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In the last chapter we saw how McDowells non-traditional empiricism is divided into two

arguments, the epistemological and the metaphysical. We saw how McDowells epistemological
argument makes good on many of the elements of the Sellarsian philosophical legacy. McDowells
metaphysical argument is added to make good on one of the elements of the Sellarsian legacy the
epistemological argument doesnt deal with: adherence to naturalism. Naturalism is usually taken to
mean an identification of the space of nature with the realm of law, the realm of natural-scientific
intelligibility. On this usual account, the space of nature is devoid of meaning. The realm of human
meaning, the space of reasons, can be treated in a few ways after this position has been taken. It can
be excluded from the space of nature, and therefore be considered in some sense supernatural. The
space of reasons can then be considered either benign or damaging to conceptions of truth that
adhere to the austere conception of nature. Another route is to reduce the space of reasons to the
realm of law, and deny that the space of reasons is a sui generis conceptual meta-framework. On
this account, one should attempt to construct the realm of human meaning out of disenchanted,
value-free natural scientific concepts and explanations.

The metaphysical arguments naturalism, however, does hold a place for meaning within the space
of nature. The naturalism that the metaphysical argument espouses is not the traditional, austere
kind. McDowell asserts that humans possess two natures: a first nature and a second nature. On
this account, both the space of nature and the realm of law inhabit the space of nature. While
McDowell holds respect for the explanations of the natural sciences,

[once] it is acknowledged that nature must not be identified with the realm of law (which
McDowell in turn identifies with first nature), one gets conceptual room for an
understanding of human potentialities [such as rationality] as thoroughly natural: An active
exercise of conceptual capacities is as much part of the natural development of human
beings as the natural capacity for intentional action. On such a concept of nature the fact that
the notion of spontaneity can only be made intelligible within a framework that differs from
that appropriate for the realm of law is no longer incompatible with understanding it as part
of the natural powers of [a human]it is part of [a persons] second nature.1


In the last chapter we summarised McDowells metaphysical argument, but we did not go into
much depth about the reasons he provides for it. The first part of this chapter will examine more
fully the argument McDowell provides in the metaphysical component of Mind and World. The
second part of this chapter will discuss and evaluate the criticism that the metaphysical argument
has met in the literature. Performing a brief but more careful overview of McDowells metaphysical
argument should help better inform our discussion of its criticism.

McDowell provides an in-depth discussion of his Mind and World metaphysical argument in his
article Two Sorts of Naturalism. In Two Sorts, McDowell explains more fully the particular picture
of Aristotle to which he adheres. This was relevant for his discussion because the paper was written
for a festschrift for Philippa Foot, a towering figure in analytic philosophy who was famous for
turning to Aristotle in order to intervene in moral philosophy.

McDowell argues against what he claims is the familiar picture of Aristotle, made famous by
figures such as Bernard Williams. On this conception, Aristotle can only be read two ways when
filling out his picture of human morality. He is either advancing an austere conception of nature, or
an unacceptably pre-modern enchanted picture of nature,:

1 Christoph Halbig, Varieties of Nature in Hegel and McDowell (2006) 14 European Journal of Philosophy 222,
And by my lights, Williamss reading is a historical monstrosity; it attributes to Aristotle a
felt need for foundations, and a conception of nature as where the foundations must be, that
make sense only as a product of modern philosophy, and then represents him as trying to
satisfy the need with an archaic picture of nature.2

Earlier on in the paper, in the context of discussing neo-Humean versions of moral realism,
McDowell says this of Williamss reading of Aristotle:

What I have sketched here can look like a cogent argument by elimination, forcing us to try
to ground the rationality of ethics in something like what it is for the life of the species to go
well. Williamss reading of Aristotle fits here in a way, as a response to the fact that such a
grounding has its own problems, which means that the framework of available options is
under stress. It is as if, barring subjectivism, the appeal to the supernatural has to show up
somewhere, and only in a primitive conception of nature could it pass unnoticed that
something supernatural is being smuggled into nature.3

This picture of the Aristotelian conception of ethical naturalism, in addition to smuggling in the
supernatural into its fold, commits the added error of having a bad conception of objectivity:

In Williamss reading, [the virtues that Aristotle lists that] are necessary for proper
realisation of human nature figure in an accurate depiction of the view from nowherea
thesis that Williams rightly says we cannot now believe, about any lists of virtues, even ones
we ourselves admire and aspire to.4

It is McDowells position that this reading of Aristotle is incorrect. This interpretation of Aristotle
comes about due to the same kind of modern anxieties that powered the oscillation between the
Myth of the Given, and coherentism in the first part of Mind and World. The anxiety in this domain
is that we seem to only have two options about how to relate human value to nature. The first is that
we must construct domains of human value like morality out of the realm of law, out of natural-
scientific explanations. The second is that we have no choice but to be anti-naturalists about human
value, and hold that human value is fundamentally not natural. These anxieties are, on McDowells
account, clouding our vision. They have infected our picture of Aristotle. It is actually the case that
an Aristotlean naturalistic conception of human value actually affords us a way of escaping from
this antinomy.

