Nachruf for Wilfrid Sellars


With the death of Wilfrid Sellars at age 77 in July 1989, we have lost one of the great creative, synthetic, and systematic philosophical talents of our century. His published scholarly work, a corpus including three independent books but dominated by well over one hundred substantial essays, has helped to set and shape the Anglo-American philosophical agenda over a period of forty years and has earned him worldwide recognition and justified acclaim as one of the most consequential and, indeed, definitive figures of postwar Western philosophy. In this Nachruf, I shall first present a whirlwind survey of the major academic and scholarly stations of Sellars' long intellectual career as a distinguished teacher, and influential editor, and an innovative philosopher of the first rank, at the end of which I shall permit myself a brief personal reminiscence. Only then will I embark on the much more difficult and demanding task of attempting systematically to articulate and assess the many lasting contributions that his work made to the 3000-year-old conversation that is philosophy per se. Here I shall often let Sellars speak for himself.


{*} This essay was completed while its author was spending the academic Year 1989-90 as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) in Bielefeld, West Germany. Thanks are gratefully extended to the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung and to the ZiF for their support.[Back]
Edited in hypertext by Andrew Chrucky.
Editor's Note: I wish to thank Professor Rosenberg for allowing me to include his exceptionally fine comprehensive essay about Sellars' life and work. The essay first appeared in the Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 21 (1990): 1-23.
Because of the limitations of hypertext, some alterations had to be made; among these, dot-quotes are rendered by bold periods.


Sellars' intellectual career can be usefully divided into three major periods. The early period begins with his philosophical education -- as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Buffalo, as a Rhodes Scholar in Oriel College, Oxford, and as a doctoral student at Harvard University -- and continues through 1955. It encompasses the initial stages of what was to become an extraordinary distinguished academic career -- first, interrupted by the War, at the University of Iowa and later, decisively, at the University of Minnesota, where the synergistic influence of the young and flourishing Center for the Philosophy of Science provided the final catalyst needed to bring his philosophical gifts to full expression.

This early period saw the appearance in print of over two dozen substantial essays, typically manifesting singularly demanding levels of dialectical and expository complexity that rapidly earned Sellars the widespread reputation of being "difficult to read". (In 1980, J. Sicha collected, edited, and reprinted nine of the most important of these early essays as a book, Pure Pragmatics and Possible Worlds.) It was not, however, as an author but rather as an editor that Sellars during this period first began to exert a profound influence on the course of postwar American philosophy. The publication of Readings in Philosophical Analysis, coedited with Herbert Feigl, in 1949, and Readings in Ethical Theory, coedited with John Hospers, three years later, proved to be seminal events. The "philosophical analysis" represented in these volumes, transplanted from its origins and early development at Cambridge and Oxford and enriched by generous crossfertilization from the "logical empiricism" of a largely-expatriate Vienna Circle, took strong root in American philosophical soil that had already been nourished, not only by the pragmatisms of Peirce, James, and Dewey, but also by indigenous schools of "critical realism" and "evolutionary naturalism", in which Wilfrid's father, Roy Wood Sellars, had in fact played a major and distinguished role. With continuing support and encouragement from the first scholarly journal deliberately and explicitly created as a forum for the new hybrid, "analytic philosophy" -- Philosophical Studies, founded by Feigl and Sellars in 1950, and edited by them jointly until 1971 and by Sellars alone for a further three years -- the methodological initiatives and the leading problems and programs of this "analytic" style of philosophizing rapidly came to dominate the American academic scene.

Sellars' middle period finds him in full command of a philosophical vision of remarkable scope and depth. Professionally, this period includes Sellars' last years at the University of Minnesota, his short tenure as a professor at Yale University, and the first part of his long and fruitful relationship with the University of Pittsburgh, where, beginning in 1963, he was to spend the balance of his academic life as a distinguished University Professor. The publication in 1956 of his revolutionary essay 'Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind', immediately acknowledged as a contemporary classic, marks the start of this exceptional period of fecund and influential scholarly productivity, which may (somewhat arbitrarily) be seen as culminating sixteen years later, in 1972, with the publication of his 1970 Presidential Address to the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association on the Kantian text, ". . . this I or he or it (the thing) which thinks". These middle years saw the appearance of some fifty important essays -- most of which were subsequently assembled in three collections: Science, Perception, and Reality, 1963; Philosophical Perspectives, 1967; and Essays in Philosophy and Its History, 1974 -- innovatively and insightfully addressing themes across the whole spectrum of classical and contemporary philosophical concerns. In addition, an invitation to deliver the John Locke Lectures for 1965-66 resulted in the publication one year later of Sellars' first self-contained book, Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes.

The seventeen years from his 60th birthday to his death, constitute Sellars' late period, not in the sense of being marked by any fundamental shift in his philosophical outlook, but in the sense of being a period of consolidation, refinement, and deepening of mature theses and insights that, at the same time, were coming to be both more fully appreciated and explicitly appropriated by a new philosophical generation. Sellars' own scholarly productivity continued largely unabated well into this late period, with increasing frequency in form of contributions to major established lecture series, including the 1971 Matchette Foundation Lectures at the University of Texas (first published in Castañeda, 1975), the 1974 John Dewey Lectures at the University of Chicago (appearing in 1979 as the book Naturalism and Ontology), and the Carus Lectures for 1977-78 (published as a special issue of The Monist in 1981). What was significantly new during this period, however, was that, parallel to these publications, there emerged a series of symposia, colloquia, and critical studies explicitly devoted to Sellars' philosophical work: a "mini-Festschrift'' in Noûs (1973); a full-fledged Festschrift, Action, Knowledge, and Reality, edited by Castañeda, in 1975; a fairly comprehensive and systematic critical study, The Synoptic Vision, from Delaney et al. at Notre Dame University, in 1977; a volume of colloquium proceedings, The Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars: Queries and Extensions, edited by Pitt, in 1978; a special issue of The Monist in 1982; and, most recently, a special issue of Philosophical Studies in 1988, devoted to the proceedings of a colloquium held in 1987 in honor of Sellars' 75th birthday by another institution that he had also helped to found and to guide for more than two decades, the Center for the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

I first met Sellars in 1963, when I arrived at the University of Pittsburgh to begin my doctoral studies. Sellars himself had just come to Pittsburgh from Yale, along with Nuel Belnap and Jerome Schneewind -- Alan Anderson would follow in 1964 -- and with Kurt Baier, Adolph Grunbaum, and Nicholas Rescher already in residence, the Pittsburgh philosophy department was just coming into its full flourishing.

