How Pragmatist was Sellars? Reflections on an Analytic Pragmatism

In Stefan Brandt & Anke Breunig (eds.), Wilfrid Sellars and Twentieth-Century Philosophy. New York: Routledge. pp. 110–29 (2020)
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Abstract

ABSTRACT: In this chapter I argue that Sellars’s philosophy was deeply pragmatist both in its motivation and in its content, whether considered conceptually, historically, or in his own estimation, and that this is the case even in the important respects in which his views differ from most pragmatists. However, this assessment has been rejected by many recent pragmatists, with “classicalist” pragmatists frequently objecting to Sellars’s analytic-pragmatist privileging of language at the alleged expense of experience, while many analytic pragmatists themselves emphasize that Sellars’s philosophy arguably runs against the grain of pragmatism in central respects, with Brandom for instance recently remarking that “Sellars never explicitly identified himself with pragmatism.” Part I explores the classical pragmatist influences on the development of Sellars’s philosophy, with reference to aspects of the intellectual background in which those views formed. Part II then outlines more abstractly some of the enduring pragmatist themes in Sellars’s philosophy, including his conceptions of the myth of the given, the space of reasons, and his normative-inferentialist theory of meaning. I conclude in Part III with Sellars’s views on truth and “picturing,” which present a complex case for the question of “how pragmatist” Sellars’s views both were and ought to be.

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James O'Shea
University College Dublin

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