To better understand the position that McDowell takes, it is important to recount his discussion of
the two antinomies. Understanding how the oscillation between the two antinomies works will
provide a clear picture about how to escape the oscillation. McDowell shows in Two Sorts how
when we normally consider Aristotles ethical naturalism, we normally have recourse to two other
modern conceptions of ethics. These are the neo-Humean and Kantian conceptions. We recoil from
one to the other. The conceptual toolkit of each conception proves to have a debilitating blind-spot,
so we attempt to patch that blind-spot up by turning to the other conception. The oscillation then

The neo-Humean Conception of Ethical Naturalism

McDowell argues that neo-Humean conceptions of ethical naturalism terminate in both

subjectivism and reductionism. Neo-Humean conceptions of ethical naturalism are therefore
inadequate conceptions, because these two paths vitiate any appeal to giving reasons for

2 John McDowell, Two Sorts of Naturalism in Mind, Value, and Reality (Harvard University Press, 1998) 167, 195.
3 Ibid 177.
4 Ibid 195.
explanations for ethical claims. These two forms of ethical naturalism place a great focus on being
descriptive in place of being explanatory. McDowell provides a useful explanation of what these
two labels mean right at the end of Two Sorts:

Naturalism of the neo-Humean variety seems doomed to oscillate between the idea that the
attractions of virtuous conduct just happen to appeal to some people, like the attractions of
stamp-collecting, and the idea that the appeal of virtue to reason can be grounded on first
nature .5

Neo-Humean ethical naturalism is concerned to purge the space of nature of meaning:

It is a commonplace that modern science has given us a disenchanted conception of the

natural world. A proper appreciation of science makes it impossible to retain except perhaps
in symbolic guise, the common mediaeval conception of nature as filled with meaning .
The tendency of the scientific outlook is to purge the world of meaningthe object of
reason, in an old sense that is threatened by just this development. Hume is the prophet par
excellence of this tendency, although he is quite unconscious of the historical explanation
for it.6

This is most likely not a very good picture of the metaphysics of natural science, but that is not
really the point. We could take what McDowell means by disenchanted in this context and
subsume it under the concept impartial. On many accounts, the disenchanted or better rendered
impartial picture of nature is very useful for the purpose of natural science. As McDowell says,
science is committed to a dispassionate and dehumanised stance for investigation.7 The word
dispassionate is here much more the point.

Things change when considering a framework for working out a naturalistic ethics, however. The
disenchantment of nature that neo-Humeans might advocate can seem to point to a conception of
nature as an ineffable lump, devoid of structure or order.8 McDowell is right when he points out

we cannot entertain such a conception. If we did, we would lose our right to the idea that
the world of nature is a world at all (something that breaks up into things that are the case),
let alone the world (everything that is the case).9

From the perspective of holding to an ethical naturalism, purging the space of nature of meaning
makes formulating any kind of intelligible ethical realism impossible. Purging the space of reasons
from the space of nature, or trying to reduce the former to the latter, leads to a conception of nature
as completely ethically unstructured, an ineffable lump, as McDowell claims.

One way around this is to resort to subjectivism. Neo-Humeans resort to subjectivism in an attempt
to hold on to a commitment to this disenchanted conception of nature. Doing so supposedly allows
them to avoid the consequence of this commitment: nature seems impossible to accommodate any
kind of intelligibility in ethical terms. The general upshot of subjectivism is that one does their best
to be descriptive about the state of affairs one finds an agent in when they have to make an ethical
decision. The reasons an ethical agent gave for making a decision would then be a description of the
state of that affairs. McDowell points out that the enormous shortcoming of this particular attempt

5 Ibid 197.
6 Ibid 174.
7 Ibid 175.
8 Ibid 178.
9 Ibid.
to save the neo-Humean conception of ethical naturalism is that it gives up the project of certifying
that ethical considerations genuinely constitute reasons.10

The failure of subjectivism to build into an acceptable ethical naturalism helps provide a little more
clarification about what McDowell means when he claims that a fully disenchanted picture of the
space of nature would lead to the world being ethically unstructured. Subjectivism gives up on the
attempt to provide reasons for ethical claims and decisions. This is the same with neo-Humean
ethical reductionism or eliminativism. On the neo-Humean picture of nature, reasons dont factor
into the fabric of nature. A reason for something cannot possibly be the case in the world. We are
left with a picture of the space of nature as devoid of the space of reasons, or a domesticated version
of it. The ethical content of human experience is fundamentally situated in the space of reasons, so
if we lose the independence or reality of the space of reasons, we similarly lose these aspects of
ethical dimensions to human experience.

The Kantian Response

McDowell goes on to describe how we are left dissatisfied with the end result of neo-Humean
ethical naturalism. We are left with a picture of morality which is distinctly nihilistic. It appears
there are no reasons to give when explaining an ethical position. Further, the neo-Humean
conception presents itself as quite passive. On this account, we are not involved in the process of
forging new meanings and understandings, we are simply observing and then generalising them
outwards to cover new situations. We merely discover new ethical viewpoints, we are not actively
involved in making them.

McDowell explains that because of this, we turn to a Kantian conception of morality. Importantly,
the Kantian conception will turn out to be unsatisfactory as well. This is because it agrees with the
neo-Humean conception on a key point: it conceives the space of nature to be devoid of meaning.
The Kantian conception identifies the space of nature with the realm of law, in much the same way
as the neo-Humean conception. McDowell writes that

[meaning] is not in nature, on the disenchanted conception, and transcendental philosophy

attempts to show us how to live with the thought that the disenchanted conception of nature
is indispensable to what has become our paradigm for intellectual respectability. In the
philosophy of nature, we have the idea that behind an empirical transaction in which a fact
impresses itself on a knowing subject, perhaps causally, there lies a transaction between
subjectivity and the in itself11 that constitutes the facta transaction that cannot be causal,
since causation operates within the constituted empirical world.

