Philosophy ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-15-2021


This dissertation is concerned with the meaning or content of empirical thought and its relationship to the natural world. More specifically, I seek to develop a response to a problem influentially posed by John McDowell in Mind and World, and elaborated in various forms throughout his work, according to which our understanding of such content is positioned between two competing demands about how it is determined: by the way the world is, and by the trappings of a human form of life, in particular, language.

That response is worked out primarily by appeal to the early work of Martin Heidegger, whose conception of Bedeutsamkeit, or meaningfulness, I argue, furnishes us with powerful resources for addressing the problem McDowell raises. While McDowell offers his own way of addressing the problem, I contend it suffers from an inability to ultimately resolve itself between the competing demands he outlines. Moreover, it does so because it does not avail itself of some key conceptual tools provided by a philosopher to whom McDowell sees himself as indebted: Hegel. The core of my project revolves around showing that Heidegger’s account of Bedeutsamkeit in fact bears very strong and surprising affinities with just these key elements of Hegel’s thought, specifically the relationship as Hegel draws it between Nature and Spirit. These parallels are anything but coincidental on my reading; instead, they arise out of shared Aristotelian commitments on Hegel’s and Heidegger’s part, ones which prove capable of offering an alternative response to the problem and accommodating the core intuitions behind both of its halves.

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Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Paul Livingston

Second Committee Member

Kelly Becker

Third Committee Member

Adrian Johnston

Fourth Committee Member

Iain Thomson

Fifth Committee Member

Jeffrey Malpas




semantics, Heidegger, McDowel, Hegel

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