Guide Wilfrid Sellars: Naturalism with a Normative Turn (Key Contemporary Thinkers)

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He succeeds admirably in writing a book that will be intelligible and helpful to relative beginners in philosophy while still containing much of value to seasoned practitioners in the field. Many philosophers have attempted to understand intentionality as a relation to objects, perhaps concrete, perhaps abstract. These epistemological issues lead him to consider the role of sense impressions in our cognitive encounter with the world—an area in which Sellarsian thought is at its most complex and subtle. Humans are complex patterns of the ultimate physical entities that nonetheless have a right to use normative concepts.

There seems to be no fundamental disagreement between the two books and little significant disagreement even about the details, though the two do seem to envision the final synoptic unification of the Manifest and Scientific Images differently. Willem A. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

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For further information on Polity, visit our website: www. Accordingly there is no apology needed for the present attempt to lay out clearly and to evaluate his overall views, especially since his writings present quite a challenge for the reader who is not already acquainted with his work.

Wilfrid Sellars: Naturalism with a Normative Turn by James O'Shea

But though it is introductory, it is not elementary. There is no such thing as elementary philosophy. Given this purpose I have not been able to engage in extensive or detailed examination of the secondary literature, although the reader will find appropriate orientation in relation to those debates as well. I can warmly recommend to the interested reader another introduc- tory book on Sellars that has recently appeared: Willem A.

Among the most useful items on that website is Jay F. Another very useful secondary source on Sellars is Delaney et al. Aune is also still well worth a look for clear Sellars-inspired investiga- tions of a wide range of topics. Finally, a wealth of primary sources relating to Sellars is currently being made available by the helpful people at the Sellars Archive in the University of Pittsburgh Archives of Scientific Philosophy. I am indebted to the anonymous readers for Polity Press in relation to both my initial book proposal and the final manuscript.

I particularly welcome the opportunity to thank Emma Hutchinson and Justin Dyer for their incredibly helpful editorial work and their constant support as the manuscript worked its way to completion. I am grateful for the continual support of my colleagues in the School of Philosophy at UCD, and also to UCD and the School of Philosophy for granting me time off from teaching during the academic year —4. Although I have not met Jeff in person, he kindly read the entire manuscript in its final stages and offered many helpful critical comments.

I have found the community of philosophers interested in Sellars to be an extraordinarily helpful group of people in general, and this has helped to make the research for this book a pleasure.

Wilfrid Sellars

By far my greatest philosophical debt is to Jay F. Over a decade ago Rosenberg was my Ph. My thanks to Jay for first introducing me to both Sellars and Kant, and for his detailed comments on drafts of chap- ters for the present work. On both the philosophical and the personal sides of life I have had such extraordinary support and benefited from so many insights from my wife, Dr. Karina Halley, that I cannot imagine what it would have been like to take on this task without her strong encouragement all along the way. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you sacrificed for me during the times when I allowed the work for this book to take over just about everything else.

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Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The pub- lisher apologizes for any errors or omissions in the above and would be grateful to be notified of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book. Introduction There is increasing recognition today that Wilfrid Sellars —89 was one of the most important philosophers in America during the twenti- eth century.

This introduction will provide a first glance at some of the ideas for which Sellars is best known, followed by a very brief philosophical biography. The substantive issues to be explored in the rest of the book will be introduced more fully in chapter 1. Such presuppositionless knowledge would constitute the given element in our knowledge, the rest of our knowledge being built upon that foundation.

Different conceptions of the given have been proposed by philosophers working within the assumptions of this basic foundation- alist structure although we shall see in chapter 5 that there are also non-foundationalist versions of the given. His most prominent criticisms in EPM helped to bring about the demise in particular of influential empiricist sense-datum epistemologies at mid-century, but his general critique of the whole idea of the given remains at the center of much discussion in epistemology today.

The nature of the manifest and scientific images, the sources of their ostensible clash, and the philosophical tasks that this clash generates will be outlined in chapter 1, and the resulting set of problems will form the structure of the rest of the book. As a result, however, this omnivorous scientific image of the world has continued to raise the sorts of questions that were pursued by all the early modern philosophers, most strikingly by Descartes himself and by Immanuel Kant.

Wilfrid Sellars - Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man

What is the nature of my own consciousness, of my thinking self, in the midst of all this complex atomic and subatomic matter-in-motion? How are we to imagine that conceptual thinking could be explainable in such physicalistic terms?

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And are the qualitative aspects of our sensory consciousness — our subjective expe- riences of color, for instance — also entirely explainable in terms of the swarms and fields of colorless microphysical particles that physics assures us exhaustively compose all things? How are free will, norms of rationality, intentional action, and moral responsibility possible in the purposeless world of matter described by science? As we shall see in chapter 1, Sellars articulates his account of the clash between the manifest and scientific images of the human being in the natural world in terms of questions concerning the very possibil- ity of these three fundamental dimensions of human experience: the nature of conceptual thinking, sensory consciousness, and rational willing.

And as we shall see throughout subsequent chapters, Sellars developed often radically new ways of thinking about our own nature as sensing, thinking, knowing, valuing, and rationally active beings, which will enable us finally or so he argues to understand how that same human nature is also entirely and exhaustively explainable in terms of the picture of the natural world that is currently developing and is ideally projected within the scientific image.