As luck would have it, this exceptionally gifted faculty found itself confronted in the early and mid-sixties by an unusually talented group of doctoral students, including, besides myself, Brian Skyrms, Ernest Sosa, Bas van Fraassen, Michael Dunn, Richard Burian, Louis Goble, Paul Churchland, and Patricia Smith (later Churchland). This group supplied the core membership for what can be described as an extraordinary continuing seminar -- offered from trimester to trimester, to be sure, under nominally different titles, course numbers, and descriptions -- whose shifting topics were determined primarily by the philosophical problems that happened to have engaged the attention of its instructor, Wilfrid Sellars.

Life in a Sellars seminar was both stimulating and stressful. Apart from delivering an opening lecture each trimester, with which he brilliantly introduced the next set of problems in their historical and dialectical contexts, Sellars' typical style was not so much to teach us as to help us to teach one another. Each session consequently saw a different student in the "hot seat", responsible for presenting and commenting on some classical or contemporary work, with Sellars presiding socratically over the ensuing, consistently vigorous, philosophical debates, goading and guiding us with pointed questions and brief penetrating remarks to new insights and understanding.

The great exception was the famous Kant course. Here Sellars indeed lectured, lucidly, with great animation and elan -- and with pictures! Beginning as a simple circular mind, from week to week the synthetic unity of experience came graphically to life on the chalkboard as, step-by-step, the contributions of sensibility, the forms of outer and inner sense, the productive and reproductive imagination, the Categories, and even the transcendental unity of apperception successively found their places in a series of increasingly intricate and wonderfully enlightening diagrams.

Sellars' own philosophical works were never on the reading list, but if you asked him about his personal views on some issue, you were promptly referred to one of his many essays for your answer. What happened next was utterly predictable. The text indeed answered your original question -- but you found yourself with three or four new ones, and when you asked Sellars about them, he straightaway happily referred you to another three or four of his essays. The options quickly became clear; surrender immediately, or read them all. I have never regretted my own choice.


A. Metaphilosophical Perspectives

"The aim of philosophizing," Sellars wrote in 1971, "is to become reflectively at home in the full complexity of the multi-dimensional conceptual system in terms of which we suffer, think, and act." (SK,295) This image of the philosopher as a reflective generalist is a recurrent theme in Sellars' occasional observations on his own discipline or, perhaps more accurately, his own calling. Nine years earlier, he had put it this way:

The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hand together in the broadest possible sense of the term. Under "things in the broadest possible sense" I include such radically different items as not only "cabbages and kings", but numbers and duties, possibilities and finger snaps, aesthetic experience and death. To achieve success in philosophy would be . . . to "know one's way around" with respect to all these things, not in that unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way around before it faced the question, "how do I walk?" but in that reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred. (PSIM,37)

True to this vision of philosophy over a period of forty years, Sellars proceeded to make substantial and systematic contributions to metaphysics and epistemology, to moral philosophy and the theory of action, to philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, to philosophy of science, and always to the interpretation and appreciation of the discipline's great historical figures from Plato to Kant and beyond. One of the leitmotifs centripetally organizing all these systematic reflections was Sellars' standing conviction that scientific discourse, as he put it in 1956, is not "so to speak a peninsular offshoot from the mainland of ordinary discourse" (EPM,304), but rather "a continuation of a dimension of discourse which has been present in human discourse from the very beginning" in consequence of which there is a sense in which "the scientific picture of the world replaces the commonsense picture; a sense in which the scientific account of what there is supersedes the descriptive ontology of everyday life." (EPM,302)

Sellars, in fact, saw contemporary philosophy as confronted

. . . not by one complex many-dimensional picture, the unity of which . . . he must come to appreciate; but by two pictures of essentially the same order of complexity, each of which purports to be a complete picture of man-in-the-world, and which . . . he must fuse into one vision (PSIM,40-1)

The first of these, the "manifest image", is, in first approximation, that: conception of the world and the place of persons in it that has been focal concern of the "perennial philosophy", from the great speculative systems of Plato and Aristotle to their humbler descendants in the Moorean-Augustinian-Strawsonian dimensions of contemporary Anglo-American thought that emphasize "ordinary usage" and "common sense". The manifest image delineates "the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world" (PSIM,42), and there is thus an important sense in which the primary objects of the manifest image are persons" (PSIM,46), beings who, inter alia, reflectively conceive of themselves as being in the world both as thinkers and as doers, as sentient perceivers and cognitive knowers of the world, and as agents capable of affecting it through deliberate and rational elective conducts.

The "scientific image", in contrast, is the complex projection of man-in-the-world on the human understanding still in the process of emerging from the fruits of theoretical reasoning, in particular, from the processes of postulational theory construction. Although this image is "methodologically dependent on the world of sophisticated common sense," Sellars argues,

. . . it purports to be a complete image, i.e., to define a framework which could be the whole truth about that which belongs to the image. Thus although methodologically a development within the manifest image, the scientific image presents itself as a rival image. From its point of view the manifest image on which it rests is an 'inadequate' but pragmatically useful likeness of a reality which first finds its adequate (in principle) likeness in the scientific image. (PSIM,57)

Since, however, man is the being who essentially encounters himself in terms of the categories of the manifest image, competitive tension between the two images threatens to undermine the integrity of conceptions that, in an important sense, are constitutive of our very existence as persons. A leading challenge for contemporary philosophy consequently becomes to show how that tension can properly be resolved, not by asserting the exclusivity of one image or the other but by a "stereoscopic understanding" in which the two images come to be "fused" into a single synoptic vision of man-in-the-world. One way of understanding Sellars' philosophy is as both a fuller articulation of this confrontation of the images and the difficult and detailed working through of the philosophical agenda that it straight-away entails: that places be found within the sought synoptic image for the intentional contents of language and thought, for the sensuous contents of perception and imagination, and for the normative dimensions of knowledge and action.


B. Theories

Sellars' interpretation of the essential epistemology of natural science decisively departed from the received, Positivist, view according to which explanation was identified with derivation -- singular matters of empirical fact being explained by deriving descriptions of them from ("inductive") empirical generalizations (along with appropriate statements of initial conditions), and these "empirical laws" in turn being explained by deriving them from theoretical postulates and correspondence rules. On the Positivist view, in consequence, theories (e.g., microtheories) explain observational matters of fact only indirectly, by implying the (observation-language) generalizations that explain them directly.

