In 1994, John McDowell’s Locke lectures appeared in Mind and World. The book was to become highly influential. It both set the agenda for a number of philosophical debates within contemporary philosophy and framed the reception of the philosophers that McDowell chose as his interlocutors. In our context his take on Kant is particularly interesting because of its distinctively Hegelian twist.¹ Indeed, I think it is safe to say that Mind and World is one of the central contributions to our understanding of German Idealism today.
In this paper I shall argue that although McDowell brings out some of the systematic philosophical potential in a reading of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (KrV), his criticism of Kant’s so-called transcendental story² shows that he misses important aspects of the KrV – aspects that would indeed be congenial to the way he attempts to draw on Kant in his own philosophical project.
Before I present to you what I take to be the crucial shortcomings of McDowell’s Kant reading, a caveat is, however, in order. My point is not that McDowell fails to engage in a sufficiently careful exegesis of the first Critique. Such a criticism would not do justice to the way in which McDowell philosophizes. Indeed, his errand is not to interpret Kant, but to bring out, often in metaphorical language, some rather deep ideas about the aims and pitfalls of philosophy. To succeed in presenting an interesting criticism of McDowell’s Kant reception, one must therefore confront him with a reading that in a broad sense shares the aims of McDowell’s own approach, while at the same time challenging it.
My aim in this paper is to show that Heidegger’s reading of the KrV can take on such a role. I shall argue that this reading provides a perspective that is congenial to the way McDowell attempts to draw positive insights from Kant’s position, and also that it avoids the pitfalls that McDowell believes accrues to it. In short, I shall suggest that McDowell’s philosophical agenda would have been strengthened had he taken not only the Kant of German Idealism, but also that of Heidegger seriously.