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Getting the wiggle into the act

Colin McGinn, 10 September 1992

A History of the Mind 
by Nicholas Humphrey.
Chatto, 230 pp., £16.99, May 1992, 0 7011 3995 1
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... problem and the inadequacy of our current modes of thought, and he issues this challenge: ‘If McGinn still wants to deny that it’ – Humphrey’s theory – ‘is the wine of consciousness, let hirn taste it and say what is missing.’ Well, I found the taste elusive at first, though finally it revealed itself as the usual old plonk. What was ...

The Bed Reptile

Colin McGinn, 18 April 1985

... He had been asleep for seven and a half hours. He had lain in a dark room, wedged into a cotton envelope, breathing and twitching, his eyes periodically making saccadic movements under their lids. The time had passed slowly. He had done very little during those quiet hours. Once or twice the monotony had been broken by the languid swelling of his male part ...

Seething

Colin McGinn, 21 March 1996

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Cambridge Letters 
edited by Brian McGuinness and Georg Henrik von Wright.
Blackwell, 349 pp., £45, November 1995, 0 631 19015 5
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... Wittgenstein to John Maynard Keynes: When I saw you last I was confirmed in a view which had arisen in me last term already: you then made it very clear to me that you were tired of my conversation etc. Now please don’t think that I mind that! Why shouldn’t you be tired of me, I don’t believe for a moment that I can be entertaining or interesting to you ...

Imagining an orgasm

Colin McGinn, 9 May 1991

Mind and Cognition: A Reader 
edited by William Lycan.
Blackwell, 683 pp., £14.95, April 1990, 0 631 16763 3
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Acts of Meaning 
by Jerome Bruner.
Harvard, 179 pp., £15.95, December 1990, 0 674 00360 8
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Modelling the mind 
edited by K.A. Mohyeldin Said.
Oxford, 216 pp., £25, August 1990, 9780198249733
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... The more philosophically interesting a science, the less secure or transparent are apt to be its theoretical foundations, given that philosophy thrives on perplexity. It is some time since chemistry produced much of a reaction in philosophers, but biology can still get their juices flowing, though not so freely as in the days of the Bergsonian élan vital ...

Weak Wills

Colin McGinn, 5 September 1985

Essays on Davidson: Actions and Events 
edited by Bruce Vermazen and Merrill Hintikka.
Oxford, 257 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 19 824749 4
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... Donald Davidson has this year been George Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford: only the second philosopher to hold the august position (the first being W.V. Quine, a teacher of Davidson’s at Harvard and his greatest philosophical influence). This honour reflects his present stature in the academic world. Last year he was the subject of a massive conference held in New Jersey, organised by the indefatigable Ernie Lepore ...

Diary

Colin McGinn: A Philosopher in LA, 4 September 1986

... I have recently been to two valedictory parties for Oxford philosophers on the brink of emigrating to America. I spoke to another philosopher who is actively considering a munificent offer from a Californian university. Reliable rumour has it that a number of other leading British philosophers are contemplating taking their talents to the Land of the Free ...

Outpouchings

Colin McGinn, 23 January 1986

The man who mistook his wife for a hat 
by Oliver Sacks.
Duckworth, 233 pp., £9.95, October 1985, 0 7156 2067 3
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... It could be said that Oliver Sacks put neuropathology on the literary map. His first book Awakenings, about the stunning effects of the drug L-Dopa on patients afflicted with a form of Parkinsonism, attracted considerable critical acclaim from the literary world, and ‘inspired’ Harold Pinter’s rather ponderous play A Kind of Alaska. Sack’s second book A Leg to Stand On was similarly well-received ...

Reputation

Colin McGinn, 23 November 1989

The Secret Connection: Causation, Realism and David Hume 
by Galen Strawson.
Oxford, 291 pp., £32.50, August 1989, 0 19 824853 9
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J.L. Austin 
by G.J. Warnock.
Routledge, 165 pp., £30, August 1989, 0 415 02962 7
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... Philosophical reputations come and go – they surge and gutter – according largely to the prevailing intellectual climate, and are only tenuously tied to the actual merits of the views put forward by the reputand in question. To have a reputation is to have something perishable and fleeting, an imposition from without, no sooner bestowed than withdrawn ...

