Wittgenstein's diagnosis of empiricism's third dogma: Why perception is not an amalgam of sensation and conceptualization

Philosophical Investigations 27 (1):1-33 (2004)
Sonia Sedivy
University of Toronto, St. George
This paper aims to show how some of Wittgenstein's considerations in the Philosophical Investigations speak to the neo-empiricist tendency to give sensation a purely causal, non-epistemic role. As the foil for Wittgenstein's criticisms, I outline the way Wilfred Sellars rehabilitates sensory impressions from his own diagnosis of the Myth of the Given by construing them as purely causal episodes. Sellars' work shows how it is possible to have a keen appreciation of the incoherence of the empiricist model yet to believe that we ought to maintain that model by modifying our account of the role that sensations play in perception. Sellars and Wittgenstein have the same understanding of what a non-epistemic conception of sensations must involve. Wittgenstein articulates the way this conception manifests itself in ordinary thinking while Sellars gives it a sophisticated theoretical elaboration designed to retain what is key for sensory episodes while avoiding traditional problems of givenness. The instructive difference between Sellars and Wittgenstein is that while Sellars believes we can develop a coherent non-epistemic conception, Wittgenstein’s work suggests that we cannot.
Keywords Empiricism  Epistemology  Perception  Sensation  Ludwig Wittgenstein  Wilfred Sellars  The Given  Myth of the Given
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9205.2004.00212.x
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