This "levels picture" of theories, Sellars proposed, was fundamentally misleading. Theories do not explain laws by entailing them. Rather, "theories explain laws by explaining why the objects of the domain in question obey the laws that they do to the extent that they do." (LT,123)

[That is,] they explain why individual objects of various kinds and in various circumstances in the observation framework behave in those ways in which it has been inductively established that they do behave. Roughly, it is because a gas is ... a cloud of molecules which are behaving in certain theoretically defined ways, that it obeys the empirical Boyle-Charles Law. (LT,121)

This understanding of the epistemology of scientific inquiry is robustly realistic. On Sellars' view, stories that postulate "theoretical entities" are not merely manageable second-class surrogates for more complicated and unwieldy stories about entities that we have good, i.e., observational, reasons to believe actually exist. Theoretical entities, rather, are those entities we warrantedly believe to exist for good and sufficient theoretical reasons. The results of scientific inquiry, in fact, are ontologically definitive:

In the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not. (EPM,173)

(Sellars' "scientia mensura".) Scientific theories, on this understanding, explanatorily "save the appearances" precisely by characterizing the reality of which the appearances are appearances.

Sellars' metaphysical perspectives have always been informed by the fundamental conviction that to be is to make a difference, more precisely, by the (essentially Platonic) idea that the distinguishing mark of real things is the power to act or be acted upon. The concrete reflection of this root conviction was a thoroughgoing naturalism that placed strong constraints, not only on the determinate project of achieving a synoptic fusion of the manifest and scientific images, but also on the potential reach of a traditional categorial ontology in general. On the former front, Sellars' naturalism implied the need for a synoptic story to find a place for mind without assigning an independent autonomous ontological status to intentional entities (or relations); on the latter, the unacceptability of any ontological view which conceived of abstract entities as real objects without offering an adequate account of their place within the causal order, broadly construed.


C. Meaning

Sellars' response to both of these naturalistic challenges was to develop a sophisticated theory of conceptual roles, concretely instantiated in the conducts of representers and transmissible by modes of cultural inheritance. The heart of this theory was a subtle understanding of the way in which linguistic conduct is rule-governed and its keystone an increasingly refined account of meaning as functional classification, more precisely, of the "meaning" idiom as, in the first instance, a context of translation in terms of which structurally distinct "natural-linguistic objects" (e.g., utterings or inscribings) are classified in terms of their roles or functions vis-a-vis the organized behavioral economies of families of speaking organisms. 'Means', in short, was to be interpreted as a specialized form of the copula, tailored to metalinguistic contexts, according to which the right side of the superficially relational form

___ means . . . .

is properly understood as mentioning or exhibiting a linguistic item.

On Sellars' view, such special copulae and metalinguistic indicators develop out of a need to abstract from our parochial sign designs in order to classify items of different languages on the basis of functional criteria. In this project, ordinary quotation suffers from a systematic ambiguity regarding the criteria -- structural (e.g., geometric, acoustic) or functional -- according to which linguistic tokens are classifiable as belonging to this or that linguistic type. Accordingly, Sellars introduced a more straightforward device of two separate styles of quotation marks -- star-quotes and dot-quotes -- tied respectively to the structural and functional modes of sorting and individuating lexical items. Both star- and dot-quotes are illustrating, and thus indexical, devices, but dot-quotes are, in a sense, doubly so. For, whereas star-quotes form a common noun that is true of inscriptions (empirical structures) appropriately design-isomorphic to the token exhibited between them, dot-quotes form a common noun true of items in any language that play the role or do the job performed in our language by the tokens exhibited between them. In terms of this notational apparatus, then, such semantic claims as, for example,

(1s) (In German) 'rot' means red


(2s) (In German) 'Schnee ist weiss' means snow is white

can be more perspicuously expressed by

(1*) (In the German linguistic community) *rot*s are .red.s


(2*) (In the German linguistic community) *Schnee ist weiss*s are .snow is white.s


D. Categorial Ontology

Classical conceptualism had always exploited the parallels between semantic discourse and the categorial ontological idioms of Platonistic discourse ostensibly adverting to abstract entities. Thus, for example, corresponding to the semantic claims (1s) and (2s) are ontological claims on the model of

(1a) (The German word) 'rot' stands for (the property) redness


(2a) (The German sentence) 'Schnee ist weiss' expresses (the proposition) that snow is white.

Sellars, too, exploited these parallels, but, consistently with his commitment to naturalism, in precisely the opposite direction. Espousing a form of linguistic nominalism according to which

. . . the abstract entities which are the subject matter of the contemporary debate between platonistic and anti-platonistic philosophers -- qualities, relations, classes, propositions, and the like -- are linguistic entities (AE,229)

Sellars proposed to reconstruct (1a) and (2a) too as, in first approximation the classificatory claims (1*) and (2*). Like Carnap, in other words, Sellars undertook to treat categorial ontological discourse as the classificatory discourse of a functional metalanguage, transposed into the "material mode of speech". Unlike Carnap, however, Sellars refused to (theoretically) identify the formally definable constructs of a "pure" syntax or semantics with the syntactical and semantical terms in everyday, pre-philosophical usage having corresponding extensions, arguing that such a facile interpretation of the relationship between "pure" and "descriptive" syntactic and semantic discourses seriously failed to do proper justice to the crucial normative aspects of the latter. Thus, while Sellars is prepared to reconstruct such categorial ontological notions as "universal", "individual", "kind", "quality", "proposition", and "fact" in terms of syntactic and semantic counterparts -- e.g., 'predicate', 'singular term', 'common noun', 'monadic predicate', 'sentence', and 'true sentence' -- he insists that such syntactical and semantical words functioning as such . . . have a conceptual role which is no more reducible to [non-syntactical and] non-semantical roles than the role of prescriptive terms is reducible to non-prescriptive roles . . . [The] empirical (in the broad sense) character of statements in descriptive (historical) [syntax and] semantics does not entail that [syntactical and] semantical concepts, properly so called, are descriptive. (EAE,459)


E. Thoughts

The categorial apparatus of abstract entities has traditionally been invoked to characterize and account for, not only semantical facts, but also, crucially, mental facts as well, paradigmatically recorded in claims including a verb of "propositional attitude" (e.g., 'believes', 'hopes', 'realizes', 'wishes').

Realists from the time of Plato on have claimed that facts such as these involve a mental "perception" of abstract entities, traditionally universals, more recently propositions as well. (EAE,444)

As one would expect, at this point in the dialectic Sellars embraces a "psychological nominalism" correlative to his ontological "linguistic nominalism". The leitmotif of psychological nominalism is

. . . the denial of the claim, characteristic of the realist tradition, that a "perception" or "awareness" of abstract entities is the root mental ingredient of mental acts and dispositions. (EAE,445)

Instead, like the proper account of the entities and categories of classical ontology, the proper account of the distinctive intentionality of thought is also to be drawn in terms of the forms and functions of natural linguistic items. The positive thesis correlative to psychological nominalism, consequently, is modeled by what Sellars came to call "verbal behaviorism".

