Conceptuality and Mathematical Thinking in Aristotle: An Ancient Intervention into the McDowell-Dreyfus debate
Bronwyn Finnigan (Australian National University)

October 4, 2018, 4:15pm - 6:15pm
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne

Jim Potter Room/Old Physics
The University of Melbourne

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John McDowell and Hubert Dreyfus argue that human beings have a capacity for ‘situation-specific skilful coping’. Both claim that they are articulating Aristotle’s notion of phronēsis or practical wisdom. And both insist that it is best understood as a kind of perceptual capacity. They disagree, however, about whether it is a form of conceptual rationality. I argue that neither provides an accurate analysis of Aristotlebut I consider whether there are textual grounds for extending Aristotle’s position to include McDowell’s idea that conceptuality is a rational capacity that informs perceptual experience. I derive an account from Aristotle’s debate with Plato on the nature and presuppositions of counting. This debate fundamentally concerns the boundary conditions for rationality. I argue that their differences imply distinct models of perceptual activity and I give reasons to think that Aristotle’s position corresponds broadly to that of McDowell. It has a problem, however. It implies that animals cannot perceive, or not in the same way as human beings, and there is reason to think that Aristotle thinks their perceptual capacities are functionally similar. I conclude by proposing a solution that is inspired by Plato’s views about the role of calculation in resolving inconsistencies in perception.

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