Wilfrid Sellars

Wilfrid Sellars

Willem A. deVries
Series: Philosophy Now
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 353
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  • Book Info
    Wilfrid Sellars
    Book Description:

    Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989) has been called the most profound and systematic epistemological thinker of the twentieth century. Many of his ideas have become widely acknowledged, including 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." Notoriously difficult to understand, Sellars' essays are not only complex but were never situated within a unified exposition of his thought.. Willem deVries addresses these difficulties and provides a careful reading and remarkable overview of Sellars' systematic philosophy. This clear, comprehensive, and authoritative work will become the standard point of reference for all philosophers seeking to understand Sellars's hugely significant body of work.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8157-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Willem A. deVries
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 Sellars’s philosophical enterprise
    (pp. 1-22)

    Twentieth-century analytic philosophy is distinctive, in part, because it treated philosophy as piecework. Philosophy, it was thought, consists of puzzles, each of which could be attacked on its own and solved or dissolved, usually either by paying attention to the way language is used or by constructing a formalism that clarifies an ideal of language. Some very valuable philosophical work was accomplished in this way, but it leaves many hungering for a broader view: a philosophy that attempts to see the world as a whole and understand how it all hangs together.

    Wilfrid Sellars, almost alone, was both analytic and...

  6. Chapter 2 Sellars’s philosophy of language
    (pp. 23-56)

    Like most Anglo-American philosophers of the twentieth century, Sellars’s reflections on language sit at the heart of his philosophy. Understanding language is absolutely essential in metaphysics: it holds the key both to the nominalism-Platonism debate and to a proper understanding of the nature of mind, especially the intentionality of thought. Consequently, it is also crucial in epistemology and the philosophy of science, for it is essential to understanding the mind’s cognitive relation to the world. Sellars’s treatment of meaning, in particular, is so central to his thought that it seems the best place to begin our detailed investigation of his...

  7. Chapter 3 Categories, the a priori, and transcendental philosophy
    (pp. 57-66)

    The basic formal and material relations between language and the world were the topics for Chapter 2. There are, however, also important structural features of languages and the more abstract conceptual frameworks they embody that need to be examined before we begin to look at Sellars’s substantive views in metaphysics and epistemology. These features include categorial structure, the conceptionof a prioritruths, and the possibility of specifying transcendental conditions for empirically meaningful languages in general.

    The ontologist asks, “What is there?” An answer at the level of individual detail (“Well, there’s me, my coffee cup, the dog sitting at...

  8. Chapter 4 Sellars’s nominalism
    (pp. 67-93)

    The debate over the ontological status of abstracta and concreta is as old as philosophy itself. Each age prosecutes the case using its own methods and its own terms, beginning in ancient times as an argument over the status of universals and particulars, and lately broadening to include classes, propositions and possible worlds. Sellars is convinced that any naturalistic philosophy must also be nominalistic, for the heart of naturalism is the commitment to the primacy of the causal order, and abstracta are causally impotent. Some of Sellars’s illustrious contemporaries, most notably Quine and Goodman, also proclaim themselves nominalists, but in...

  9. Chapter 5 Knowledge and the given
    (pp. 94-141)

    Sellars wrote a number of essays dealing with epistemological issues,¹ but the principal texts where the issues are discussed in depth include “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”, “The Structure of Knowledge” and a series of essays in which he responds to Roderick Firth’s “Coherence, Certainty, and Epistemic Priority”, including “Givenness and Explanatory Coherence” (1973), “More on Givenness and Explanatory Coherence” (1979) and finally, the Carus Lectures for 1977, published as “Foundations for a Metaphysics of Pure Process” (1981).² Sellars’s views in epistemology clearly evolved in the course of these twenty-plus years, but whether the changes are simply refinements of...

  10. Chapter 6 Science and reality: induction, laws, theories and the real
    (pp. 142-170)

    Empiricism assumes we can know some particular facts independently of others; we can collect such evidential facts and make nondeductive inferences to general truths; and, finally, we can develop theories that enable us to explain these general truths. Traditional empiricism also assumes that our knowledge hooks into reality via the given and, thus, that all our general ‘abstract’ knowledge is ultimately in the service of our interaction with the given. Science, the repository of our most general and most abstract knowledge, is treated as merely instrumental. Science develops ever more sophisticated methods to anticipate and plan for encounters with the...

  11. Chapter 7 Intentionality and the mental
    (pp. 171-202)

    Sellars’s major impacts on twentieth-century philosophy have been in epistemology and philosophy of mind. As we turn to his philosophy of mind, there are some boundary issues that the reader should be aware of right from the start. How is the philosophy of mind delimited? In most post-Cartesian discussions, ‘mind’ covers both intentional and sensory states. Discussions of the “mind-body problem” focus indifferently on pains and thoughts. Sellars thinks this is a major mistake, for he recognizestwoproblems: the mind-body problem proper, which concerns the relation between intentional and bodily states, and the sensorium-body problem, which concerns the relation...

  12. Chapter 8 Sensory consciousness
    (pp. 203-245)

    Sellars’s treatment of sensory consciousness is a culminating episode in his philosophy: many different lines of his thought come together in a position that is unique to him, both bold and puzzling. I shall begin with two myths to introduce the issues and then try to clarify Sellar’s commitments and his arguments by analysing several significant passages from Sellars’s later works.

    Sellars used to tell the story of the sensorium-body problem in his classes. Hints and even some pieces of the story show up in some of his essays, but it appears nowhere as a cohesive narrative. The story is...

  13. Chapter 9 Practical reason
    (pp. 246-268)

    Almost thirty years ago, W. David Solomon lamented the neglect of Sellars’s ethical writings.¹ The situation has not changed in the interim. With a few exceptions, Sellars’s essays in ethical theory are as daunting as his most technical work in metaphysics, highly abstract and compact in the statement of the problems considered and the solutions proposed, and bristling with formalisms. This may explain the neglect of his ethical work, but it cannot justify it. Sellars stands out from his contemporaries Quine and Davidson by his significant body of writings on ethics. Since a great deal in his “system” rides on...

  14. Chapter 10 The necessity of the normative
    (pp. 269-282)

    Sellars often characterized his project as a Kantian response to the dominant empiricism of his day. The comparison with Kant is illuminating, but it can also be a trap, masking some important features of Sellars’s philosophy. It invites one to assimilate Sellars’s distinction between the manifest and scientific images to Kant’s distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal realms, for instance, which Sellars himself at times encourages. While there issomethingto the analogy, it requires a commentary. The most obvious disanalogy between the manifest-scientific image distinction and Kant’s phenomenal-noumenal distinction is that Kant’s noumenal realm isin principlebeyond our...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 283-314)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 315-324)
  17. Index
    (pp. 325-338)