Colin McGinn

Colin McGinn has taught philosophy at institutions of higher learning including University College London, Rutgers University, and Oxford University. He is the author of The Character of Mind, Consciousness and Its Objects, The Meaning of Disgust, Philosophy of Language: The Classics Explained, Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within, Prehension: The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity (the last three published by the MIT Press), and other books.

  • Philosophical Provocations

    Philosophical Provocations

    55 Short Essays

    Colin McGinn

    Pithy, direct, and bold: essays that propose new ways to think about old problems, spanning a range of philosophical topics.

    In Philosophical Provocations, Colin McGinn offers a series of short, sharp essays that take on philosophical problems ranging from the concept of mind to paradox, altruism, and the relation between God and the Devil. Avoiding the usual scholarly apparatus and embracing a blunt pithiness, McGinn aims to achieve as much as possible in as short a space as possible while covering as many topics as possible. Much academic philosophical writing today is long, leaden, citation heavy, dense with qualifications, and painful to read. The essays in Philosophical Provocations are short, direct, and engaging, often challenging philosophical orthodoxy as they consider issues in mind, language, knowledge, metaphysics, biology, ethics, and religion.

    McGinn is looking for new ways to think about old problems. Thus he writes, about consciousness, “I think we have been all wrong,” and goes on to suggest that both consciousness and the unconscious are mysteries. Summing up his proposal on altruism, he remarks, “My suggestion can now be stated, somewhat brutally, as follows: human altruism is the result of parasitic manipulation.” He takes a moment to reflect: “I really don't know why it is good to be alive, though I am convinced that the standard suggestions don't work.” McGinn gets straight to the point and states his position with maximum clarity. These essays offer provocative invitations to think again.

    • Hardcover $35.00 £28.00
  • Inborn Knowledge

    Inborn Knowledge

    The Mystery Within

    Colin McGinn

    An argument that nativism is true and important but mysterious, examining the particular case of ideas of sensible qualities.

    In this book, Colin McGinn presents a concise, clear, and compelling argument that the origins of knowledge are innate—that nativism, not empiricism, is correct in its theory of how concepts are acquired. McGinn considers the particular case of sensible qualities—ideas of color, shape, taste, and so on. He argues that these, which he once regarded as the strongest case for the empiricist position, are in fact not well explained by the empiricist account that they derive from interactions with external objects. Rather, he contends, ideas of sensible qualities offer the strongest case for the nativist position—that a large range of our knowledge is inborn, not acquired through the senses. Yet, McGinn cautions, how this can be is deeply problematic; we have no good theories about how innate knowledge is possible. Innate knowledge is a mystery, though a fact.

    McGinn describes the traditional debate between empiricism and nativism; offers an array of arguments against empiricism; constructs an argument in favor of nativism; and considers the philosophical consequences of adopting the nativist position, discussing perception, the mind–body problem, the unconscious, metaphysics, and epistemology.

    • Hardcover $19.75 £15.99
  • Prehension

    Prehension

    The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity

    Colin McGinn

    In praise of the hand: A philosopher considers the crucial role of the hand in human evolution, particularly with respect to language.

    “McGinn is an ingenious philosopher who thinks like a laser and writes like a dream.”—Steven Pinker

    This book is a hymn to the hand. In Prehension, Colin McGinn links questions from science to philosophical concerns to consider something that we take for granted: the importance of the hand in everything we do. Drawing on evolutionary biology, anatomy, archaeology, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy, among other disciplines, McGinn examines the role of the hand in shaping human evolution. He finds that the development of our capacity to grasp, to grip, to take hold (also known as prehension) is crucial in the emergence of Homo sapiens.

    The human species possesses language, rational thought, culture, and a specific affective capacity; but there was a time when our ancestors had none of these. How did we become what we so distinctively are, given our early origins? McGinn, following Darwin and others, calls the hand the source of our biological success. When our remote ancestors descended from trees, they adopted a bipedal gait that left the hands free for other work; they began to make tools, which led to social cooperation and increased brain capacity. But McGinn goes further than others in arguing for the importance of the hand; he speculates that the hand played a major role in the development of language, and presents a theory of primitive reference as an outgrowth of prehension.

    McGinn sings the praises of the hand, and evolution, in a philosophical key. He mixes biology, anthropology, analytical philosophy, existential philosophy, sheer speculation, and utter amazement to celebrate humans' achievement of humanity.

    • Hardcover $9.75 £7.99
    • Paperback $19.95 £15.99
  • Philosophy of Language

    Philosophy of Language

    The Classics Explained

    Colin McGinn

    An introduction to philosophy of language through systematic and accessible explanations of ten classic texts by such thinkers as Frege, Kripke, Russell, and Putnam.

    Many beginning students in philosophy of language find themselves grappling with dense and difficult texts not easily understood by someone new to the field. This book offers an introduction to philosophy of language by explaining ten classic, often anthologized, texts. Accessible and thorough, written with a unique combination of informality and careful formulation, the book addresses sense and reference, proper names, definite descriptions, indexicals, the definition of truth, truth and meaning, and the nature of speaker meaning, as addressed by Frege, Kripke, Russell, Donnellan, Kaplan, Evans, Putnam, Tarski, Davidson, and Grice. The explanations aim to be as simple as possible without sacrificing accuracy; critical assessments are included with the exposition in order to stimulate further thought and discussion.

    Philosophy of Language will be an essential resource for undergraduates in a typical philosophy of language course or for graduate students with no background in the field. It can be used in conjunction with an anthology of classic texts, sparing the instructor much arduous exegesis.

    Contents Frege on Sense and Reference • Kripke on Names • Russell on Definite Descriptions • Donnellan's Distinction • Kaplan on Demonstratives • Evans on Understanding Demonstratives • Putnam on Semantic Externalism • Tarski's Theory of Truth • Davidson's Semantics for Natural Language • Grice's Theory of Speaker Meaning

    • Hardcover $37.00 £30.00
    • Paperback $25.00 £20.00