A Comparison of Davidson’s and McDowell’s Accounts of Perceptual Beliefs
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The aim of this thesis is to compare Donald Davidson’s and John McDowell’s accounts of perceptual beliefs. In Mind and World, McDowell provides an account of the justification of beliefs about the external world that is sharply contrasted with Davidson’s coherence theory. In a response to McDowell, Davidson states that he does not understand this contrast, for he believes that the differences between McDowell’s and his own account are not very noticeable. Davidson explains that in his view the disagreement seems to be centered around what is caused by perceptual experience in their accounts of perceptual beliefs. In McDowell’s account, rather than causing a belief directly, as is the case in Davidson’s account, perceptual experience causes a propositional attitude and one can decide to convert this propositional attitude into a belief. In this thesis, I want to go further still, arguing that the differences between Davidson’s and McDowell’s accounts are greater than Davidson supposes. By providing an overview of the similarities and differences of Davidson’s and McDowell’s accounts, I show that Davidson and McDowell disagree about more than merely about what is caused by perceptual experience, since both accounts require very different kinds of theories to defend their views on the justification of perceptual beliefs. This thesis elaborates on how those theories are embedded in a larger philosophical discussion about the connection between philosophical accounts and causal naturalistic theories of perception. When shortcomings in McDowell’s account are revealed, I argue that Davidson could have made much stronger claims about the differences between McDowell’s and his own account. My argument for this conclusion is developed in three steps: (1) I explain that Davidson, unlike McDowell, does not reject causal naturalistic explanations of perception completely, (2) I argue that empirical science and philosophy should cooperate, and (3) I argue that McDowell’s account is incompatible with scientific knowledge on the basis of Tyler Burge’s objections to McDowell’s disjunctivism.