According to VB [verbal behaviorism], thinking 'that-p,' where this means 'having the thought occur to one that-p,' has as its primary sense [an event of] saying 'p'; and a secondary sense in which it stands for a short term proximate propensity [dispositional] to say 'p'. (MFC,419)

The origins of Sellars' mature forms of verbal behaviorism lie in the revolutionary theses of his classic essay "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind", and, in particular, in his mythical story of our Rylean ancestors and the genius Jones. The story begins in medias res with human who have mastered a "Rylean language", a sophisticated expressive system, including logical operators and subjunctive conditionals, whose fundamental descriptive vocabulary pertains to pubic spatio-temporal objects. This hypothetical Rylean language has been enriched by the fundamental resources of semantical discourse -- enabling our ancestors to say of the verbal productions of their peers that they mean this or that, that they stand in various logical relations to one another, that they are true or false, and so on -- but it lacks any resources for speaking of inner episodes, thoughts or experiences. In this milieu now appears the genius Jones.

[In] the attempt to account for the fact that his fellow men behave intelligently not only when their conduct is threaded on a string of overt verbal episodes . . . but also when no detectable verbal output is present, Jones develops a theory according to which overt utterances are but the culmination of a process which begins with certain inner episodes. . . . [His] model for these episodes which initiate the events which culminate in overt verbal behavior is that of overt verbal behavior itself. (EPM,186)

Although the primary use of semantical terms remains the semantical characterization of overt verbal episodes, this Jonesean theory thus carries over the applicability of those semantical categories to its postulated inner episodes. i.e., to (occurrent) thoughts.

The point of the Jonesean myth is to suggest that the epistemological status of thoughts (qua inner episodes) vis-à-vis candid public verbal productions is most usefully understood as analogous to the epistemological status of, e.g., molecules vis-à-vis the public observable behavior of gases.

[Thought] episodes are 'in' language-using animals as molecular impacts are 'in' gases, not as 'ghosts' are in 'machines'. (EPM,187)

The import of this epistemic strategy becomes clear when we recognize that, although, qua acoustic disturbances, the items of the model for Jones's theory have a determinate intrinsic nature, the thought episodes postulated by that theory as covert states of persons are introduced by a purely functional analogy. The concept of an occurrent thought is not that of something encountered propria persona but rather that of a causally-mediating logico-semantic role player, whose determinate ontological character is so far left open.

[The] fact that [thoughts] are not introduced as physiological entities does not preclude the possibility that at a later methodological stage they may, so to speak, 'turn out' to be such. Thus, there are many who would say that it is already reasonable to suppose that these thoughts are to be 'identified' with complex events in the cerebral cortex . . . (EPM,187-8)

It follows, inter alia, that the manifest image's conception of person as thinkers can fuse smoothly with the scientific image's conception of persons as complex material organisms having a determinate physiological and neurological structure. On Sellars' account, the concept of a thought is fundamentally the concept of a functional kind, and consequently no ontological tensions are generated by the identification within the scientific image of items belonging to that functional kind with states and episodes of an organism's central nervous system.

His conviction that what is fundamentally characteristic of semantic discourse is its ineliminable appeal to functional considerations, and his correlative pioneering analyses of the intentional categories of the mental in terms of epistemologically theoretical transpositions of the semantic categories of public language grant Sellars a definitive place in contemporary analytic philosophy of mind. As Dennett puts it,

Thus was contemporary functionalism in the philosophy of mind born, and the varieties of functionalism we have subsequently seen are in one way or another enabled, and directly or indirectly inspired, by what was left open in Sellars' initial proposal ... (MTE,341)


F. Linguistic Roles

A perspicuous reconstruction of both categorial ontological and mental intentional discourses in terms of a semantic discourse conceived in terms of linguistic functions or roles is, of course, possible only if the notion of a linguistic item's having a role or function can itself be explicated without recourse to irreducibly platonistic or mentalistic idioms. The exquisite care with which Sellars consequently proceeds to locate the normative conceptual order within the causal order and to interpret the modes of causality exercised by linguistic rules is one of the remarkable strengths of his philosophical system.

The key to Sellars' analysis of the normative dimension of language lies in his account of pattern-governed behavior. The general concept of pattern-governed behavior is, roughly,

. . . the concept of behavior which exhibits a pattern, not because it is brought about by the intention that it exhibit this pattern, but because the propensity to emit behavior of the pattern has been selectively reinforced, and the propensity to emit behavior which does not conform to this pattern selectively extinguished. (MFC,423)

Pattern-governed behavior characteristic of a species -- e.g., the dance of the bees -- can, of course, arise from processes of natural selection on an evolutionary time scale. Crucially, however, pattern-governed behavior can be developed in individuals, "trainees", by deliberate and purposive selection on the part of other individuals, the trainers.

Sellars distinguishes in this connection between two sorts of linguistic rules: "rules of action" and "rules of criticism". Rules of action are ought-to-do's -- e.g., "Ceteris paribus, one ought to say such and such if in circumstances C" -- and as such they can be efficacious in guiding linguistic activity only to the extent that their subjects already possess the relevant concepts, e.g., concepts of "saying such-and-such", of "being in circumstances C", and, indeed, of obeying a rule (i.e., doing something because it is enjoined by a rule). Rules of criticism, in contrast, are ought-to-be's -- e.g., "Westminster clock chimes ought to strike on the quarter hour" (LTC,95) -- whose subjects, although their performances may be appraised according to such rules, need not themselves have the concept of a rule nor, indeed, any concepts at all. Thus a trainer can be construed as reasoning

Patterned-behavior of such and such a kind ought to be exhibited by trainees, hence we, the trainers, ought to do this and that, as likely to bring it about that it is exhibited. (MFC,423)

And, in consequence of the conducts of trainers under the guidance of such rules of action, the behavior of a language-learner can come to conform to the relevant rules of criticism without his grasping them, in any other sense, himself. "Trainees conform to ought-to-be's because trainers obey corresponding ought-to-do's." (MFC,423)

[The] members of a linguistic community are first language learners and only potentially 'people', but subsequently language teachers possessed of the rich conceptual framework this implies. They start out being the subject matter of the ought-to-be's and graduate to the status of agent subjects of the ought-to-do's. (LTC,100)

Essential to language are three types of pattern-governed behavior:

Language Entry Transitions: The speaker responds to objects in perceptual situations, and in certain states of himself, with appropriate linguistic activity.
Intra-linguistic Moves: The speaker's linguistic conceptual episodes tend to occur in patterns of valid inference (theoretical and practical), and tend not to occur in patterns which violate logical principles.
Language Departure Transitions: The speaker responds to such linguistic conceptual episodes as 'I will now raise my hand' with an upward motion of the hand, etc. (MFC,423-4)

Although these transitions -- respectively the essential elements of perceptual takings, inferences, and volitions -- are acts, they are not actions. They do not become deliberate obeyings of ought-to-do's but are acquired as and remain pattern-governed activities. Nevertheless, these linguistic "non-actions" are what underlie and make possible the domain of actions proper, not only non-linguistic actions, but linguistic actions as well. For

. . . the trainee acquires not only the repertoire of pattern-governed linguistic behavior which is language about non-linguistic items, but also that extended repertoire which is language about linguistic as well as non-linguistic items. He is able to classify items in linguistic kinds, and to engage in theoretical and practical reasoning about his linguistic behavior. (MFC,425)

Linguistic roles or functions, finally, are individuated in terms of the structure of positive and negative uniformities generated in the natural order by these pattern-governed activities of perception, inference (both formal and material), and volition. Sameness of function, role, or office amounts to sameness of place in the complex relational structure ("logical space") generated by conducts that are in these ways causally shaped by systems of espoused linguistic norms. It follows, inter alia, that Sellars' functional conception of semantics neither presupposes or unavoidably leads back into the domains of abstract ontological or intentional mental discourse which he proposes to elucidate by its means.


