McGinn, Colin 1950–

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McGinn, Colin 1950–


Born 1950. Education: Studied psychology at Manchester University; studied philosophy at Oxford University


Office—Department of Philosophy, P.O. Box 248054, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124-4670. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer and philosopher. University College, London, England, professor, 1974-85; Oxford University, Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy; Rutgers University, professor of philosophy, 1988-2006; University of Miami, 2006—, professor of philosophy.


John Locke Prize, Oxford University, 1973.


The Character of Mind, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1982, revised edition published as The Character of Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, Oxford University Press, 1997.

The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts, Clarendon Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Wittgenstein on Meaning: An Interpretation and Evaluation, B. Blackwell (New York, NY), 1984.

Mental Content, B. Blackwell (New York, NY), 1989.

The Problem of Consciousness: Essays toward a Resolution, B. Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1991.

Moral Literacy: or, How to Do the Right Thing, Hackett Publishing Co. (Indianapolis, IN), 1992.

The Space Trap, Duckworth (London, England), 1992

Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry, Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1993.

Minds and Bodies: Philosophers and Their Ideas, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Ethics, Evil, and Fiction, Clarendon Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Knowledge and Reality: Selected Essays, Clarendon Press (New York, NY), 1999.

The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Logical Properties: Identity, Existence, Predication, Necessity, Truth, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey through Twentieth-Century Philosophy, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Mindsight: Image, Dream, Meaning, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Consciousness and Its Objects, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Shakespeare's Philosophy, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.


Colin McGinn's writings explore the dynamics of the mind in relation to the self, the body, and the material world. McGinn's arguments and observations regarding particular aspects of the philosophy of language and consciousness and psychology are viewed by many critics as enlightening, innovative and challenging. Of McGinn's first book, The Character of Mind, Brian O'Shaughnessy, writing for the London Review of Books, maintained: "Colin McGinn's admirable book manages to give a comprehensive picture of the state of play in the subject at the present time." O'Shaughnessy championed the discussion of the self above all other aspects of the book. "Perhaps the most impressive part of the book is the discussion of the self. McGinn approaches this topic in a novel way, suggesting that we interpret the familiar enough search for criteria of personal identity as in effect an inquiry into the nature of the self." O'Shaughnessy, in concluding, suggested that McGinn brings a duality to his writing. "If science is a hunter, philosophy is at once hunter and conservationist. Both forces are well represented in McGinn. Natural wonder rather than mystification, the desire to explain and connect rather than the drive to reduce: that is what one finds on every page of this brilliant book."

According to Edward Wilson Averill's review of The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts in Philosophical Review, "McGinn seeks to give clear accounts of two ways in which the world is subjectively represented; its representation in the experience of secondary qualities and in the having of indexical thoughts." A contributor in Choice, however, commended McGinn's book for its originality. "Although subjective qualities and indexicals have often been treated separately, McGinn develops a unified theory that treats the perception of secondary qualities and the conceptualization of experience in indexical terms as subjective modes of representation."

W. Taschek, in a review for Choice, commented on the basic argument presented in McGinn's Wittgenstein on Meaning: An Interpretation and Evaluation. "The book's primary aim is to put forward an alternative and more accurate interpretation of Wittgenstein's later views, arguing pace Kripke that Wittgenstein does not formulate a skeptical paradox aimed at challenging the factual or objective status of following a rule; and, consequently, that Wittgenstein does not develop, as part of his positive view, a skeptical or antirealist solution to this challenge. McGinn finds more that is importantly right, but also some problems."

Richard H. Schlagel, in his review of Mental Content in the Review of Metaphysics, asserted: "Despite the author's imaginative analyses, the book has two main weaknesses. First while externalism, like naive realism, has a certain commonsense plausibility, it does not offer an account of the status of the perceptual macroworld, or the difference between this world and the scientific microworld." Quite apart from Schlagel's review, K. Quillen, writing in Choice, commended McGinn's work: "Original and provocative, this comprehensive treatment of mental content will be welcomed and debated by philosophers of mind."

Times Literary Supplement critic Daniel C. Dennett considered The Problem of Consciousness: Essays toward a Resolution to be "an expression and discussion of the unanswered questions about consciousness, which he [McGinn] gives every evidence of understanding quite well." R.G. Crowder, writing in Choice, accepted the book's importance but does not recommend it to a general audience. "For those readers who take the granted from the ‘obvious’ reality of consciousness poses a problem for the embodiment of mind in a physical system (perhaps most professional philosophers), the tight arguments here may be illuminating. For others … the broad scholarship and close reasoning here may seem misdirected."

In a Times Literary Supplement review of Moral Literacy; or, How to Do the Right Thing, Owen Flanagan commented: "Moral Literacy is a primer on how to think rationally about real-life moral problems, about our treatment of animals, abortion, violence, sex, drugs, and censorship. Colin McGinn succeeds in keeping abstract arguments to a minimum." Later in the review, Flanagan commended McGinn's techniques and his attention to detail. "McGinn is a master of the imaginary thought experiment, and his attention to some of the neglected details of trees in his woods is illuminating—for example, the discussion of tabloid journalism and censorship."

In 1992 McGinn made his first foray into fiction writing. His first fictional effort, The Space Trap, received an ambivalent review from David Papineau in Times Literary Supplement. Papineau applauded McGinn's comedy but noted McGinn's lack of originality. "His concern is not to expose human shortcomings, but to articulate the experience of geographical dislocation…. McGinn has a genuine gift for comic writing. But he will be better able to use it for his own purposes once he has found his own voice."

