Carl Sachs: “Avoiding Foundationalism And Idealism: How Sellarsian Picturing Overcomes the Myth of the Given”

February 14, 2019 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Wolff Conference Room, D1103
6 E 16th St
New York, NY 10003

Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989) is well-known for his “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” (EPM) in which he criticizes empiricist theories of knowledge acquisition. Empiricism, he argues there, relies on what he calls “the Myth of the Given.” The Myth of the Given is often understood as a dilemma for epistemological foundationalism. However, Sellars also remarks that not even Kant and Hegel (“that great foe of immediacy” EPM §1) were entirely free of “the entire framework of givenness”). This suggests that the Myth of the Given is not limited to the epistemological foundationalism of pre-critical dogmatic metaphysics. I shall argue (following James O’Shea) that the Myth of the Given is primarily a problem about how we should account for our cognitive awareness of the categorial structure of experience. I shall then argue that Sellars should be interpreted as arguing for a non-semantic mind-world relation, which he calls “picturing”, to explain how the Myth of the Given should be overcome.
By doing so Sellars shows how to avoid both the Given and idealism, thus overcoming a long-standing opposition within the history of philosophy since Kant. This argument is also relevant for the divide between “left-wing Sellarsians” (Rorty, McDowell, Brandom, Williams) and “right-wing Sellarsians” (Churchland, Dennett, Millikan); the left-wing Sellarsians developed the criticism of the Myth of the Given and the right-wing Sellarsians developed picturing into an account of animal cognition. On my interpretation, this divide itself is unfortunate because it leads us to overlook a fundamental coherence to Sellars’s views.

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