What McDowell means by in itself here is the Kantian conception of the noumenal realm of the
universe, the part of the world that is beyond the concepts of the understanding, and outside the
realm of experience. We saw how neo-Humean conceptions of ethical naturalism picture nature in
this way. To them, nature is an unstructured lump. In stark contrast to neo-Humean ethical
naturalism, McDowell notices that the Kantian conception of the space of nature is in some sense
conceptually articulated, and therefore rational:

[Kant] keeps something wholly alien to subjectivity in the picture, and that means the
philosophy of nature has to take the following shape: although empirically speaking we find
meaning or intelligible order in the world, transcendentally speaking we co-operate with the
in itself to make it. The idea of making meaning fits action, so perhaps we can understand

10 Ibid 176.
11 Remember, in itself means disenchanted nature here.
Kantian philosophy of practice as shaped by the thought that there is a general lesson to be
learned here: all making of meaning has a transcendental aspect.12

But the point here is that there is a separation between Practical Reason and Theoretical Reason. On
the classical Kantian conception, the space of nature is to be identified with the Kantian analogue
for the realm of law, the realm of Theoretical Reason. Although Kants conception of the realm of
law is obviously inadequate as a conception of natural scientific intelligibility because it is entirely
mechanically causal, the upshot in ethical terms is still the same. The Kantian conception of ethics
that McDowell considers still conceives the space of nature as identified with the realm of law.
While Theoretical Reason is still a conceptually articulated realm of experience, it is meaningless.
Only Practical Reason possesses meaning. Practical Reason co-operates with Theoretical Reason to
fully constitute the totality of McDowells model Kantian system of morality.

It is important to point something out. The Kantian and neo-Humean conceptions of disenchanted
nature here apparently conceive the realm of law as purely causal in some sense. They also hold
that there is only one conception of causation in operation in natural scientific intelligibility, in the
realm of law. The conception of causation to which both the Kantian and neo-Humean conception
of morality are adhering is the distinctly neo-Humean concept of efficient causation. This type of
causation is roughly mechanical, conceiving causes a logically and temporally prior to and separate
from their effects. This is a poor conception of causation and natural scientific intelligibility. But
this is not the point. The point is that these conceptions of morality deem that something can only
happen to be the case in the space of nature if it is devoid of meaning.

How do ethical claims and reasons have a reality, then, on the Kantian account? How do they factor
into the space of nature? McDowell explains:

In the philosophy of practice, we have the roughly corresponding idea that behind the causal
goings-on involved in an action, there is a transcendental injection of meaning into the
world from outside: necessarily not a causal transaction for the same reason. If the
meaning action has by virtue of being the expression of logos is injected into the natural
world from the outside, the logos that expresses itself in action cannot be part of the natural
world. So Kants philosophy of practice needs to reject naturalistic ways of giving substance
to practical reason. The central concept must be the concept of pure practical reason,
constrained only by considerations of form. If we supposed that correctness in practical
reason might be non-formally determined, that would deprive practical reason of its capacity
to be the transcendental originator of the meaning of action.13

The result is to give up on conceiving morality naturalistically. McDowells model Kantian fully
endorses the neo-Humean conception of the space of nature, but baldly affirms the idea that there
are processes and relations which are real that are not natural. The idea here is to reverse the priority
between what is real and what is natural. The Kantian asserts that the concept of the natural world
does not exhaust all that is real. For the purpose of constructing a response to the inadequacies of
neo-Humean ethical naturalism, McDowells model Kantian affirms the reality of the supernatural
powers of Practical Reason.

But this completely fails to meet the key criterion by which McDowell was judging the plausibility
of formulating a system of meta-ethics. For McDowell, what is natural just does exhaust the real.
The purpose of having a coherent meta-ethical system here was that it should be naturalist. But if
we still conceive of the space of nature as identified with the realm of natural-scientific

12 McDowell, Two Sorts of Naturalism, above n 2, 182183.

13 Ibid 183.
intelligibility, we are thrown back into the oscillation. We return to the neo-Humean conception of
ethical naturalism:

Rehearsing these features of Kants philosophy of practice may reinforce the temptation to
think a recoil into a neo-Humean naturalism is common sense: if we want to recognise
practical reason, we must construct the requisite idea of getting things right out of the facts
of disenchanted nature.14

A Richer Conception of Nature: McDowells Aristotelian Naturalism

In the preceding discussion, McDowell hoped to show how excluding the space of reasons from the
space of nature lead to an unsolvable antinomy when trying to formulate a satisfying ethical
naturalism. One of the locutions McDowell uses in describing this program of purging the space of
nature of meaning is empiricistic naturalism. McDowell concludes at this stage of the dialectic

[one] supposed ground for doubt that practical thought should be allowed its aspiration to
objectivity,15 in that general sense, is that practical thought does not aspire to a kind of truth
that one could conceive in terms of mirroring the disenchanted natural world. An
empiricistic naturalism restricts us to the following options for ethics: deny that ethical truth
would have to be practical, or, if we hold on to the idea of ethical truth, if any, as a species
of practical truth, either force practical truth into the form of mirroring disenchanted nature
or elsefor those who doubt that that is feasiblerenounce the aspiration to ethical truth:
for instance embrace a position like emotivism, but there are more sophisticated ways of
taking this last option.16

McDowell instead suggests we incorporate the space of reasons into the space of nature. The neo-
Humean and Kantian conceptions of nature were unable to secure a satisfying meta-ethics. Ethical
claims and states of affairs were denied a place in the space of nature, and as such could not be
something that was the case. This was because they were objects and processes fundamentally
constituted by reasons and meanings, things which were not permitted in their conception of the
space of nature.

McDowell argues that incorporating something like a Kantian Practical Reason into the space of
nature would lead to a kind of Aristotelian ethical naturalism. Human ethical agents would on this
account possess a first, and a second nature. An ethical agents first nature would be controlled by
the disenchanted picture of nature advocated by the natural sciences.17 An agents second nature,
would be governed by an enchanted picture of nature: that part of the space of nature which was
inhabited by the space of reasons. McDowell elaborates:

In acquiring ones second naturethat is, in acquiring logosone learned to take a

distinctive pleasure in acting in certain ways, and one acquired conceptual equipment suited
to characterise a distinctive worthwhileness one learned to see in such actions, that is, a
distinctive range of reasons one learned to see for acting in those ways.18

14 Ibid.
15 Read: that the space of reasons should be incorporated into the space of nature, or: that normative dimensions to
human experience should be allowed some kind of reality, like the natural sciences are.
16 McDowell, Two Sorts of Naturalism, above n 2, 185186.
17 Ibid 188.
18 Ibid.
An agents second nature would be that part of its natural way of being that was governed by an
ethical upbringing. It is part of an agents second nature to have the world in view, and have
reasons for acting. More than this, an agents second nature would equip them with the ability to
interrogate the reasons they have for acting.

