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Integrating first and second nature: Rethinking John McDowell’s liberal naturalism

Thodoris Dimitrakos


McDowell’s ‘naturalism of second nature’ is one of the most important attempts to defend liberal naturalism in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy. Liberal naturalism stands as an umbrella term for philosophical accounts which place normative entities within the realm of nature. McDowell’s attempt to form an account which leaves room for normativity in nature is based on the distinction between ‘first’ and ‘second’ nature. In the present paper I shall attempt to shed light on McDowell’s notions of ‘first’ and ‘second’ nature and thereby provide an account about the status of normativity which is McDowellian in spirit. However, I suggest that human sciences offer an even more acute challenge to the conceptions of nature that aspire to be liberal naturalist, and I argue that McDowell’s account needs to be completed with a further conceptual distinction in order to cope with the challenge of human sciences. In particular, I argue that we should distinguish between the notions of explanatory reduction and normative eliminability.


Liberal Naturalism; Normativity; McDowell; Second Nature

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