only if we are happy with his epistemic fallibilism. I attempt to make McDowell's quietist response to the problem more palatable by looking at it in the context of his overall view of the world and our experience of it. And I shall conclude by arguing that in order for McDowell to make sense of our making certain mistakes about our inner states he needs to make some changes to his account of the inner. Finally I shall look at McDowell's moral realism. I shall explain his response to Mackie's arguments for queerness which draws a parallel between values and secondary qualities, and to do so I shall develop his no-priority view of values. I shall then turn to Blackburn's quasi-realism and argue that McDowell's attacks of Blackburn, the contaminated response and disentangling arguments, all fail to demonstrate that Blackburn's starting point is incoherent. However, I also defend McDowell from Blackburn's criticism, focusing on his epistemology of susceptibility to reasons, and by drawing parallels with the epistemology of mathematics, using my conclusions from the first chapter.
Advisor: Miller, Alex; Pigden, Charles
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Philosophy
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: McDowell; John McDowell; metaethics; realism; anti-realism; Dummett; Wittgenstein; Kripke; rule-following; Wright; manifestation argument
Research Type: Thesis