McDowell argues that this conception of the naturalised space of reasons is a modern interpretation
of Aristotle. We can have a satisfying ethical realism on this conception of ethical naturalism
without resorting to the view from nowhere. This was the disenchanted conception of the space of
nature to which both the neo-Humean and Kantian ethical postures held. On their account, the space
of nature was not a place where reasons could obtain for ethical claims. On the McDowellian
Aristotelian ethical naturalism, however,

[any] second nature of the relevant kind, not just virtue, will seem to its possessor to open
his eyes to reasons for acting. What is distinctive about virtue, in the Aristotelian view, is
that the reasons a virtuous person takes himself to discern really are reasons; a virtuous
person gets this kind of thing right. Aristotle himself is notably unconcerned to defend,
against potential competitors, the way things look to the kind of person he thinks of as
virtuous. And we should not play that fact down; one thing it reflects is his immunity to the
metaphysical sources of our modern diffidence about such things.19

This conception of ethical naturalism is critical in quite an exciting way, in the sense explained in
the first chapter. The ethical realism that McDowell is putting forward is able to justify itself with
its own conceptual toolkit. We can,

without abandoning a fundamentally Aristotelian outlook, let the question arise whether
the space of reasons really is laid out as it seems to be from the viewpoint of a particular
shaping of practical logos. What we must insist is that there is no addressing the question in
a way that holds that apparent layout in suspense, and aims to reconstruct its correctness
from a vantage-point outside the ways of thinking acquired in ethical upbringing. This
allows for radical ethical reflection, as Aristotle himself seems not to. But, like any
reflection about the credentials of a seeming aspect of logos,20 this reflection must be
Neurathian; we cannot escape the burden of reflective thoughtthe obligation to weigh, by
the best lights we have, the credentials of considerations purporting to appeal to reasonby
a fantasy of having some suitable first-natural facts force themselves on us in a way that
would bypass the need for thought.21

The move McDowell makes in order to secure this account of ethical naturalism is very simple. He
argues that the kinds of reflective, reason-guided behaviours and processes we learn as social beings
are part of the natural way humans exist. The space of reasons should be incorporated into the space
of nature because humans are rational animals. It is natural for humans to practice reason.


Commentators have questioned whether McDowells metaphysical argument is convincing. They

do so partly because the process McDowell goes through in naturalising the space of reasons is
incredibly simple. The move that he makes is to claim that both the realm of law and the space of
reasons fall under the heading of the space of nature. Christoph Halbig asks, is this
reconceiving of nature just a terminological sleight of hand or is it the liberating move which, as

19 Ibid 189.
20 Read: a seeming aspect of the layout of the space of reasons.
21 McDowell, Two Sorts of Naturalism, above n 2, 189.
McDowell promises us, gives philosophy peace?22 In the argument of Two Sorts at least, it seemed
that McDowell was simply quite impressed with the Kantian meta-ethical story, and deeming their
lack of commitment to naturalism a problem, decided to incorporate their meta-ethical position into
the space of nature.

How is McDowells Dual Nature Unified Categorically?

McDowell is sure to provoke a little frustration when questioned on the issue. To the question,
what holds these two parts together in a way that would justify subsuming them under the heading
of nature ?,23 he responds:

the only unity there needs to be in the idea of the natural, as it applies, on the one hand, to
the intelligibility of physical and merely biological phenomena [], and, on the other, to the
intelligibility of rational activity, is captured by a contrast with the idea of the supernatural,
the spooky or the occult.24

McDowells comments in Two Sorts on the relationship between the space of reasons and the realm
of law within the space of nature do not shed any more light on the issue. Nearing the end of Two
Sorts he repeats his slogan that all we need to do is merely make room for the space of reasons
within the space of nature:

But it is a mistake to think we cannot show proper respect for science unless we suppose
that truth about disenchanted nature is the sole context in which the material good standing
of an exercise of intellect can be directly apparent, so that any good standing that is not that
must be either merely formal or indirectly grounded on such truth. Good standing is,
everywhere, for logos to pronounce on, using whatever standards it can lay hands on;
nothing but bad metaphysics suggests that the standards in ethics must be somehow
constructed out of facts of disenchanted nature.25

The start of the next paragraph is also important to quote. The platitudes continue:

I have insisted that the point does not involve debunking the scientific way of understanding
nature. And it is part of my correction to Kant that exercises of the practical intellect do not
impinge on nature from outside. So there can be nothing against looking for a scientific
explanation of the place of, say, ethical discourse in disenchanted nature. There might be a
question whether the disenchanted conception of nature contains the resources to recognise
the topic as discourse, as expressive of thought. But we need not worry about that; in any
case the availability of such an explanation would not compete with inquiry into how well
supported by reasons a particular bit of discourse is. The sheer possibility of doing science
here cannot show that there is no room for a mode of assessment that might certify what is
expressed as a thought that is simply correct, without needing to base that correctness on the
thoughts relation to extra-ethical reality.26

The argument McDowell is making here is that the sheer possibility of scientific understanding does
not or should not necessarily lead to the identification of the realm of law with the space of nature.
But this argument assumes the priority of categories of reality that we discussed above. As we saw

22 Halbig, above n 1, 226.

23 Ibid 227.
24 John McDowell, Responses in Marcus Willaschek (ed), John Mcdowell: Reason and Nature (LitVerlag, 2000) 99.
Halbigs interpolation.
25 McDowell, Two Sorts of Naturalism, above n 2, 187.
26 Ibid 187188.
above, McDowell holds that the real can only ever be something natural. The Kantians get around
the problems associated with identifying the realm of law with the space of nature by reversing the
priority of the real and the natural. From this position, supernatural relations and processes can be
real. This is clearly a non-starter for naturalists, and there are good reasons for resisting the anti-
naturalist case for ethical realism. The point here, though, is that McDowell hasnt actually
provided an argument for his ordering of the priority of the categories of reality. On this point, at
least the neo-Humeans and Kantians have an explanation for their definitions of what is non-
meaningful and meaningful: one is natural, exhausted by the descriptions of natural science, and the
other is non-natural, with a more or less complex relationship to natural-scientific intelligibility.
McDowell's definitions for these categories seems a little strange: what is natural boils down to
everything that is real. Both meaningful and non-meaningful relations and processes are natural,
which is really to say they are both real.