G. The Myth of the Given

The proposal to illuminate the epistemic status of mental concepts by an appeal to the contrast between theoretical and non-theoretical discourse, in turn, makes sense only against the background of another central element of Sellars' philosophical thought which, although it is perhaps the philosophical view most frequently associated with his name, has so far gone unremarked, his thoroughgoing and general critique of "Myth of the Given". The philosophical framework of givenness historically takes on many guises, of which classical sense-datum theory is but one. More generally, the very idea that empirical knowledge rests on a foundation at all, of whatever kind, is a manifestation of the Myth of the Given, as is, significantly, the assumption that the "privacy" of the mental and one's "privileged access" to one's own mental states are primitive features of experience, logically and epistemologically prior to all intersubjective concepts pertaining to inner episodes.

On the contrary, in the case of inner episodes, Sellars argues, what begins as a language with a purely theoretical use can acquire a first-person reporting role. For it can turn out to be possible to train people, in essence by a process of operant conditioning, to have "privileged access to some of their inner episodes, e.g., to respond directly and non-inferentially to the occurrence of one thought with another (meta-) thought to the effect that one is thinking it. It is a special virtue of the Jonesean story that it shows how the essential intersubjectivity of language can be reconciled with the "privacy" of inner episodes, i.e.,

. . . that it helps us understand that concepts pertaining to such inner episodes as thoughts are primarily and essentially inter-subjective, as inter-subjective as the concept of a positron, and that the [first-person] reporting role of these concepts . . . constitutes a dimension of [their] use . . . which is built on and presupposes this inter-subjective status. (EPM,189)

This latter conclusion is nothing but the particularization to "avowals" of a family of general considerations that Sellars mobilizes against the Myth of the Given. At the heart of these considerations is his articulate recognition of the irreducibly normative character of epistemic discourse.

The essential point is that in characterizing an episode or a state as that of knowing, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or state, we are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says. (EPM,169)

Once it is acknowledged that the senses per se grasp no facts, that all knowledge that something is such-and-so (all "subsumption of particulars under universals") presupposes learning, concept formation, and even symbolic representation, it follows that

. . . instead of coming to have a concept of something because we have noticed that sort of thing, to have the ability to notice a sort of thing is already to have the concept of that sort of thing, and cannot account for it. (EPM,176)


H. Sensations

Sellars follows Kant in rejecting the Cartesian picture of a sensory-cognitive continuum. The "of-ness" of sensations -- e.g., a sensation's being of a red triangle or of a sharp shooting pain -- he insists, is not the intentional "of-ness" ("aboutness") of thoughts.

The "rawness" of "raw feels" is their non-conceptual character. The sense in which "raw feels" are "of something" is not to be assimilated to the intentionality of thoughts. (IAMBP,376)

Consequently, while his epistemological views regarding sensory episodes are essentially parallel to his treatment of the epistemology of occurrent thoughts, Sellars' account of the ontology of sensations diverges from his semantic and functionalist account of thoughts in important respects.

Like his account of thoughts, Sellars' theory of sensations begins with a strategic appeal to the unique epistemic status of postulated theoretical entities. In a final episode of the Jonesean myth, as elements of an explanatory account of the occurrence in various circumstances of perceptual cognitions, having determinate semantic contents,

. . . the hero . . . postulates a class of inner -- theoretical -- episodes which he calls, say, impressions, and which are the end results of the impingement of physical objects and processes on various parts of the body. . . (EPM,191)

This time, however, the model for Jones's theory is not that of functionally-individuated families of sentences, but instead

. . . the model is the idea of a domain of 'inner replicas' which, when brought about in standard conditions share the perceptible characteristics of their physical sources. (EPM,191)

Here Sellars is careful to stress, first, that the leading idea of the model is the occurrence, 'in' perceivers of "replicas" per se, not of perceivings of "replicas" (which would mistakenly inject into the account of impressions the intentionality of thought), and, second, that although the entities of the model are particulars, the entities introduced by the theory are not particulars but states of a perceiving subject. Thus, although talk of the "of-ness" of sensations, like that of the "of-ness" of thoughts is, on Sellars' view, fundamentally classificatory, the classification at issue is based not on a functional (logical, semantic) analogy but rather on analogies that are (although, in the first instance, extrinsic and causal) ultimately intrinsic and contentive.

In the first instance, the concept of a person's having an of-a-red-triangle sensation (a parsing that highlights the classificatory role of "of-ness"), or, even more perspicuously (reflecting the status of 'sensation' as a "verbal noun"), of her sensing [red triangle](s)ly, is the concept of her being in the sort of state that is brought about in normal perceivers in standard conditions by the action of red triangular objects on the eyes. The point of the model of "inner replicas", however, is to insist that such states can discharge their explanatory jobs in relation to cognitive perceptual takings (and especially non-veridical perceptual judgments) only if they are conceived as having themselves determinate intrinsic characters and, in particular, as resembling and differing from other sensory states -- e.g., sensing [green triangular](s)ly, sensing [red square](s)ly, etc. -- in a manner formally analogous to the way in which objects of the "replica" model -- e.g., red and triangular, green and triangular, and red and square "wafers" -- are conceived to resemble and differ from one another.

If that were the end of Sellars' ontological story regarding sensations, matters would be complicated enough. But Sellars proceeds to develop this core account in two different directions, in consequence of which his full theory of sensations has emerged as being one of the most difficult and controversial aspects of his philosophy.

