Sellars on the Revision of Theoretical Commitments

Michael Wolf
Washington and Jefferson College
This paper addresses some of Sellars's views on conceptual change and revision, spread across several books and articles. It begins with Sellars's distinction between rules of criticism and rules of action. I argue that Sellars's distinction here actually sheds light on the epistemology of theoretical revision. Many revisions of theoretical commitments can be motivated by the force of rules of action that govern the maintenance of our theories. I offer a partial account of this, positing two rules of action. A rule of maximizing explanatory strength compels us to refine and revise theories to improve their performance, while a rule of conservatism puts boundaries on the acceptable pursuit of those goals. The dynamic between these two guides revision, narrowing the range of acceptable options. Sellars's conception of the roles of analogy and affinity are considered, as well as an elaboration of a Sellarsian point about meaning change
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