John McDowell argues that the question “how is it possible for there to be thinking directed at how things are?” renders its subject impossible. To exorcise the question, McDowell introduces the idea of a second nature, suggesting that human animals enter the space of reasons by being initiated into conceptual practices. However, the idea of a second nature fails to vindicate the insight that reasons manifest an order that can only be explained by itself; instead, it gives rise to three fundamental difficulties of its own.
By introducing the idea of a second nature, McDowell comes up against a more fundamental question about the source of our moves in the space of reasons—the source of knowledge of what is right. Plato frames this very question—the question about the source of virtue—to introduce Meno’s paradox: we could not acquire such knowledge without the capacity to recognize it as such; but if we had the capacity to recognize it as such, we would already possess this knowledge and could not acquire it.
I argue that Meno’s paradox gives rise to a trilemma about the potentiality of knowledge, where each horn must hold true. Separated, they each lead to three different views on the source of knowledge: rationalism, naturalism, historicism. I will spend most of the talk outlining why these views collapse, drawing on contributions from Michael Thompson, Thomas Nagel, and Wittgenstein. Finally, I will explain why the circularity involved in Meno’s paradox is innocent.
Lucian Ionel ist seit 2023 wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter an der Universität Leipzig. Er war Fellow der Kollegforschungsgruppe „Human Abilities” in Berlin (2021–2022), DFG-Forschungsstipendiat an der Universität Pittsburgh (2019-2021) und Mitarbeiter im Exzellenzcluster „BrainLinks-BrainTools” in Freiburg (2017-2018). Er hat an der Universität Freiburg und der Universität Strasbourg promoviert. Seine Forschungsinteressen liegen in der Philosophie des Geistes, der Handlungstheorie, der Ontologie und der Anthropologie. Die Autoren, mit denen er sich vorwiegend beschäftigt hat, sind Aristoteles, Kant, Hegel und Heidegger.