The first line of development turns on the conclusion that (within the manifest image) the fundamental concept pertaining to color is that of a kind of stuff. Our "ur-concept" of red, for example, "has the form of a mass term, the predicative concept is red having the form is an expanse of red". (CL,46) It is the concept of a quantum of red in space, an expanse or volume consisting of red. The concept is basic in the sense that there is "no ... determinate category prior to the concept of red as a physical stuff, as a matter for individuated physical things." (C1,I,84) When the dialectical pressures that lead us to distinguish seeing from (merely) ostensibly seeing generate worries about the ontological status of the redness which one ostensibly sees when it is not a constituent redness of a physical object, we cannot suppose that a categorial alternative is available which can simply be "read off' from an introspective scrutiny of color quanta. The idea that, if a person is directly aware of an item which has a certain categorial status, then he is aware of it as having that categorial status, argues Sellars, is only another form of the Myth of the Given.

All that is available is such transcendentals as actual, something and somehow. The red is something actual which is somehow a portion of red stuff, somehow the sort of item which is suited to be part of the content of a physical object, but which,... is not, in point of fact, a portion of physical stuff. (CL,I,90)

In this situation, according to Sellars, it becomes the job of analogical thinking to construct new categorial forms of concept pertaining to color.

It does this by forming a proto-theory in which items which satisfy an axiomatics of shape and color play roles which promise to account for the fact in question. (CL,I,93)

The first complication of Sellars' theory of sensation results from his conviction that, in the case of sensations, Jones's theory takes this interpretive form. It does not introduce new domains of entities, but rather new forms of concepts.

[The] theory of sense impressions does not introduce, for example, cubical volumes of pink. It reinterprets the categorial status of the cubical volumes of pink of which we are perceptually aware. Conceived in the manifest image as, in standard cases, constituents of physical objects and in abnormal cases, as somehow 'unreal' or 'illusory', they are recategorized as sensory states of the perceiver and assigned various explanatory roles in the theory of perception. (CL,III,44)

The relevant intrinsic characteristic of a state of, e.g., sensing pink(s)ly

. . . is 'analogous' to the pinkness of a manifest pink ice cube, not by being a different quality which is in some respects analogous to pinkness . . ., but by being the same 'content' in a different categorial 'form'. (CL,III,47)

The crux of the Jonesean theory, in other words, is the thesis that the very color quanta of which we are perceptually aware as being in space are instead actually states of persons-qua-perceivers. It follows that, already within the manifest image, the ontological status ultimately accorded to sensory "content qualia" is, in fact, incompatible with their being instantiated in physical space.

[The] esse of cubes of pink is percipi or, to use a less ambiguous term, sentiri. Of course, . . . we are not perceptually aware of cubes of pink as states of ourselves, thought that is in point of fact what they are. (CL,III,66)

The second complication of Sellars' theory of sensations arises from the further conclusion that it is this manifest image conception of sensory contents as states of perceivers which must ultimately be synoptically "fused" with the scientific image, and that the latter's commitment to the idea that those perceivers themselves are complex systems of micro-physical particles constitutes a barrier to doing so in any straightforward way.

On the one hand, claims Sellars, the states of persons (qua single logical subjects) that are the final ontological locus of sensory contents within the manifest image formally preserve the ultimate homogeneity of those contents as originally categorially conceived (i.e., as space-filling stuffs), and no (defined) states of a system or multiplicity of logical subjects could continue to do so. On the other hand, since only a further categorial reinterpretation of those sensory states as actual items within the scientific image properly respects the demands of an adequate sensory phenomenology, we cannot simply adopt a "reductive materialist" view according to which

. . . what really goes on when a person senses a-cube-of-pinkly consists in [a certain] system of micro-physical particles being in a complex physical-2 state. (CL,III,79)

where "physical-2" states are definable in terms of theoretical predicates necessary and sufficient to describe non-living matter. (To be "physical-1", in contrast, is simply to belong in the space-time network.) For such reductive materialism, by proposing to identify manifest image and scientific image circumstances or states-of-affairs, amounts to the rejection of the idea that a (Jonesean-theoretical) state of, e.g., sensing a-cube-of-pinkly is itself something actual in any categorial guise.

Sellars concludes, therefore, that sensory contents can be synoptically integrated into the scientific image only after both they and the currently-fundamental micro-physical particulars of that image as well undergo yet another categorial transposition. What is required is a categorially monistic ontology whose fundamental entities are all "absolute processes". Once perceivers themselves have been reconceived as systems or "harmonies" of absolute processes, the way would be cleared for a unitary "image" which could achieve global explanatory closure by assigning the conceptual descendants of mechanistic parameters and the conceptual descendants of sensory contents essentially correlative roles in the nomologicals that ultimately were genuinely explanatory of sensory consciousness. Sensings qua absolute processes would then be physical

. . . not only in the weak sense of not being mental (i.e., conceptual), for they lack intentionality, but in the richer sense of playing a genuine causal role in the behavior of sentient organisms. They would, as I have used the terms, be physical-l but not physical-2. Not being epiphenomenal, they would conform to a basic metaphysical intuition: to be is to make a difference. (CL,III,126)


I. Justification

Consonant with his thoroughgoing rejection of the Myth of the Given, Sellars interprets a person's first-person epistemic authority with respect to the sensory aspects of his or her own experience as built on and presupposing an intersubjective status for sensory concepts per se. Correlatively, Sellars rejects the idea that sensory consciousness supplies a form of knowledge of empirical facts that (1) is immediate (i.e., non-inferential); (2) presupposes no knowledge of other matters of fact, particular or general; and (3) constitutes the ultimate court of appeals for all factual claims. (EPM,164) Thus, although he is prepared to agree that a person can directly know an empirical fact in a sense which implies that he has not inferred what he justifiedly believes from other propositions, Sellars insists that it does not follow that the belief constituting such direct knowledge must somehow be self-justifying, self-warranting, or self-authenticating. Rather

. . . to say that someone directly knows that-p is to say that his right to the conviction that-p essentially involves the fact that the idea [belief] that-p occurred to the knower in a specific way. I shall call this kind of credibility 'trans-level credibility', and [speak of] the inference schema . . . to which it refers, as trans-level inference. (P,88)

The epistemic authority of a non-inferential perceptual belief, proposes Sellars, can be traced to the fact that, in the course of learning perceptual language, the believer has acquired propensities for the reliable use of the relevant concepts in perceptual situations. What is more, in order to have full mastery of perceptual language, a person must himself know what is involved in learning to use perceptual sentences reliably in perceptual contexts. Thus, when someone, for example, sees there to be a red apple in front of him -- a perceptual taking which can be modeled according to the conventions of Sellars' "Verbal Behaviorism" by a candid, spontaneous thinking-out-loud of the form: "Lo! Here is a red apple." -- then,

. . . given that he has learned how to use the relevant words in perceptual situations, he is justified in reasoning as follows:
I just thought-out-loud 'Lo! Here is a red apple' (no countervailing conditions obtain); So, there is good reason to believe that there is a red apple in front of me. (SK,341-2)

This reasoning does not have the original perceptual judgment as its conclusion, but is rather an inference from the character and context of the original non-inferential experience to the existence of a good reason for accepting it as veridical. What gives this justificatory argument its peculiar "trans-level" character, and, correlatively, conveys the impression that the spontaneous non-inferential belief thereby warranted is self-justifying, is the fact that its main premiss asserts the occurrence of precisely that belief in a specific context.