Of Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry, Peter van Inwagen in Philosophical Review reported: "In this fascinating book, Colin McGinn offers an empirical theory to explain the futility of philosophy (not his phrase)."

Ethics, Evil, and Fiction is a philosophical exploration of fictional representations of moral character. Nicola Bradbury, in the Modern Language Review stated: "Such resistance and such confidence characterize this work in ways that may be helpful to students of philosophy seeking clarity, but raise many questions for anyone more familiar with literary criticism."

A reviewer of The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World, writing in Economist, asserted: "Mr. McGinn concludes that the riddle of consciousness is too hard for humans. No doubt there is an answer but humans don't have the nose to find it." However, the reviewer does offer firm commendation of McGinn's likeable style. "Even so, he remains readable throughout.

Aiming at a general readership, he introduces a number of other philosophical problems which he thinks can't be solved either … and he enlivens proceedings by exploring various futuristic possibilities, illustrated with frequent references to ‘Star Trek’ and other popular science fictions." McGinn's accessible style received similar praise in Galen Strawson's review in the New York Times Book Review. Strawson suggested that McGinn's book "seems in places designed to annoy professional philosophers. But it was not written for them. It is an introductory, popular work, and its looseness and dash are excellent teachers, constantly provoking questions and objections."

In 2002, having established his reputation as a prolific writer and respected thinker, McGinn published a memoir, The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey through Twentieth-Century Philosophy. In it, he traces his roots from his teenage years in Blackpool, England, through his college days at the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford, to his challenging early days as a young academic, and then to his long stint as a professor at Rutgers University. Reviewing the book in the New York Times Book Review, Mary Lefkowitz commented: "By showing us what it is like to be a philosopher in action, McGinn lets us see for ourselves that philosophical issues are exciting and important. The kind of analytic philosophy that he practices leads to moral literacy because it encourages clarity of thought. In that way, if only in that way, it has real practical value. That is one of the many things McGinn teaches us by telling us his own story." A Kirkus Reviews contributor also recommended the memoir, calling it a "playful memoir offering an amusing view of academic philosophy's day-to-day tussle, as well as a clear introduction to the author's thought."

In two books published in 2004, Mindsight: Image, Dream, Meaning and Consciousness and Its Objects, McGinn returned to writing about philosophical concepts. In Mindsight, written for a popular audience, he examines the qualities of dreams, imagination, perceptions, and beliefs, arguing that modern philosophy has lost sight of the importance of imagination as an intellectual force. In Consciousness and Its Objects, a book written for professional philosophers, McGinn explores the nature of consciousness and the problems it poses to philosophers seeking to understand the human mind.

McGinn offers another book for general readers in 2005's The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact. In the book, he compares movies to dreams, suggesting that films engage us because our experience in watching them is similar to what happens when we dream. He also argues that both dreams and movies provide important releases for the mind. Praising the book as "a brisk and often scintillating discourse," a Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that "McGinn's observations will resonate with thoughtful moviegoers."

Shakespeare's Philosophy is another general-interest work by McGinn. Here, the author examines the philosophical elements of six of William Shakespeare's plays. McGinn argues that Shakespeare should be seen as both a playwright and philosopher. "Most interesting is McGinn's earnest delight in rediscovering Shakespeare's characters," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who added that the book makes its points "without seeming at all dusty." A Kirkus Reviews contributor also praised the book, noting that McGinn "brings to Shakespeare studies a philosophical perspective often either absent or amateurishly handled."



Choice, February, 1984, review of The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts, p. 833; February, 1986, W. Taschek, review of Wittgenstein on Meaning: An Interpretation and Evaluation, p. 879; December, 1989, K. Quillen, review of Mental Content, p. 645; October, 1991, R.G. Crowder, review of The Problem of Consciousness: Essays toward a Resolution, p. 357; February, 1998, S. Satris, review of Ethics, Evil, and Fiction, p. 1002.

Economist, May 1, 1999, "Are We Just Not Clever Enough to Understand the Mind?," p. 79.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey through Twentieth-Century Philosophy, p. 313; October 1, 2005, review of The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact, p. 1065; September 15, 2006, review of Shakespeare's Philosophy, p. 940.

London Review of Books, April 1, 1983, Brian O'Shaughnessy, "Persons," pp. 15-17.

Modern Language Review, January, 1999, Nicola Bradbury, review of Ethics, Evil, and Fiction, p. 151.

New Statesman & Society, July 17, 1992, Boyd Tonkin, "Moral Literacy: How to Do the Right Thing," p. 49.

New York Times Book Review, July 11, 1999, Galen Strawson, "Little Gray Cells," p. 13; May 19, 2002, Mary Lefkowitz, "Analyze This, This and This: Colin McGinn's Memoir Describes the Intense Life of a Philosopher," p. 16.

Philosophical Review, April, 1985, Edward Wilson Averill, review of The Subjective View, pp. 296-299; April, 1996, Peter van Inwagen, review of Problems in Philosophy, pp. 253-256.

Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1999, review of The Mysterious Flame, p. 71; October 2, 2006, review of Shakespeare's Philosophy, p. 50.

Review of Metaphysics, December, 1990, Richard H. Schlagel, review of Mental Content, pp. 427-429.

Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 1985, Avishal Margalit, "Going by the Rules," p. 587; May 10, 1991, Daniel C. Dennett, "The Brain and Its Boundaries," p. 10; July 10, 1992, David Papineau, "Another Englishman at Large," p. 22; December 25, 1992, Owen Flanagan, "Ways of Being Good," p. 20.

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McGinn, Colin 1950–

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