Colin McGinn is a British philosopher currently working at the University of Miami. McGinn has also held major teaching positions at Oxford University and Rutgers University. He is best known for his work in the philosophy of mind, though he has written on topics across the breadth of modern philosophy. Chief among his works intended for a general audience is the intellectual memoir The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy (2002).
Colin McGinn was born in Blackpool, England in 1950. He enrolled in Manchester University to study psychology. However, by the time he received his degree in psychology from Manchester in 1971 (by writing a thesis focusing on the ideas of Noam Chomsky), he wanted to study philosophy as a postgraduate. By 1972, McGinn was admitted into Oxford University's B.Litt postgraduate programme, in hopes of eventually gaining entrance into Oxford's postgraduate B.Phil. programme.
McGinn quickly made the transition from psychology to philosophy during his first term at Oxford. After working zealously to make the transition, he was soon admitted into the B.Phil programme under the recommendation of his advisor, Michael R. Ayers. Shortly after entering the philosophy programme, he won the John Locke Prize in 1972. By 1974, McGinn received the B.Phil degree from Oxford, writing a thesis under the supervision of P.F. Strawson, which focused on the semantics of Donald Davidson.
In 1974, McGinn took his first philosophy position at University College London. In January 1980, he spent two semesters at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a visiting professor. Then, shortly after declining a job at University of Southern California, he succeeded Gareth Evans as Wilde Reader at Oxford University. In 1988, shortly after a visiting term at City University of New York (CUNY), McGinn received a job offer from Rutgers University. He accepted the offer from Rutgers, joining ranks with, among others, Jerry Fodor in the philosophy department. McGinn stayed at Rutgers until 2006, when he accepted a job offer from University of Miami as full time professor.
Although McGinn has written dozens of articles in philosophical logic, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language, he is best known for his work in the philosophy of mind. In his 1989 article "Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?", McGinn speculates that the human mind is innately incapable of comprehending itself entirely, and that this incapacity spawns the puzzles of consciousness that have preoccupied Western philosophy since Descartes. Thus, McGinn's answer to the hard problem of consciousness is that humans cannot find the answer. This position has been nicknamed the "New Mysterianism". The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World (2000) is a non-technical exposition of McGinn's theory.
Outside of philosophy, McGinn has written a novel entitled The Space Trap (1992). He was also featured prominently as an interviewee in Jonathon Miller's Brief History of Disbelief, a documentary miniseries about atheism's history. He discussed the philosophy of belief as well as his own beliefs as an atheist.