What is the Myth of the Given?

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McDowell defends conceptualism about experiential content by arguing that contrary views of experience are forms of the Myth of the Given. The direct realist view of experience, which rejects experiential content altogether, is thus, according to McDowell, a mythical view of experience. A series of defenders of direct realism have responded to McDowell’s accusations. However, the recent debate has revealed that there is very little agreement on the details of McDowell’s argument, let alone on how to respond to it. I will argue that the responses to McDowell given by thinkers such as Travis, Brewer, Kalderon and Johnson, all rest on various misunderstandings of his line of argument. The aim of this paper is to provide an interpretation of the Myth of the Given, which lives up to the dialectical role it plays in McDowell’s argumentation. I aim to elaborate the notions of reasons and the notion of conceptuality in play in McDowell’s writings. On this basis I present an argument leading from the requirement that experience provides reasons for thought to the conclusion that experience must possess conceptual content.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIn the Light of Experience : New Essays on Perception and Reasons
EditorsJohan Gersel, Rasmus Thybo Jensen, Morten S. Thaning, Søren Overgaard
Number of pages24
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9780198809630
ISBN (Electronic)9780191846908
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Myth of the given
  • John McDowell
  • Charles Travis
  • Perceptual reasons
  • Conceptual content
  • Minimal empiricism

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