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Wilfrid Sellars: Naturalism with a Normative Turn

Wilfrid Sellars: Naturalism with a Normative Turn

James O'Shea

ISBN: 978-0-745-63003-8

Apr 2007, Polity

272 pages

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The work of the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars continues to have a significant impact on the contemporary philosophical scene. His writings have influenced major thinkers such as Rorty, McDowell, Brandom, and Dennett, and many of Sellars basic conceptions, such as the logical space of reasons, the myth of the given, and the manifest and scientific images, have become standard philosophical terms. Often, however, recent uses of these terms do not reflect the richness or the true sense of Sellars original ideas. This book gets to the heart of Sellars philosophy and provides students with a comprehensive critical introduction to his lifes work.

The book is structured around what Sellars himself regarded as the philosophers overarching task: to achieve a coherent vision of reality that will finally overcome the continuing clashes between the world as common sense takes it to be and the world as science reveals it to be. It provides a clear analysis of Sellars groundbreaking philosophy of mind, his novel theory of consciousness, his defense of scientific realism, and his thoroughgoing naturalism with a normative turn. Providing a lively examination of Sellars work through the central problem of what it means to be a human being in a scientific world, this book will be a valuable resource for all students of philosophy.

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Preface ix

Acknowledgements xii

Introduction 1

1 The Philosophical Quest and the Clash of the Images 10

The quest for a stereoscopic fusion of the manifest and scientific images 10

The clash of the images and the status of the sensible qualities 14

Sensing, thinking, and willing: persons as complex physical systems? 17

2 Scientific Realism and the Scientific Image 23

Empiricist approaches to the interpretation of scientific theories 24

Sellars’ critique of empiricism and his defense of scientific realism 32

The ontological primacy of the scientific image 41

3 Meaning and Abstract Entities 48

Approaching thought through language: is meaning a relation? 49

Sellars’ alternative functional role conception of meaning 55

The problem of abstract entities: introducing Sellars’ nominalism 63

Abstract entities: problems and prospects for the metalinguistic account 69

4 Thought, Language, and the Myth of Genius Jones 77

Meaning and pattern-governed linguistic behavior 77

Bedrock uniformity and rule-following normativity in the space of meanings 83

Our Rylean ancestors and genius Jones’s theory of inner thoughts 86

Privileged access and other issues in Sellers’ account of thinking 97

5 Knowledge, Immediate Experience, and the Myth of the Given 106

The idea of the given and the case of sense-datum theories 107

Toward Sellers’ account of perception and appearance 118

Epistemic principles and the holistic structure of our knowledge 125

Genius Jones, Act Two: the intrinsic character of our sensory experiences 136

6 Truth, Picturing, and Ultimate Ontology 143

Truth as semantic assertibility and truth as correspondence 144

Picturing, linguistic representation, and reference 147

Truth, conceptual change, and the ideal scientific image 158

The ontology of sensory consciousness and absolute processes 163

7 A Synoptic Vision: Sellers’ Naturalism with a Normative Turn 176

The structure of Sellers’ normative ‘Copernican revolution’ 176

Intentions, volitions, and the moral point of view 178

Persons in the synoptic vision 185

Notes 191

Bibliography 228

Index 243

"Besides providing an introduction to Sellars' philosophy, Wilfrid Sellars also provides a succinct and illuminating biographical sketch of a man raised in an intensely intellectual environment."
Philosophy Now

"I know that a review without any critical comments looks like an apology rather than a real review ... and to my embarrassment, there is little I can say by way of criticism about James O'Shea's book. The depth and colorfulness of the depiction of Sellars' philosophy as presented by O'Shea [is] remarkable."

"Not only does this book present a comprehensive picture of Sellars?s philosophical system in its breadth, its depth and subtlety, it does so with a freshness and lucidity that I have not seen before in commentaries on Sellars, including my own."
Tom Vinci, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"A pellucid introduction to the systematic thought of one of the deepest, most important, and least understood of twentieth-century philosophers."
Robert Brandom, University of Pittsburgh

"Jim O'Shea's compact book is an extremely valuable addition to the burgeoning literature on the philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars, presenting the essential elements of his dialectically intricate work in a relatively brief and eminently readable form. The book offers clear and accessible accounts of many of Sellars' most challenging ideas, embedded in a lucid expository structure that captures and effectively conveys the deeply systematic character of his philosophical vision. O'Shea insightfully traces the implications of Sellars' "naturalism with a normative turn" for the innovative conceptions of meaning, knowledge, representation, and truth in terms of which he undertook to reconcile our "manifest image" of ourselves as unitary subjects of sensation, thought, and action with the continually-developing "scientific image" of a world composed only of imperceptible impersonal entities and forces."
Jay F. Rosenberg, University of North Carolina

  • A new book in the very successful Key Contemporary Thinkers series
  • A comprehensive critical introduction to the work of Wilfrid Sellars
  • Provides a clear and systematic analysis of Sellars’ central ideas concerning the scientific and the manifest image, epistemology, language and realism
  • Discusses Sellars in the context of his contribution to the writings of other major contemporary philosophers and philosophical debates
  • Written in a clear, accessible style for an upper level undergraduate audience