About this topic

Wilfrid Stalker Sellars (1912-1989) was a profound philosopher who left an indelible mark on mid-to-late 20th century Anglo-American philosophy. His stated goal was "to formulate a scientifically oriented, naturalistic realism which would ‘save the appearances,’" and towards this end he wrote a number of essays that covered topics in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and ethics, as well as in the history of philosophy. Sellars was broadly educated in philosophy, drawing influences from ancient philosophy, German Idealism, logical positivism, critical realism, and ordinary language philosophy. His work was imbued with a deep respect for philosophy’s history. He is most famous for his attack on the "myth of the given" and his development of a non-foundationalistic epistemology, for his distinction between the "manifest image" and the "scientific image" of humanity in the world, for his proposal that psychological concepts are like theoretical concepts, and for his scientific realism. Sellars can claim the first explicit formulation of a functionalist treatment of intentional states, an early recognition of the "hard problem" of sensory consciousness, and a thoroughgoing nominalism, as well as rich interpretations of historical figures in philosophy.

Key works

Sellars’s best-known essay is [Sellars 1956 "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind."], considered a classic of 20th century philosophy.  Other landmark essays include [Sellars 1962 "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man"], [Sellars 1954 "Some Reflections on Language Games"], [Sellars 1963 "Abstract Entities"],  [Sellars 1974 "Meaning as Functional Classification"], [Sellars 1957 "Counterfactuals, Dispositions, and the Causal Modalities"],  [Sellars 1981 "Foundations of a Metaphysics of Pure Process"], [Sellars 1969 "Language as Thought and as Communication"], [Sellars 1981"Mental Events"], [Sellars 1982 "Sensa or Sensings"], [Sellars 1980 "On Reasoning about Values"], and his book [Sellars 1968 "Science and Metaphysics"]

Introductions Richard J. Bernstein "Sellars' Vision of Man-in-the-Universe," Bernstein 1966 Bernstein 1966 deVries 2011  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Wilfrid Sellars" deVries & Triplett 2000 deVries&Triplett, Knowledge, Mind and the Given: Reading Wilfrid Sellars's "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind" deVries 2005  deVries, Wilfrid Sellars O'Shea 2007  O'Shea, Wilfrid Sellars:  Naturalism with a Normative Turn Delaney et al 1977 Delaney, Loux, et al., The Synoptic Vision
Related categories

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  1. Empiricism, Perceptual Knowledge, Normativity and Realism: Essays on Wilfrid Sellars.Willem A. DeVries (ed.) - 2009 - Oxford University Press UK.
    The ten essays in this collection were written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lectures which became Wilfrid Sellars's Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, one of the crowning achievements of 20th-century analytic philosophy. Both appreciative and critical of Sellars's accomplishment, they engage with his treatment of crucial issues in metaphysics and epistemology. The topics include the standing of empiricism, Sellars's complex treatment of perception, his dissatisfaction with both foundationalist and coherentist epistemologies, his commitment to realism, and the status (...)
  2. Sellars and the Scientific Image.Robert Ackermann - 1973 - Noûs 7 (2):138-151.
  3. Book Review:Philosophy for the Future R. W. Sellars, V. J. McGill, M. Farber. [REVIEW]Russell L. Ackoff - 1950 - Philosophy of Science 17 (3):278-.
  4. Book Review:Readings in Philosophical Analysis Herbert Feigl, Wilfrid Sellars. [REVIEW]Russell L. Ackoff - 1949 - Philosophy of Science 16 (3):266-.
  5. The Scientific and the Humanistic Images of Man-in-the-World.E. M. Adams - 1971 - Man and World 4 (2):174-192.
  6. The Scientific and the Humanistic Images of Man-in-the-World.Mortimer J. Adler - 1971 - Man and World 4:174-192.
  7. Kevin Scharp and Robert Brandom, Eds., In the Space of Reasons: Selected Essays of Wilfrid Sellars. [REVIEW]Scott Aikin - 2008 - Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 44 (2):363-366.