You would not want to be him

Colin McGinn, 19 November 1992

Bertrand Russell: A Life 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 596 pp., £20, September 1992, 9781856191807
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... Bertrand Russell’s first and formative love affair was with symbolic logic. But the relationship, though fertile, was troubled. Beginning in rapture, as he moulded and extended the new concepts and techniques, sweeping away the barren detritus of two millennia, the affair eventually foundered on a stinging paradox, unexpected and intractable, which abruptly took the shine off the whole thing ...

Eating animals is wrong

Colin McGinn, 24 January 1991

Animal Liberation 
by Peter Singer.
Cape, 320 pp., £15.95, October 1990, 0 224 03018 3
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... I have been persuaded of the rightness of the moral position advocated in Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation for the past twenty years. There is, in my view, no moral justification whatever for the human exploitation of animals. I was convinced of this principally by reading the path-breaking book, Animals Men and Morals (1971), edited by Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris ...

Homage to Education

Colin McGinn, 16 August 1990

Essays in political Philosophy 
by R.G. Collingwood, edited by David Boucher.
Oxford, 237 pp., £25, November 1989, 0 19 824823 7
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The Social and Political Thought of R.G. Collingwood 
by David Boucher.
Cambridge, 300 pp., £27.50, November 1989, 0 521 36384 5
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... Robin Collingwood (1889-1943) was born 17 years after Bertrand Russell and died 27 years before him. Given the style and content of Collingwood’s philosophical work, this fact ought to seem surprising. For there is no apparent mark of Russell’s influence, nor of those who influenced him, upon Collingwood’s own philosophical corpus. For better or worse, he stands apart – even aloof – from the British analytical tradition exemplified by Russell ...

My Wicked Heart

Colin McGinn, 22 November 1990

Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius 
by Ray Monk.
Cape, 654 pp., £20, October 1990, 0 224 02712 3
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Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Student’s Memoir 
by Theodore Redpath.
Duckworth, 109 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 9780715623299
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... Was Wittgenstein a spiritual as well as a philosophical genius? Ray Monk’s exceptionally fine and fat biography puts us in a better position to answer this question than we have been hitherto. Perhaps the best place to begin trying to understand Wittgenstein’s character is with the photographs that exist of his face. He himself advised friends to pay more attention to people’s faces and often passed remarks about the faces of others, saying (according to Theodore Redpath) of Locke that he had ‘a nice face’, of Descartes that he had ‘the face of a murderer’, of T ...

Old Scores

Colin McGinn, 30 August 1990

The Meaning of Life, and Other Essays 
by A.J. Ayer.
Weidenfeld, 212 pp., £17, June 1990, 0 297 82041 9
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... When I was a quivering graduate student at Oxford in 1973, fresh from the Northern provinces, I sat for the John Locke Prize, a voluntary two-day examination for Oxford postgraduates in philosophy. As I had hitherto been a psychology student at Manchester, I thought this would be good practice for my upcoming B.Phil. philosophy exams. It was quite an ordeal (I nearly gave up at one point), and afterwards I felt I had a long way to go philosophically ...

Good Things

Colin McGinn, 5 September 1996

Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory 
edited by Rosalind Hursthouse, Gavin Lawrence and Warren Quinn.
Oxford, 350 pp., £35, July 1996, 0 19 824046 5
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... Suppose I perform an action certified by morality as good – say, giving money to charity. I then do something good because it is good. We might say that this action had the moral property goodness and that in acknowledging this to be so I had a reason to perform it. Anyone else has an equal reason to perform the same action, which is good no matter who performs it ...

Cooling it

Colin McGinn, 19 August 1993

Donald Davidson 
by Simon Evnine.
Polity, 198 pp., £9.95, January 1992, 0 7456 0612 1
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Donald Davidson’s Philosophy of Language: An Introduction 
by Bjorn Ramberg.
Blackwell, 153 pp., £12.95, July 1989, 0 631 16458 8
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... Donald Davidson is perhaps the most distinguished philosopher in history never to have written a book. Indeed, he did not get round to writing articles until he was into his forties (he is now 76). Yet those articles – short, intense, allusive, hard – have changed the shape of contemporary analytical philosophy. They were in mid spate when I was a graduate student at Oxford in the early Seventies, and they acted as a kind of philosophical IQ test for the young philosophers of my generation ...

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