On this point, Halbig should be seen as putting forward a very serious concern when he points out
that simply incorporating the space of reasons into the space of nature by claiming that it is not

threatens to turn the unity of the natural into a triviality. Bernard Williams has recently
drawn attention to a dilemma that faces the naturalist, i.e. that of stabilising the idea of
nature so that naturalism is not either trivially true or implausible to such an extent as to
be uninteresting. McDowells relaxed naturalism seems to come dangerously close to the
first horn of Williams dilemma: If entities as different as the denizens of the realm of law
on the one hand and, for example, ethical and aesthetical [sic] values on the other are yoked
together under the common term of the natural simply because neither of them turns out to
be spooky, wouldnt the term lose all its bite? Wouldnt it be less misleading to replace the
label of the natural by the neutral real of which the natural would then form one part
amongst others?27

How Are the Two Components of McDowells Dual Nature Related?

Halbig points out that there is a second problem with McDowells incorporation of the space of
reasons into the space of nature, alongside the realm of law. In addition to seeming to emptying out
the meaning behind the category of the space of nature, it seems difficult to understand how the
space of reasons and realm of law are related. In fact the two logical spaces of human thought seem
so different and mutually exclusive that they lead to an antinomy within the space of nature.

Halbig summarises the substance of McDowells position on how first and second nature are meant
to be related. The overall upshot is that a humans second nature is integrated within its first
nature.28 Per McDowells story, a humans first nature is determined by biological natural scientific
intelligibility. It has a set of potentialities which proceed along predictable paths. A humans second
nature is partially consistent with this, but transforms a humans mode of living into a conceptually
articulated orientation to its environment. It is through a human animals second nature that they
have the world in viewthey develop a flourishing conception of the objectivity of the world. As
McDowell says,

Second nature could not float free of potentialities that belong to a normal human organism.
This gives human reason enough of a foothold in the realm of law to satisfy any proper
respect for modern natural science.29

27 Halbig, above n 1, 227228.

28 Ibid 228.
29 John McDowell, Mind and World (Harvard University Press, 1996) 84.
The metaphor that second nature has a foothold in first nature is crucial for understanding what
kind of relation McDowell pictures for the two natures. It is however quite vague. Luckily Halbig
provides a useful elaboration on what McDowell means. He writes,

[first, first nature] acts as a constraint on what passes as an intelligible candidate for the
way second nature should be. (1) A configuration of second nature which would
systematically stifle basic human potentialities like that of developing deep social
relationships disqualifies that for reason. Secondly it provides input for the reflection which
takes place within a formed second nature (2): If a rational wolf, in McDowells example,
who has been accustomed to hunt in a pack comes to ask itself about the rational credentials
of this practice it might have recourse to the wolfish need to hunt in a way which is
impossible for an individual on its own.30

However there are deep complications with McDowells metaphysical argument if this is the
conception of the foothold he imagined second nature to have in first nature. On this point we can
again summon Halbig. Halbig has two criticisms to level at McDowells foothold metaphor.
These two criticisms do a great job of drawing out the logical conclusions of the metaphysical
component of McDowells system. Both criticisms concern the epistemological status of the two
radically different logical spaces which are the realm of law and space of reasons. The overall point
Halbig tries to make is that first nature and second nature seem so radically distinct and mutually
exclusive that it seems difficult to see how they could ever be related. Both are apparently natural,
on McDowells account, but one is radically normative, and the other radically non-normative.

Halbig says of McDowells second point from the quot above, where McDowell argues that first
nature can be related to second nature by serving as an input to rational ethical reflection:

In (2) first nature figures not as it is in itself qua part of the realm of law, but as seen from
within the perspective of an already formed second nature. The truths about first nature
which are to provide justifications for elements of second nature one finds oneself with are,
to under another term forged by McDowell, naturally shapeless:31 If approached via the
epistemic means of the realm of law they lose all intelligible shape; they come into view
only from within a Neurathian reflection by which a configuration of second nature tries to
assure itself of its own credentials.32

A humans first nature is completely ethically (or rationally) unstructured. It is difficult to see how
something non-normative could serve as an important component of content in a judgement by the
faculty of spontaneity. As we saw in the first chapter, the Myth of the Given was rejected as a way
of securing a relationship between the mind and the world because it meant the faculty of
receptivity would deliver up content about the world which could not be interrogated for or with
reasons. It seems strange that McDowell would make an analogous argument in the metaphysical
domain of his system. In the quote above we did see that McDowell left open the question of
what the status of natural scientific intelligibility had for forming content within the space of
reasons. In his epistemological argument McDowell could allow that it was possible, yet definitely
false to have content about the world which was non-normative, but in the metaphysical domain
McDowell passes over the possibility that the realm of law could form any ethical content
whatsoever. It is perhaps important to note that McDowell never considers it a possibility that the
realm of law could form content for ethical reflection on its own, it would always be in conjunction
with the space of reasons.