  8. In the Space of Reasons: Selected Essays of Wilfrid Sellars (Review).Scott F. Aikin - 2008 - Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 44 (2):pp. 363-367.
  9. Thought-Talk: Descartes and Sellars on Intentionality.Lilli K. Alanen - 1992 - American Philosophical Quarterly 29 (1):19-34.
  10. Wilfred Sellars. Science and Metaphysics.Edwin B. Allaire - 1971 - Metaphilosophy 2 (4):352–358.
  11. Sellars and the "Myth of the Given".William P. Alston - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (1):69-86.
    Sellars is well known for his critique of the “myth of the given” in his “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”. That text does not make it unambiguous just how he understands the “myth”. Here I take it that whatever else may be involved, his critique is incompatible with the view that there is a nonconceptual mode of “presentation” or “givenness” of particulars that is the heart of sense perception and what is most distinctive of perception as a type of (...)
  12. What's Wrong with Immediate Knowledge?William P. Alston - 1983 - Synthese 55 (April):73-96.
    Immediate knowledge is here construed as true belief that does not owe its status as knowledge to support by other knowledge (or justified belief) of the same subject. The bulk of the paper is devoted to a criticism of attempts to show the impossibility of immediate knowledge. I concentrate on attempts by Wilfrid Sellars and Laurence Bonjour to show that putative immediate knowledge really depends on higher-level knowledge or justified belief about the status of the beliefs involved in the putative (...)
  13. Humanities and the Idea of a Person in the 22nd Century: Kant, Descartes, Sellars.Pedro Amaral - manuscript
    Science starts out with the idea of a person as billions of neurons housed in a body that is a cloud of particles. Common sense starts out with the idea of a person having capacities belonging to a single individual. The common sense person does not have parts. Our objectifying science slowly takes over the person as it tends toward physical materialism. Where will it end? What is being gradually pushed out of the world? If science had already taken over, (...)
  14. The Philosophical Works of Wilfrid Sellars.Pedro Amaral & Jeffrey Sicha - 1991 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 22 (1):187-193.
  15. Wilfrid Sellars and the Theory of the Given.Kenneth Christian Anderson - 1973 - Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada)
  16. Kevin Scharp.Wilfrid Sellars’S. Anti—Descriptivism - 2012 - In Lila Haaparanta & Heikki Koskinen (eds.), Categories of Being: Essays on Metaphysics and Logic. Oxford University Press, Usa.
  17. Intentionality: A Study Of Mental Acts.Richard E. Aquila - 1976 - Penn St University Press.
    This book is a critical and analytical survey of the major attempts, in modern philosophy, to deal with the phenomenon of intentionality—those of Descartes, Brentano, Meinong, Husserl, Frege, Russell, Bergmann, Chisholm, and Sellars. By coordinating the semantical approaches to the phenomenon, Dr. Aquila undertakes to provide a basis for dialogue among philosophers of different persuasions. "Intentionality" has become, since Franz Brentano revived its original medieval use, the standard term describing the mind's apparently paradoxical capacity to relate itself to objects existing (...)
  18. Perceptions and Perceptual Judgments.Richard E. Aquila - 1975 - Philosophical Studies 28 (July):17-31.
  19. Johanna Seibt, Properties as Processes: A Synoptic Study of Wilfrid Sellars' Nominalism Reviewed By.Bruce Aune - 1992 - Philosophy in Review 12 (1):58-60.
  20. Sellars's Two Images of the World.Bruce Aune - 1990 - Journal of Philosophy 87 (10):537-545.
  21. Action and Ontology.Bruce Aune - 1988 - Philosophical Studies 54 (2):195 - 213.
  22. Sellars on Practical Inference.Bruce Aune - 1978 - In Joseph Pitt (ed.), The Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars: Queries and Extensions. D. Reidel. pp. 19--24.
  23. Review of Sellars' Science and Metaphysics. [REVIEW]Bruce Aune - 1970 - Journal of Philosophy 67:251-256.
  24. Does Knowledge Have an Indubitable Foundation?Bruce Aune - 1967 - In Knowledge, Mind and Nature. Random House.
  25. Philosophical Perspectives. [REVIEW] B. - 1968 - Review of Metaphysics 21 (3):561-561.
    A short booknote describing Sellars' book "Philosophical Perspectives".