It is central to Sellars' thoroughgoingly holistic view of cognition and warrant that the reasonableness of accepting even first principles is a matter of the availability of good arguments warranting their acceptance. What is definitive of first principles, FP, is the unavailability of sound reasonings in which they are derived from still more basic premisses, thus of arguments of the form:

Therefore, FP

Here, too, Sellars invokes the notion of a "trans-level" inference. The unavailability of sound reasonings of the form (Al), he proposes, is entirely compatible with the existence of good arguments of the form:

Therefore, it is reasonable to accept FP

the conclusion of which is not FP itself, but in whose conclusion the principle FP is, in essence, mentioned.

Since accepting principles is something that persons do, observes Sellars, the conclusion of (A2), in turn, amounts to the claim that a particular course of epistemic conduct can be supported by adequate reasons and thus suggests the existence of yet another argument, a sound practical argument whose conclusion expresses an intention to engage in just such conduct, thus:

I shall achieve desirable epistemic end E
Achieving E implies accepting principles of kind K
The principle FP is of kind K
Therefore, I shall accept FP


J. Induction

It is at this point that we can finally achieve closure on Sellars' philosophy of science. On Sellars' view, the forms of justificatory reasoning governing the acceptance of lawlike generalizations (both universal and statistical) and theoretical systems alike are all at base such patterns of practical inference. Thus Sellars sees adopting a systematic theoretical framework as ultimately justified by an appeal to the epistemic end of "being able to give non-trivial explanatory accounts of established laws" (IV,384) And he sees the adopting of statistical nomologicals which project the observed frequency of a property in a class (including the special case in which this frequency = 1) to unobserved finite samples of the class, in turn, as ultimately justified by the epistemic end of

. . . being able to draw inferences concerning the composition with respect to a given property Y of unexamined finite samples . . . of a kind, X, in a way which also provides an explanatory account of the composition with respect to Y of the total examined sample, K, of X. (IV,392)

It is crucial to Sellars' account that these epistemic ends controlling the acceptance of new laws and theories are concerned with

. . . the realizing of a logically necessary condition of being in the framework of explanation and prediction, i.e., being able to draw inferences concerning the unknown and give explanatory accounts of the known. (IV,397)

Since, on his view, inductive reasoning does not need to be vindicated, i.e., shown to be truth-preserving, but is rather itself fundamentally a form of vindication, i.e., (deductive) practical reasoning justifying our engaging in determinate (epistemic) conducts, the ends-in-view to which it appeals must be the sort of things that can be known to obtain or be realized. The end of being in possession of laws and principles that enable one to draw predictive inferences and to produce explanatory accounts satisfies this practical constraint; such Reichenbachian ends-in-view as being in possession of limit-frequency statements which are within a certain degree of approximation of the truth, where such limits exist, do not.


K. Practical Action

The challenge of integrating actions, that is, conducts informed by practical thinkings, into the synoptic fusion of the manifest and scientific images is not fundamentally an ontological challenge. From the ontological point of view, intentions and volitions are simply species of occurrent thinkings, although, from the functional point of view, they are thoughts of a special kind. They are practical cognitions, whose unique functional role within the total cognitive and behavioral economy of persons is thus to be understood in terms of their special relationships to conducts, analogously to the manner in which the role of cognitions in perceptual judgments is understood in terms of their status as non-inferential responses to sensations.

Sellars signals the special conduct-structuring role of practical cognitions by a contrived use of auxiliary verb 'shall' as an operator on sentential thinkings. Categorical intendings are time-determinate first-person future tensed practical thinkings of the form:

(IT) Shall (I will do X at t).

Willings (volitions, "acts of will") are special cases of such intendings in which the time determination becomes the indexical present:

(VT) Shall (I will now do X).

On Sellars' view, such practical thinkings mediate between reasoning (deliberation) and conduct (behavior). They relate to behavior by being caught up in a network of acquired causal propensities which guarantee, roughly, that intendings of the form (IT) regularly give rise, at time t, to volitions of the form (VT), which, in turn, barring paralysis and the like, regularly give rise, then and there, to bodily movements that are (further circumstances being appropriate) the initial stages of a doing of X. And they relate to deliberation according to a single principle which unites practical and theoretical reasoning:

If <p> implies <q>, then <Shall(p)> implies <Shall(q)>.

The manifest image's conception of an intention or a volition, in other words, is once again the functional conception of a causally-mediating logico-semantic role player, not the concept of something with a determinate intrinsic character given propria persona. The ontological accommodation of practical thinkings within the scientific image can consequently proceed along the lines already sketched for cognitive thought in general.

But such ontological accommodation cannot be the end of the story here. Taking seriously the idea that the scientific image purports to be a complete image of man-in-the-world and a candidate ultimately to replace the manifest image requires that the categories pertaining to persons reappear within the sought synoptic fusion as such. The question becomes, in other words whether we can perform

. . . the task of showing that categories pertaining to man as a person who finds himself confronted by standards (ethical, logical, etc.) which often conflict with his desires and impulses, and to which he may or may not conform, can be reconciled with the idea that man is what science says he is. (PSIM,38)

On Sellars' view, the concept of a person is irredeemably social. To think of an entity as a person is essentially to think of it as actually or potentially a member of a community, "an embracing group each member of which thinks of itself as a member of the group" (PSIM,39)

It is the most general common intentions of a community that fundamentally define the structure of norms and values in terms of which the conducts of its members come to be appraised as "correct" or "incorrect" or "right" or "wrong".

Roughly, to value from a moral point of view is to value as a member of the relevant community . . . (S&M,220)

Categorical, 'ought's are categorically valid intersubjective intentions that anyone in a certain kind of circumstance do (or refrain from) a certain kind of action.

It follows that to recognize a featherless biped or dolphin or Martian as a person requires that one think thoughts of the form *We (one) shall do (or abstain from doing) actions of kind A in circumstances of kind C.' To think thoughts of this kind is not to classify or explain, but to rehearse an intention.