30 Halbig, above n 1, 228.

31 The terms ineffable lump and ethically unstructured used in the above discussion are synonymous here.
32 Halbig, above n 1, 228.
McDowells first point in the quote above was that a humans first nature would constrain the
potentialities of their second nature. Halbigs example was that humans are deeply social by first
nature. The fact that humans form deep and complex social relationships is a natural scientific fact.
A configuration of the space of reasons which stifled or frustrated this fact of science would not just
be floating free of the potentialities of a humans first nature, but flatly contradicting the laws of
nature. As Halbig says,

The claim that first nature constrains the field of candidates for the way second nature could
be, is ambiguous between a normative and factive [sic] reading: On a factive reading it just
means that some configurations of second nature would violate laws of nature and are
therefore impossible. On a normative reading it would mean that a configuration of second
nature like a radical ascetism [sic] which looks for salvation in systematically stifling basic
human needs should be rejected. But this thesis could, as McDowell himself has to admit,
only be intelligibly defended from within an historically evolved space of reasonson pain
of rehabilitating a concept of human nature as an external foundation for ethics.33

The two problems Halbig identifies with McDowells account of second natures foothold in first
nature terminate in a fundamental question: What is the ontological status of the distinction
between first and second nature?34 Halbig notes that there seems to be two ways of going about
answering this basic question. It makes a final determination on McDowells position equivocal. On
the one hand, McDowell seems to leave the question of the ontological status of the relation
between the two natures open, making the distinction purely methodological. McDowell says in
Mind and World that the distinction between the two natures is based on a

contrast between two kinds of intelligibility: the kind that is sought by (as we call it)
natural science, and the kind we find in something when we place it in relation to other
occupants of the logical space of reasons.35

The second way of going about determining McDowells ontology of the relationship between the
two natures is informed by McDowells thorough-going realism about the objects and relations that
inhabit both logical spaces. Halbig notes again that

[not] only entities of first nature like trees or tables with which we enter into contact through
sense experience, but also entities like values which belong to second nature are
characterised [by McDowell] in the realist way of entities to be discovered: McDowell
speaks of a human beings eyes being opened36 to demands of reason implied by an
actions being, for example, cowardly, or of the revelation of such a fact.37 These
metaphors suggest that our initiation into second nature opens our eyes to a different level of
reality than that with which we were familiar before.38

McDowell borrows a metaphor from Gadamer to give substance to the realism with which he
expounds his supposed ontology of first and second nature. There is a distinction between an
animals environment and its conception of the world.39 Animals with an insubstantial initiation
into the space of reasons merely inhabit an environment. That is, they dont have a conception of
objectivity necessary to build into having the world in view. In other words, these animals do not

33 Ibid 228229.
34 Ibid 229.
35 McDowell, above n 29, 70.
36 Ibid 84.
37 Ibid 92.
38 Halbig, above n 1, 229230.
39 McDowell, above n 29, 116.
have a conceptually articulated orientation to their way of life. When animals have been initiated
into the space of reasons, they acquire subjective agency, and therefore have a conception of the
world. Their orientation to their way of life is conceptually articulated. Ethical claims and
judgements can be placed on these animals, because they are agents. They possess the faculty of
spontaneity, the faculty of freedom. That is, they can make their minds up about what they deem
to be the case. They are agents because their life is guided by norms of which they may not be
conscious, but by which they may potentially be conscious.40 The space of reasons is therefore a
logical space of standards of assessment, not a realm of representational content.

This is a powerful metaphor, but it falls into the same antinomy as the rest of McDowells
metaphysical argument. It is difficult to see how a world and an environment are related. It is also
difficult to pin down just how a world emerges out of an environment. An environment is an
ontological space with no conception of objectivity. Ethical claims cannot be placed on an agent in
this space because there is no agent to which to assign any claims. This space is also alien to the
space of reasons, so there is no normative framework at all that could be used to even make an
ethical claim or moral fact intelligible. Furthermore what happens to an animals existence in an
environment when they are initiated into the space of reasons, and begin to have the world in
view? Does an animal who is responsive to reasons co-habitate in both an environment and the
world? If so, doesnt that radically divide an animals way of life in two? Given that an animals
environment is radically non-normative, and lacking in a conception of objectivity, is it possible for
an animal to even know they are partially situated in an environment, given only the conceptual
toolkit of the world makes this possible?


There is now an extensive literature about McDowells metaphysical argument that repeats many of
the same criticisms that Halbig makes. T. H. Ho gives a useful bibliography of the literature of two
of the most common relevant for our discussion:41

(C1) McDowells naturalism does not make intelligible how the second nature of human
beings is possible in a world of first nature;42

(C2) McDowells naturalism is another dualism between the realm of law and the space of
reasons in disguise.43

Ho argues, however, that these common criticisms of McDowells metaphysical argument have
been based on a flawed interpretation of the priority of its categorical structure. The priority of the
categories that commentators have assumed has not been completely correct. Key in Hos criticism
of this commentary is the relationship that the space of concepts has to the space of reasons. Many
have looked at McDowells epistemological argument and correctly interpreted that McDowell
identifies the space of reasons and the space of concepts. That was the result of McDowells
refutation of the Myth of the Given.

