Revisiting the Manifest and Scientific Images: A Study of Sellars, Putnam, Rorty and Mcdowell

Dissertation, New School University (2003)

In a famous essay, Wilfrid Sellars makes a distinction between the manifest and scientific images.1 According to Sellars, these images represent the two dominant conceptual frameworks by which we understand ourselves as persons-in-the-world. The manifest image utilizes "perennial philosophy" and "sophisticated common sense" to effect that understanding, while the scientific image employs the resources of theoretical physics. The challenge for the philosopher, Sellars argues, is to fuse these two complete and competing images into a single, synoptic view. It is important to note, however, that the fusion Sellars envisions is not between two equally adequate frameworks. Rather, he claims, the scientific image is more adequate than its manifest counterpart. Briefly put, he maintains that the former provides a coherent account of the mind and the world, while the latter is essentially dualistic. For this reason, the scientific image merits primacy in his synoptic view. ;The task of this dissertation is to assess the ultimate adequacy of Sellars's claim. I proceed by placing Sellars in conversation with Hilary Putnam, Richard Rorty and John McDowell, who, while owing significant philosophical debts to Sellars, do not believe we must privilege the scientific image to achieve a coherent account of the mind and the world. In effect, they argue that the manifest image is an entirely legitimate framework for addressing a problem that has haunted philosophy since the seventeenth century. By doing so, Putnam, Rorty and McDowell help us to see that there is something wrong with the way in which Sellars depicts the relationship between the manifest and scientific images---i.e. as complete and competing visions of persons-in-the-world. In the end, the efforts of Putnam, Rorty and McDowell remind us that resolving the difficulties that are implicit to the mind-world relation demands the resources of both images or frameworks; that is to say, it demands that we see the manifest and scientific images as partial and complementary, rather than complete and competing visions of persons-in-the-world. ;1See Wilfrid Sellars, "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man," reprinted in Science, Perception and Reality , 1--40
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