Thus the conceptual framework of persons is the framework in which we think of one another as sharing the community intentions which provide the ambience of principles and standards (above all, those which make meaningful discourse and rationality itself possible) within which we live our own individual lives. (PSIM,39--40)

Within the manifest image, the framework of thoughts is founded on a series of functional analogies, ontological promissory notes for which we can readily imagine an emerging scientific understanding progressively supplying structural (e.g., neurophysiological) cash. The accommodation of the manifest image's sensory contents within a synoptic fusion, on the other hand, requires the conceptual transposition of some of its ontologically basic entities into new categorial forms enabling their integration with the explanatory nomologicals of a hitherto purely mechanistic scientific image. Unlike the frameworks of thoughts and sensations, however, Sellars argues, the conceptual framework of persons as such "is not something that needs to be reconciled with the scientific image, but rather something to be joined to it." (PSIM,40) To achieve a genuinely synoptic vision of man-in-the-world, we need to enrich the scientific image

. . . not with more [or different] ways of saying what is the case, but with the language of community and individual intentions, so that by construing the actions we intend to do and the circumstances in which we intend to do them in scientific terms, we directly relate the world as conceived by scientific theory to our purposes, and make it our world and no longer an alien appendage to the world in which we do our living. (PSIM,40)



The scope and depth of Sellars' philosophical vision far exceeds what any such summary encounter can possibly provide. Lengthy though my own explorations here have been, there remains much of great value in Sellars' work that has nevertheless gone unmentioned -- inter alia, his significant contributions to ethical theory and his masterful interpretations of the work of many of the discipline's great historical figures, not as academic museum exhibits, but always and characteristically from the standpoint of his own systematic work, as active contributors to a continuing and contemporary philosophical dialectic. Most unfortunately of all, however, it belongs to the essential nature of such a summary that it presents the what of Sellars' philosophical views and theses in abstraction from their why, i.e., in abstraction from the extraordinarily powerful, subtle, and sophisticated dialectical structure of evidence and argumentation with which he supports his substantive claims and conclusions. It is consequently my hope that this Nachruf will at the same time serve as an Aufruf to a wider philosophical community to dedicate to the work of Wilfrid Sellars the detailed and penetrating intellectual engagement that it so richly deserves.


Works by Wilfrid Sellars

  • Pure Pragmatics and Possible Worlds -- The Early Essays of Wilfrid Sellars, [PPPW], ed. by Jeffrey F. Sicha, (Ridgeview Publishing Co; Reseda, CA; 1980). [Also contains a long introductory essay by Sicha and an extensive bibliography of Sellars' work through 1979.]
  • Science, Perception and Reality, [SPR], (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd; London, and The Humanities Press: New York; 1963).
  • Philosophical Perspectives, [PP], (Charles C. Thomas: Springfield, IL; 1967). Reprinted in two volumes, Philosophical Perspectives: History of Philosophy and Philosophical Perspective: Metaphysics and Epistemology, (Ridgeview Publishing Co.; Reseda, CA; 1977).
  • Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes. [S&M], (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd; London, and The Humanities Press; New York; 1968). [The 1966 John Locke Lectures]
  • Essays in Philosophy and Its History, [EPH], (D. Reidel Publishing Co.; Dordrecht, Holland; 1975).
  • Naturalism and Ontology, [N&O], (Ridgeview Publishing Co.; Reseda, CA: 1979). [An expanded version of the 1974 John Dewey Lectures]
  • The Metaphysics of Epistemology, Lectures by Wilfrid Sellars, edited by Pedro Amaral, (Ridgeview Publishing Co.; Reseda, CA; 1989). [Also contains a complete bibliography of Sellars' published work through 1989.]

Major Critical Studies

  • Castañeda, H-N., ed. Action, Knowledge, and Reality (Bobbs-Merrill; Indianapolis, IN; 1975). [Also contains an extensive bibliography of Sellars' work through 1974, Sellars' intellectual autobiography, and 'The Structure of Knowledge' (see below).]
  • Delaney, C.F., Michael J. Loux, Gary Gutting, and W. David Solomon, The Synoptic Vision: Essays on the Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars (University of Notre Dame Press; Notre Dame. IN; 1977). [Also contains an extensive bibliography.]
  • Pitt, Joseph C., ed., The Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars: Queries and Extensions (D. Reidel Publishing Co; Dordrecht, Holland; 1978). [Revised proceedings of a workshop on the Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars held at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA, in November 1976.]
  • Pitt, Joseph C., Pictures, Images, and Conceptual Change: An Analysis of Wilfrid Sellars' Philosophy of Science (D. Reidel Publishing Co.; Dordrecht, Holland; 1981).
  • Noûs, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1973. [Special issue devoted to the philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars.]
  • The Monist, Vol. 65, No. 3, 1982. [Issue devoted to the philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars.]
  • Philosophical Studies, Vol. 54, No. 2, 1988. [Revised proceedings of a colloquium on Sellars' philosophy held in October 1987 at the University of Pittburgh's Center for Philosophy of Science.]


  • Dennett, Daniel C.,[MTE], 'Mid-Term Examination: Compare and Contrast', in The Intentional Stance (Bradford Books, The MIT Press; Cambridge, MA; 1987), pp. 339-50.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [AE], 'Abstract Entities', Review of Metaphysics 16, 1983; reprinted in [PP], pp. 229-69.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [CL], The Carus Lectures for 1977-78, published in The Monist 64, No. 1, 1981. (Citations by lecture and numbered paragraph.)
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [EAE], 'Empiricism and Abstract Entities', in The Philosophy of Rudolph Carnap, ed. by P.A. Schilpp (Open Court; LaSalle, IL; 1963); reprinted in [EPH], pp. 245-86.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [EPM], 'Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind', in The Foundations of Science and the Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. I, ed. by H. Feigl and M. Scriven (University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis, MN; 1956); reprinted in [SPR], pp. 127-96).
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [IAMBP], 'The Identity Approach to the Mind-Body Problem', Review of Metaphysics 18, 1965; reprinted in [PP], pp. 370-88.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [IV], 'Induction as Vindication', Philosophy of Science 31, 1964; reprinted in [EPH], pp. 367-416. Sellars, Wilfrid, [LT], 'The Language of Theories', in Current Issues in the Philosophy Science, ed. by H. Feigl and G. Maxwell (Henry Holt, Rhinehart and Winston; New York, NY; 1961): reprinted in [SPR], pp. 106-26.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [LTC],'Language as Thought and Communication', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 29. 1969; reprinted in [EPH], pp. 93-117.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [MFC], 'Meaning as Functional Classification', Synthese 27, 1974; pp. 417-37.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [P], 'Phenomenalism', in [SPR], pp. 60-105.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [PSIM], 'Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man', in Frontiers of Science and Philosophy, ed. by Robert Colodny (University of Pittsburgh Press; Pittsburgh, PA; 1962); reprinted in [SPR], pp. 1-40.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, [SK], 'The Structure of Knowledge', The Matchette Foundation Lectures for 1971, published in Castañeda, ed., Action, Knowledge, and Reality (see above).
Department of Philosophy, CB 125. Caldwell Hall, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3125 USA

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