40 Joseph Rouse, What Is Conceptually Articulated Understanding? in Joseph K Schear (ed), Mind, Reason, and
Being-in-the-world: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate (Routledge, 2013) 250.
41 Tsung-Hsing Ho, Naturalism and the Space of Reasons in Mind and World (2014) 22 International Journal of
Philosophical Studies 49, 51.
42 Richard J Bernstein, McDowells Domesticated Hegelianism in Nicholas Smith (ed), Reading McDowell: On
Mind and World (Routledge, 2002) 9, 1924; Richard Gaskin, Experience and the Worlds Own Language: A
Critique of John McDowells Empiricism (Oxford University Press, 1st ed, 2006) 2936; Mischa Gubeljic et al,
Nature and Second Nature in McDowells Mind and World in Marcus Willaschek (ed), John Mcdowell: Reason
and Nature (LitVerlag, 2000) 41.
43 Gubeljic et al, above n 42; Halbig, above n 1; Cynthia Macdonald and Graham Macdonald (eds), McDowell and
His Critics (Blackwell Publishing, 2006).
It is Hos argument that we have up until now assumed that McDowells argument against the Myth
of the Given in the first half of Mind and World was to identify the space of concepts with the space
of reasons by subsuming the former under the latter. We assumed that since the Myth of the Given
made the space of reasons more expansive that the space of concepts, the priority of the two
categories was space of reasons first, then space of concepts second. Ho points out that it is this that
makes the substance of McDowells metaphysical argument problematic. Ho terms this assumption
of the priorities of the categories of McDowells metaphysical argument the orthodox
interpretation of McDowells metaphysical argument.

Lets take a look at how this assumption supposedly creates the antinomy within McDowells
metaphysical argument. Ho claims that the metaphysical argument is comprised of two claims:

(N1) The realm of law and the space of reasons are distinct from each other: neither one
belongs in the other;

(N2) The realm of law and the space of reasons are both natural: the nature belonging in the
realm of law is disenchanted and the nature belonging in the space of reasons is enchanted.44

If we assume that the space of concepts just is the space of reasons, in that order, there is no link
between the space of reasons and the realm of law that explains how both could be natural. It is not
just the case that there is no third category that helps unify the structure of McDowells
metaphysical argument. The structure also seems lopsided. All of McDowells attention has been
turned to the space of reasons in his argument. On the enchanted side of nature we have a great deal
of categorical baggage. The enchanted side includes both meanings and concepts. On the
disenchanted side we have no structure. McDowell sign-posts that the realm of law equates to the
logical space of natural scientific intelligibility, but there is almost no explanation about what this
actually amounts to. Ho says this is what explains why most critics have directed their attention to
claim (N2) when considering McDowells metaphysical argument.

Ho attempts to rescue McDowells metaphysical argument by pointing out that McDowell is

explicit in denying that he was ever concerned to provide a substantial theory for explaining how
first and second nature are meant to be related.45 McDowells metaphilosophical method is a
Wittgensteinian quietist one. This method is concerned to identify and then dissolve philosophical
anxieties by showing that such anxieties are based on assumptions which are illusions. By
performing this therapy, the Wittgensteinian quietist aims to show here was never such a problem in
the first place.

Up until now we have been sharing the anxieties of McDowells commentators. We have been
desperately searching for substantive conceptual machinery to fill out a comprehensive picture
about how McDowells naturalism is supposed to look. Ho is right in pointing out that we will
never find any, because that is entirely contrary to McDowells purpose. Given that we are now
aware of McDowells therapeutic aims, it is worth repeating McDowells famous response to the
demand that he needs to provide substantial theoretical machinery to explain his metaphysical
argument. I remarked earlier how this following passage could provoke some frustration with the
story McDowell is trying to tell. We are now looking at it in a different light:

[The remark that second nature has a foothold in first nature] seems to promise more, in
the way if a continuity between the naturalness of human responsiveness to reasons and the
naturalness of phenomena subsumable under natural law, than my purposes require. I think

44 Ho, above n 41, 50.

45 Ibid 5253.
that the only unity there needs to be in the idea of the natural, as it applies, on the one hand,
to the intelligibility of physical and merely biological phenomena (themselves needing to be
differentiated for some purposes, as I have indicated), and, on the other, to the intelligibility
of rational activity, is captured by a contrast with the idea of the supernatural the spooky
or the occult That should be enough to reassure us that, for all the sui generis character of
responsiveness to reasons, there is nothing spooky about it, and that is all I need from the
idea of second nature.46

These are some of McDowells most famous explicit comments on the matter. This is one route
towards answering the critics. It is the most obvious. It is also deeply unsatisfying. It seems bizarre
that such powerful and synoptic naturalism terminates in such shallow argument.

Ho doesnt stop here, however. He argues that we need not accept just these explicit comments as
the whole story on McDowells philosophical quietism. Crucially, he says, part of McDowells
epistemological argument can be used to fill in the gap in his naturalism to which critics repeatedly
point. McDowell makes a crucial elaboration on his epistemological argument in the second half of
Mind and World. In this passage, he explains how he pictures the realm of law and space of reasons
to be related:

For Kant, the ordinary empirical world, which includes nature as the realm of law, is not
external to the conceptual. In view of the connection between the conceptual and the kind of
intelligibility that belongs to meaning, I have suggested that defending that Kantian thought
requires a partial re-enchantment of nature. But it does not require us to rehabilitate the idea
that there is meaning in the fall of a sparrow or the movement of the planets, as there is
meaning in a text. It is a good teaching of modernity that the realm of law is as such devoid
of meaning; its constituent elements are not linked to one another by the relations that
constitute the space of reasons. But if our thinking about the natural stops at an appreciation
of that point, we cannot properly comprehend the capacity of experience to take in even the
meaningless occurrences that constitute the realm of law. We cannot satisfactorily splice
spontaneity and receptivity together in our conception of experience, and that means we
cannot exploit the Kantian thought that the realm of law, not just the realm of meaningful
doings, is not external to the conceptual.47

Ho uses this passage from Mind and World to help explain that the orthodox arrangement of the
categorical structure of McDowells metaphysical argument is incorrect. Ho suggests that instead of
considering that it is the space of reasons that houses the space of concepts, it should be the other
way around.48 In this way, we can conduct the argument of the Myth of the Given in the
epistemological half of Mind and World in reverse. Instead of claiming that the space of reasons is
more extensive than the space of concepts, and in so doing committing oneself to the
meaningfulness of irrational and non-conceptual content in our thought, we should instead claim the
reverse. The space of concepts is more extensive than the space of reasons.

