Disjunctivism and Cartesian Idealisation

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This paper examines the dispute between Burge and McDowell over methodology in the philosophy of perception. Burge (2005, 2011) has argued that the disjunctivism posited by naive perceptual realists is incompatible with the results of current perceptual science, while McDowell (2010, 2013) defends his disjunctivism by claiming an autonomous field of enquiry for perceptual epistemology, one that does not employ the classificatory schemes of the science. Here it is argued that the crucial point at issue in the dispute is Burge’s acceptance, and McDowell’s rejection, of the ‘Cartesian idealization’ of mind as a self-contained system. Burge’s case against disjunctivism rests on the assumption of a clearly demarcated boundary between mind and world, a picture of the mind that McDowell’s philosophy reacts against. This boundary is required for scientific, causal explanations of perceptual processing because it is a simplifying assumption that helps present scientists with a clearly demarcated object of investigation. Concurring with McDowell, I conclude that philosophers need not carve up their objects of investigation in the same way.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218–238
JournalProceedings of the Aristotelian Society
Issue number3
Early online date10 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


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