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Posted by on Dec 14, 2007 in Honderich | 4 comments

The McGinn/Honderich spat

Ted Honderich has developed a theory of consciousness which he calls radical externalism.

Colin McGinn reviewed Honderich’s book setting out the theory in Philosophical Review. The review is pretty damning. Opening sentences:

This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad. It is painful to read, poorly thought out, and uninformed. It is also radically inconsistent.

Honderich has replied, and McGinn has replied to the reply. McGinn says:

I was well aware that the final product would, however, rank as among the most scathing reviews of a philosophy book ever written; reasonably so, in my opinion.

You can find all these pieces on Ted Honderich’s website here.

I myself contributed to a volume of Journal of Consciousness Studies dedicated to the theory. My piece is here.

I won’t comment on this spat other than to say that the position McGinn attributes to Honderich – that real physical objects appear within worlds of perceptual consciousness – is not, it turns out, Honderich’s view. McGinn says:

Consciousness is not the awareness of the room (Honderich can make no sense of such “ofness”); it simply is the room — that very spatial, physical object.

Funnily enough, I had interpreted Honderich the same way as McGinn, but then Honderich, in his earlier reply to me, makes it clear that this is not his view. He says about me:

His supposition that a world of perceptual consciousness includes physical objects plays another role in the second last section of his paper. If there are physical objects in worlds of perceptual consciousness, these worlds can’t be subjective in the ways they were supposed to be. Indeed so, I reply. That is why there are not physical objects included in them.

If you want a quick intro to Honderich’s theory, the opening part of my paper is fairly succinct (though bear in mind my misunderstanding).


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  2. What is that, an answer to the Postmoderism Generator? A Science Jargon Generator, maybe? Still needs some tweaking, looks like.

  3. I’m sad enough to have found the whole dispute exceedingly interesting. Always good (and yet fainly disappointing) to be reminded that philosophers are human.

  4. Hey! Who’s this ‘Ophelia’? I just saw this, and since I sometimes comment here, I thought I should say that’s not me. Dang impostors.

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