The discussion made at the end of chapter one about the importance McDowells identity theory of
truth bears on his metaphysical argument is particularly relevant here. At the end of chapter one we
saw how the theory of truth on which McDowells system relies asserts that concepts are not
merely entities that exist within the mind. McDowells true position is that concepts are entities
which exist in the world outside of the mind. They are part of the fabric of reality. What is meant by
the term reality here is the objective world as it exists anyway, independently of the mind. This

46 McDowell, Responses, above n 24, 99.

47 McDowell, above n 29, 97.
48 Ho, above n 41, 57.
is the correct interpretation of McDowells appropriation of Hegel, when he says that there is no
outer boundary around the sphere of the conceptual.49

Commentators such as Gaskin have taken this to mean that this phrase is to have the qualification
within human experience added to it. As we saw at the end of chapter one, with this qualification,
concepts become mentalistic entities. This causes to McDowells system to terminate in
philosophical anxieties. On this position, the world is somehow either posited or created by the
mind, or the mind is never truly has the world in view, as McDowell claims. As I argued at the
end of chapter one, this interpretation of McDowell is incorrect. It is not merely incorrect because it
makes McDowells system incoherent. That would make the interpretation of McDowell I am
advancing anachronistic. After looking at the treatment of Kant that McDowell makes in the
passage above, it is plain to see that the interpretation of McDowell that sees McDowells system
terminate in problems just does not follow the black letter of McDowells writing. For McDowell,
there is no within human experience qualification for his appropriation of Hegel.

This gels well with the interpretation of McDowell that Ho advances. Ho argues that the following
two premises should be added to McDowells metaphysical argument in order to make it coherent:

(S) The Sellarsian Thesis: Our thinking, belonging in the space of concepts, is answerable
only to objects that belong also in the space of concepts.50

(H) The Hegelian Thesis: The world belongs in the space of concepts.51

So, importantly, the realm of law is also conceptual. This means its ontological structure can be
defined in much the same way that we defined the space of concepts at the beginning of chapter
one. This means that the realm of law is a logical space which is comprised of judgements of the
kind outlined in McDowells normative conception of experience. The conceptual content of the
world impinges on the mind, and the when the correct social rules humans have for making
judgements are applied to this content, humans fully have the world in view.

But, Ho says, there are two different kinds of regions within the space of concepts. There is, first,
non-meaningful conceptual thought, and then meaningful conceptual thought. The non-meaningful
realm of conceptual thought is identified as the realm of law. That realm of the space of concepts
which is meaningful is the space of reasons. This would be the region of logical space in which
ethical judgements exist. The categories of reality that McDowell is advancing in his metaphysical
argument would then look like this, on Hos interpretation:

(S*) Our thinking, belonging in the space of reasons, is answerable only to objects
belonging in the space of concepts;

(H*) The space of concepts is unbounded (no outer boundary...);

(N1*) The realm of law and the space of reasons are distinct from each other;

(N2*) The realm of law and the space of reasons are both natural;

(N3*) The realm of law and the space of reasons both belong in the space of concepts.

49 McDowell, above n 29, 34.

50 Ho, above n 41, 54; McDowell, above n 29, xvi, 7-8.
51 McDowell, above n 29, Lecture 2; Ho, above n 41, 54.
On Hos interpretation, the space of nature is the space of concepts. Within the space of concepts,
then, there is a division between the space of reasons and the realm of law. Ho devises this
particular interpretation of McDowells metaphysical argument to solve an ambiguity within
McDowells above passage addressing Kant:

[The] passage is puzzling. On the one hand, McDowell says hat the realm of law, together
with the realm of the meaningful, belongs in the conceptual. On the other hand, he says that
the realm of law is devoid of meaning and thus is distinct from the space of reasons.
McDowell here seems to hold that the realm of law is within the conceptual but outside the
space of reasons. According to this reading, the conceptual is divided into the realm of law
that is devoid of meaning, i.e. the disenchanted conception of nature and the space of
reasons that is full of meaning, i.e. the re-enchanted conception of nature.52

Ho says that if we read McDowell as if he fully identifies the space of reasons and the space of
concepts, then the way he treats the space of concepts in passages (such as the above on Kant)
seems equivocal. He seems to have two meanings for the space of concepts which are incompatible.
The space of concepts and the space of reasons are both simultaneously meaningful and non-

But if we rearrange the priorities of concepts and reasons, and make concepts more expansive that
meaningful conceptual content, we can resolve the incoherence. Such an interpretation does seem
radical. It asserts that McDowell is arguing that we need to completely re-enchant nature. Thornton
puts forward this possibility, although his understanding of this re-enchantment assumes that the
space of concepts is exhausted by the space of reasons. His interpretation seems to imply that
McDowell means the space of nature to be exhausted by the space of reasons. For Thornton, it
seems that McDowell is subsuming the realm of law to the space of reasons, making the space of
nature fully re-enchanted in the sense that all that is natural is necessarily and sufficiently

But on Hos account we dont need to accept such an extravagant and patently false interpretation
of McDowell. As we saw earlier in the chapter, and at the end of chapter one, the black letter of
McDowells entire system shows he is explicitly trying to avoid such a position. The space of
nature may be exhausted by the space of concepts, but we can reserve space within the space of
nature for non-meaningful content within human experience. We can also avoid the Myth of the
Given while we do this. Such a move also seems to satisfy McDowells thorough-going and
consistent realism. Additionally, it also looks like we can now also bridge the gap between the
meaningful and the non-meaningful within the space of nature. Both can be distinct and united by
both being conceptual. McDowells highly attractive non-traditional empiricistic conception of
human experience can also be summoned to give a unified explanation of how humans go about
making ethical judgements and natural scientific judgements. This is a sign Ho might be right.

52 Ho, above n 41, 57.

53 Tim Thornton, John McDowell (McGill-Queens University Press, 2004) 232.