Re-Enchanting Nature with Aquinas and McDowell

Gaven Kerr

St. Patrick’s University, Maynooth

Modern philosophy envisages a chasm between mind and world. This chasm threatens the intellectual grasp that we can have on the world, and both the rationalist and empiricist traditions sought to bridge that chasm. What they held in common was the view that perceptual experience adds its own notional distinct kind of content to that of understanding. It was the insight of Kant that perception does not have its own content independent of understanding, so that what is disclosed in intuition is content for thought and so conceptual all the way down. In contemporary analytic philosophy, John McDowell has adopted a post-Kantian way of thinking that envisages conceptuality to push all the way out to perception, and he diagnoses the chasm between mind and world in terms of the disenchantment of nature whereby nature is seen as a realm of law devoid of conceptuality. He seeks to re-enchant nature with a kind of relaxed Platonism. In this paper I argue that McDowell’s project bears similarity to Aquinas’s thought on mind and world, and that his relaxed Platonism can be accommodated within Aquinas’s Aristotelian approach to form as the structuring principle of matter which thereby makes available to intelligence the intelligible or conceptual structure of the real.

Gaven Kerr is a married father of three and a third order Dominican. His doctoral work was on the thought of St Thomas Aquinas in relation to Immanuel Kant, and his work since then has focused on the thought of Aquinas in relation to contemporary concerns in philosophy. In particular Gaven has worked on Aquinas’s metaphysical thought in relation to proofs for God’s existence. He has published two monographs with OUP: Aquinas’s Way to God: The Proof in De Ente et Essentia (2015) and Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation (2019), as well as a book of collected articles on the existence of God with Editiones Scholasticae. Along with these publications, Gaven continues to work and publish on various themes in the thought of Aquinas.

The first video is his talk and the second video is the response from Prof.Sara Bernstein and Gaven Kerr’s QnA.