  26. Science and Metaphysics. By Wilfrid Sellars. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Don Mills: General Publishing. 1969. Pp. X, 246, $6.30. [REVIEW]John A. Bailey - 1971 - Dialogue 10 (4):793-796.
  27. Meaning and the Emergence of Normativity.Aude Bandini - 2010 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 18 (3):415-431.
    Linguistic meaning has an essential normative dimension that prima facie cannot be reduced to descriptive, non-normative, terms. Taking this point for granted, this paper however aims at proposing a naturalist view of semantics - inspired by Wilfrid Sellars' original works - focused on the way the constitutive normative aspects of meaning might be properly explained and accounted for, rather than eliminated.
  28. Philosophy for the Future. The Quest of Modern Materialism. Edited by Roy Wood Sellars, V. J. McGill and Marvin Farber. (New York: The Macmillan Company. 1949. Pp. Xii + 657. Price $7.50.). [REVIEW]Winston H. F. Barnes - 1950 - Philosophy 25 (95):355-.
  29. Review: Wilfrid Sellars, Philosophical Studies. [REVIEW]A. H. Basson - 1957 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 22 (1):88-89.
  30. Social Conceptions of Moral Agency in Hegel and Sellars.David Baumeister - 2017 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 25 (2):249-265.
    This essay contributes to our understanding of the relation between the philosophies of Hegel and Sellars. While most treatments of this relation have focused on metaphysics or epistemology, I focus on ethics, and in particular on the formulation of moral agency. I argue that Hegel and Sellars arrive at a similar metaphilosophical rejection of individual moral agency in favor of conceptions of moral agency as the outcome of social mediation. To demonstrate this, I trace how Hegel and Sellars offer parallel (...)
  31. Wilfrid Sellars and the Mind-Body Problem: A Historical and Critical Examination of Sellars' Unity of Thought.Robert James Becker - 1981 - Dissertation, Tulane University
    Wilfrid Sellars is a complex American philosopher of many historic influences and of wide philosophic interests. He is an author of nearly one hundred extensive articles, but it is problematic whether he is merely an eclectic writer of essays on an unrelated smorgasbord of ideas or whether he is a systematic philosopher with an underlying scheme and overall unity of thought. ;This dissertation provides a depth analysis of Sellarsian thought, with an illustrative and critical examination of his approach to the (...)
  32. Normative Functionalism and its Pragmatist Roots.Dave Beisecker - 2012 - Normative Funcitonalism and the Pittsburgh School.
    I shall characterize normative functionalism and contrast it with its causal counterpart. After tracing both stripes of functionalism to the work of the classical American pragmatists, I then argue that they are not exclusive alternatives. Instead, both might be required for an appropriately illuminating account of human rational activity.
  33. «Le Mythe du Donné» et les Avatars du Kantisme Analytique.Jocelyn Benoist - 2004 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 4 (4):511-529.
  34. Comments Upon Roy Sellars' Views on Relativity.Carlton W. Berenda - 1947 - Journal of Philosophy 44 (1):15-18.
  35. Sellars' Vision of Man-in-the-Universe, II.Richard J. Bernstein - 1966 - Review of Metaphysics 20 (2):290 - 316.
  36. Sellars' Vision of Man-in-the-Universe, I.Richard J. Bernstein - 1966 - Review of Metaphysics 20 (1):113 - 143.
  37. Pragmatic Concerns and Images of the World.Fernando Birman - 2010 - Philosophia 38 (4):715-731.
    I defend a pragmatist reinterpretation of Sellars’s famous manifest-scientific distinction. I claim that in order to do justice to this important distinction we must first recognize, despite what philosophers—including, arguably, Sellars—often make of it, that the distinction does not draw an epistemological or metaphysical boundary between different kinds of objects and events, but a pragmatic boundary between different ways in which we interact with objects and events. Put differently, I argue that the manifest-scientific distinction, in my view, can be best (...)