He has correctly been credited by Daniel Dennett with being the originator during the s of the subsequently dominant functionalist account of the nature of thinking chapter 4 , which Sellars built upon a conceptual role or inferentialist account of meaning along with a novel nominalist account of abstract entities chapter 3.

There is no doubt that Sellars was a highly original and systematic philosopher, among the most significant thinkers of the twentieth century. So who was Wilfrid Sellars? His father Roy Wood Sellars — , who was raised in Michigan and taught philosophy at the University of Michigan when Wilfrid was born, was a well-known founder of the critical realist movement in early twentieth-century American philoso- phy, as the author of Critical Realism: A Study of the Nature and Condi- tions of Knowledge Critical realism is the view that, as common sense rightly insists, we do have referentially direct perceptual knowledge of the external material world as it is in itself; however, scientific and philosophical reflection also reveal that this knowledge is both causally and substantively mediated by the sensory contents that are produced in the knower by the object.

The result is that philosophical accounts that ascribe experienced sensory qualities to the external objects themselves can in various crucial respects be highly misleading or mistaken regarding the true nature of our perceptual knowledge. With respect to the mind—body problem, Roy Wood Sellars developed what he called the double knowledge approach.

This fundamental change in philosophical method and approach was central to the development throughout the century of what came to be known as analytic philoso- phy, which continues to flourish as a leading style of philosophizing today. He then attended the junior high and high schools run by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, graduating in with a strong interest in mathematics. At Michigan Sellars studied mathematics, econom- ics, and philosophy, graduating two years later. Actually, it was at least as much on G. At Michigan Sellars also studied C.

Lewis and C. In the fall of Sellars entered Oriel College, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, two years later receiving his first class honors BA later officially an MA in philosophy, politics, and economics. While at Oxford Sellars was influenced in different ways by H.

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Prichard, Cook Wilson, C. Broad, and H. In Sellars embarked on a D. Weldon , but he moved to Harvard the next year and never would end up completing a Ph. It might have been thought impos- sible to match or better the list of his teachers at Oxford, but at Harvard his teachers formed an equally impressive All-Star line-up, amongst them D. Prall, C. Lewis, R. Perry, C.

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  6. Stevenson, and W. Through Quine, Sellars was introduced to the work of Rudolf Carnap, who over the next decade was to become a powerful influence on his own way of doing philosophy. In Sellars decided that he wanted to pursue ethical intuitionism as the topic for his Ph. Having married his first wife Mary Sharp in Mary died after a long illness in ; later his long-time companion and second wife was a former student, Susanna Felder Downie , Sellars was anxious to find employment, and his first academic appointment was at the Uni- versity of Iowa in the same year.

    He was responsible for teaching a wide variety of history of philosophy courses and he developed expertise in ancient and medieval philosophy. Writes Sellars of Feigl: We hit it off immediately, although the seriousness with which I took such ideas as causal necessity, synthetic a priori knowledge, intentional- ity, ethical intuitionism, the problem of universals, etc. Despite his growing reputation, Sellars had neither finished a Ph. After the war, he and his wife Mary, who was now successfully writing short stories, resolved to write for up to ten hours every day to get Wilfrid over his writing block.

    Eventually in there appeared the first of what was thereafter to be a steady outpouring of deep and challenging journal articles for the remainder of his highly successful academic career. These were all significant events in the development of analytic philosophy in America. From to Sellars was professor of philosophy in a divided department at Yale, until he was lured to the University of Pittsburgh, where he happily remained for twenty-six years until his death in Pittsburgh quickly became and has remained one of the top depart- ments of philosophy in America. The list of influential philosophers who either were students of Sellars or whose views he strongly influenced is very impressive indeed.

    As to his personal characteristics, Sellars was apparently a rather private person who enjoyed gardening, baseball, and politics. Most of all, however, all who knew him recount how he thrived on the sort of animated dialectical philosophical discus- sions with students and colleagues which were, as he saw it, a partici- pation in the same ongoing dialogue that he maintained in his writings with his historical philosophical colleagues — Plato and Aristotle, Hume and Kant, Russell and Wittgenstein — the dialogue which, for Sellars, constitutes philosophy itself.

    This first chapter will include a hefty sampling of quotations from Sellars in order to convey a sense of the shape of the key problems as he characterized them. Later chapters will provide the more detailed and critical analyses. It is not until we have eaten the apple with which the serpent philosopher tempts us, that we begin to stumble on the familiar and to feel that haunting sense of alienation which is treasured by each new generation as its unique possession.

    We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize. Ironically, it is one of our greatest intel- lectual achievements in opening up the nature of reality to us — the development of the modern natural sciences since the sixteenth century — which has by its very success threatened to alienate us intellectually from that same natural world. Here the most appropriate analogy is stereoscopic vision, where two differing perspectives on a landscape are fused into one coherent experience.


    Let me refer to these two perspectives, respectively, as the manifest and the sci- entific images of man-in-the-world. What we need to consider now is in what sense and why Sellars holds that this is so. Contemporary philosophy thus has as its primary aim a comprehensive understanding of how the two different conceptual frameworks of the manifest image and the scientific image may be integrated into one coherent conception of the nature of the human person within the natural world.