Wilfrid Sellars has been called "the most profound and systematic epistemological thinker of the twentieth century". He was in many respects ahead of his time, and many of his innovations have become widely acknowledged, for example, his attack on the "myth of the given", his functionalist treatment of intentional states, his proposal that psychological concepts are like theoretical concepts, and his suggestion that attributions of knowledge locate the knower "in the logical space of reasons". However, while many philosophers have begun (...) to acknowledge Sellars's inspiration in their work, their interpretation of his thought has not always been the most accurate. His writings are difficult. Individually, his essays are complex and sometimes rely on doctrines and arguments he put forward elsewhere. Each of his articles is deepened and strengthened by seeing it in its systematic context, but he never wrote a unified exposition of his system, which therefore has to be pieced together from numerous disparate sources. Willem deVries addresses these difficulties specifically and provides a careful reading and remarkable overview of Sellars's systematic philosophy that will become the standard point of reference for all philosophers seeking to understand Sellars's hugely significant body of work. (shrink)
This is a careful explication of and commentary on Wilfrid Sellars's classic essay "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind" [EPM]. It is appropriate for upper-level undergraduates and beyond. The full text of EPM is included in the volume.
Though Wilfrid Sellars portrayed himself as a latter-day Kantian, I argue here that he was at least as much a Hegelian. Several themes Sellars shares with Hegel are investigated: the sociality and normativity of the intentional, categorial change, the rejection of the given, and especially their denial of an unknowable thing-in-itself. They are also united by an emphasis on the unity of things—the belief that things do ‘‘hang together.’’ Hegel’s unity is idealist; Sellars’ is physicalist; the differences are substantial, but (...) so are the resonances. (shrink)
Leading philosophers from both sides of the Atlantic present essays on Wilfrid Sellars's Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, one of the crowning achievements of 20th-century analytic philosophy. They discuss empiricism, perception, epistemology, realism, and normativity, showing how vibrant Sellarsian philosophy remains in the 21st century.
Sellars claims completeness for both the “manifest” and the “scientific images” in a way that tempts one to assume that they are independent of each other, while, in fact, they must share at least one common element: the language of individual and community intentions. I argue that this significantly muddies the waters concerning his claim of ontological primacy for the scientific image, though not in favor of the ontological primacy of the manifest image. The lesson I draw is that we (...) need to reassess the aims of ontology. (shrink)
I argue that John McDowell’s attempt to refute Wilfrid Sellars’s two-component analysis of perceptual experience and substitute for it a conception according to which perceptual experience is the “conceptual shaping of sensory consciousness” fails. McDowell does not recognize the subtle dialectic in Sellars’s thought between transcendental and empirical considerations in favor of a substantive conception of sense impressions, and McDowell’s own proposal seems to empty the notion of sensory consciousness of any real significance.
Robert B. Brandom’s From Empiricism to Expressivism ranges widely over fundamental issues in metaphysics, with occasional forays into epistemology as well. The centerpiece is what Brandom calls ‘the Kant-Sellars thesis about modality’. This is ‘[t]he claim that in being able to use ordinary empirical descriptive vocabulary, one already knows how to do everything that one needs to know how to do, in principle, to use alethic modal vocabulary – in particular subjunctive conditionals’. Despite claiming descent from Sellars, Brandom defends here (...) a version of modal realism and tries hard to limit Sellarsian nominalism, all in the service of elaborating Brandom’s own version of pragmatism. The range of issues Brandom addresses defies adequate consideration in a critical notice, so I confine myself here to a single issue: What is.. (shrink)
Sellars was committed to the irreducibility of the semantic, the intentional, and the normative. Nevertheless, he was also committed to naturalism, which is prima facie at odds with his other theses. This paper argues that Sellars maintained his naturalism by being linguistically pluralistic but ontologically monistic . There are irreducibly distinct forms of discourse, because there is an array of distinguishable functions that language and thought perform, but we are not ontologically committed to the array of apparently non-natural entities or (...) relations mentioned in the metalanguage. However, there is an underlying relation between language and world presupposed by all empirically meaningful language. In his early work Sellars sought to describe this relation in linguistic terms as a form of 'pure description', but inadequacies in that notion drove him towards the naturalistic relation between language and world that he came to call 'picturing'. (shrink)
An analysis of Hegel's chapter on teleology in the Science of Logic. Hegel argues that the 'intentional model' of teleology assumed by Kant actually presupposes a natural or organic teleology more like along Aristotelian lines.