  38. The Analogy Theory of Thinking.John D. Bishop - 1980 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 58 (3):222-238.
  39. Sellars: “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man”.White Black - unknown
    2) Philosophy in an important sense has no special subject-matter which stands to it as other subject-matters stand to other special disciplines…. What is characteristic of philosophy is not a special subject-matter, but the aim of knowing one’s way around with respect to the subject-matters of all the special disciplines. [370] [BB: It is not clear how this sits with the distinction between being a researcher (in a special discipline) and being an intellectual (caring about how it all fits together). (...)
  40. The Synoptic Vision.Richard J. Blackwell - 1979 - New Scholasticism 53 (2):258-260.
  41. Sellars Vs. The Given.Daniel Bonevac - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 64 (1):1-30.
    John McDowell, Richard Rorty, and Robert Brandom invoke Sellars’s arguments against the Myth of the Given as having shown that the Given is nothing more than a myth. But most of Sellars’s arguments attack logical atomism, not the framework of givenness as such. Moreover, they do not succeed. At crucial points the arguments confuse the perspectives of a knower and those attributing knowledge to a knower. Only one argument-the “inconsistent triad” argument-addresses the Myth of the Given as such, and there (...)
  42. Knowledge, Justification, and Truth: A Sellarsian Approach to Epistemology.Laurence BonJour - 1969 - Dissertation, Princeton University
    The present essay has two faces. On the one hand, it is an essay in what I conceive to be the fundamental problems of epistemology, and a presentation and defense of solutions to those problems which I find plausible. On the other hand, it is also an essay in the philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars, and a selective defense thereof. Obviously the connecting link which is required to make these two faces of the essay compatible with one another is a belief (...)
  43. Sellars on Truth and Picturing.Lawrence A. Bonjour - 1973 - International Philosophical Quarterly 13 (2):243-265.
  44. From Empiricism to Expressivism.Robert B. Brandom - 2015 - Harvard University Press.
  45. Pragmatism, Inferentialism, and Modality in Sellars's Arguments Against Empiricism.Robert B. Brandom - 2009 - In Willem A. DeVries (ed.), Empiricism, Perceptual Knowledge, Normativity, and Realism: Essays on Wilfrid Sellars. Oxford University Press.
  46. The Centrality of Sellars' Two-Ply Account of Observation to the Arguments of Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind.Robert B. Brandom - manuscript
  47. Wilfrid Sellars' Analyse der Moralischen Urteile.Józef Bremer - 2004 - In Franz-Josef Bormann & Christian Schroeer (eds.), Abwaegende Vernunft. Walter de Gruyter.
  48. Rekategorisierung Statt Reduktion: Zu Wilfrid Sellars' Philosophie des Geistes.Józef Bremer - 1997 - Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht.
    Einleitung Die Philosophie des Geistes konzentriert sich auf die Frage nach dem Verhältnis des Geistes zur Welt der physikalischen Gegenstände. ...
  49. Skepticism About the Past and the Problem of the Criterion.Bryson Brown - 2006 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 6 (2):291-306.
    An argument for skepticism about the past exploits a circularity in the arguments connecting present observations to claims about past events. Arguments supporting claims about the past depend on current observations together with processes linking current observations to those claims. But knowledge of processes requires knowledge of the past: Knowledge of the present alone cannot provide evidence for claims about the past. A practical, coherentist response to this challenge rejects the assumption that we come to the problem with no information (...)
  50. Epistemic Concepts: A Naturalistic Approach.Harold I. Brown - 1991 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 34 (3-4):323 – 351.
    Several forms of naturalism are currently extant. Proponents of the various approaches disagree on matters of strategy and detail but one theme is common: we have not received any revelations about the nature of the world -- including our own nature. Whatever knowledge we have has been acquired through a fallible process of conjecture and revision. This common theme will bring to mind the writings of Karl Popper and, in many respects, Popper is the father of contemporary naturalism. Along with (...)
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