McDowell on Perception: How does perceptual experience rationalise belief?
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In Mind and World and succeeding works, John McDowell elucidates a conception of perceptual experience which, in his terms, “allows the world to figure in the rational warrant for empirical thought”. According to the account presented by McDowell, perceptual experience involves one’s capacity to conceptualise such that what is made available as a basis for judgement is already in conceptual form. In this paper, McDowell’s conceptualist account of perceptual experience is critically examined and his claim that it can provide rational credentials for belief is assessed. The paper includes consideration of McDowell’s interpretation of the problems besetting other epistemological accounts of perception; his diagnosis of the underlying cause of such problems; and the constraints, thereby identified, which he believes must apply to a satisfactory alternative account. McDowell’s fundamental insights are identified and, in conclusion, it is contended that his account significantly advances the understanding of how perceptual beliefs and hence beliefs about the external world can be rationally warranted.