Though Wilfrid Sellars portrayed himself as a latter-day Kantian, I argue here that he was at least as much a Hegelian. Several themes Sellars shares with Hegel are investigated: the sociality and normativity of the intentional, categorial change, the rejection of the given, and especially their denial of an unknowable thing-in-itself. They are also united by an emphasis on the unity of things—the belief that things do “hang together.” Hegel’s unity is idealist; Sellars’ is physicalist; the differences are substantial, but (...) so are the resonances. (shrink)
In the following dialogue between TT - a foundationalist - and WdeV - a Sellarsian, we offer our differing assessments of the principle for observational knowledge proposed in Wilfrid Sellars's 'Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind'. Sellars writes: 'For a Konstatierung "This is green" to "express observational knowledge", not only must it be a symptom or sign of the presence of a green object in standard conditions, but the perceiver must know that tokens of "This is green" are symptoms of (...) the presence of green objects in conditions which are standard for visual perception.' In the ensuing dialogue, TT argues that it sets the bar too high when knowledge about perceptual conditions is required for ordinary observational knowledge - that young children, for example, are implausibly excluded as knowers given Sellars's principle. WdeV defends Sellars's metaknowledge requirement against these charges. Results from developmental psychology are surveyed for what they show about the actual capabilities of young children. The implications of these results for the success of Sellars's principle are debated. (shrink)
The is a reading of Hegel's chapter on teleology in the Science of Logic. It argues that inadequacies in the intentional model of teleology that dominated both pre-Kantian and Kantian thought about teleology force us to recognize a much more Aristotelian conception of natural teleology that must be presupposed to make sense of the teleology of intentions.
This article shows how Hegel's 'Sense-Certainty' chapter fills in a gap in Kant's and Sellars's critique of empiricism by supplying an argument that even indexical reference presupposes and is mediated by a larger conceptual framework.
This paper investigates Sellars's complex attitude towards idealism. It distinguishes between the epistemologically-based arguments that led many empiricists to idealism and a different set of more purely metaphysical arguments that came to dominate in German Idealism. Sellars resolutely rejects all of the epistemological arguments for idealism, but shows much greater sympathy with the metaphysical arguments. It is then argued that Sellars introduced his notion of picturing to avoid falling into such an idealism.
Robert Brandom makes several mistakes in his discussion of Sellars's "Two-Ply" account of observation. Brandom does not recognize the difference in "level" between observation reports concerning physical objects and 'looks'-statements. He also denies that 'looks'-statements are reports or even make claims. They then demonstrate a more correct reading of Sellars on 'looks'-statements.
The translationist theory of meaning can provide a plausible understanding of the reenactment methodology of history, although there are disanalogies. It takes as primitive our ability to recognize synonymy relations between linguistic episodes, either within the same language or other languages. In translating a complex linguistic object translators must possess an incredibly large stock of background knowledge about a culture and be sensitive and resourceful speakers of the language into which they are translating. Since there is no codified set of (...) rules which guarantees a good translation, translators need to use creativity. Similarly, in deciding which of the possible meanings to assign to an event or document, historians can follow little better advice than to insert themselves imaginatively into the situation and let their ability to understand their contemporary events and other historical events come to bear upon the events of the past. (shrink)
This essay is a response to Patrick Reider’s essay “Sellars on Perception, Science and Realism: A Critical Response.” Reider is correct that Sellars’s realism is in tension with his generally Kantian approach to issues of knowledge and mind, but I do not think Reider’s analysis correctly locates the sources of that tension or how Sellars himself hoped to be able to resolve it. Reider’s own account of idealism and the reasons supporting it are rooted in the epistemological tradition that informed (...) the British empiricists, rather than in the metaphysical reasons that ruled within the German tradition from Leibniz through Hegel that has much more in common with Sellars’s position. Thus, Reider takes Sellars’s notion of picturing to be just another version of the representationalism that has dominated the Anglo-American tradition since Locke, whereas, in my view, because picturing is a non-semantical relation, it is an important ingredient in naturalizing the coherentist theories of the idealists. (shrink)
The Metaphysics of Mind is metaphysics in the logical-reconstruction-of-language mode. Tye claims the assertions of ordinary folk psychology are frequently true and attacks the idea that there are any mental events, but he is not, on the whole, concerned with what kinds of theories are best able to handle the empirical evidence we have. Rather, Tye’s central focus is an argument that the ontological commitments of psychological discourse in general are very minimal: just “persons and other sentient creatures together with (...) sets built up out of such entities”. (shrink)
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