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Openness to the World: McDowell on Perception, Thought, and Knowledge - PHI00094M

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Stephen Everson
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

One of the most powerful ripostes to a Cartesian conception of our epistemological place in the world—according to which our knowledge of it is, if possible at all, at best indirect—has come from the work of John McDowell, who has challenged both the claim that we can characterise our thoughts independently of the world they are about and that our perceptual access to the world is mediated by such thoughts. We shall explore the nature of his challenge to the Cartesian model.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module will explore topics that are at the intersection of Philosophy of Mind and Epistemology: what is it to have thoughts about particular items? How does perception afford us knowledge of the external world? We shall address those questions primarily by means of a close reading of two of John McDowell’s papers so that work for the module will not only furnish an understanding of these central philosophical topics, it will deepen students’ ability to engage in close reading of intricate and subtle philosophical texts.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should be able to understand the Cartesian conception of thought and knowledge and the nature of the particular challenge to it articulated in the papers we shall look at in detail.

Module content

Knowledge by acquaintance and by description; the content of thought; singular thoughts; mental representation; disjunctivism about perceptual experience; criteria and defeasibility.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The summative essay will be submitted by 12 noon on Monday, Week 2 of the Spring Term.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback on the summative essay will be returned within 4 weeks of submission.

Indicative reading

John McDowell, ‘Singular Thought and the Extent of Inner Space’, ‘Criteria, Defeasibility and Knowledge’.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.