Wilfrid Sellars’s Anti-Descriptivism

Kevin Scharp

in Categories of Being

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199890576
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199980031 | DOI:
Wilfrid Sellars’s Anti-Descriptivism

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The work of Kripke, Putnam, Kaplan, and others initiated a tradition that has come to be known as anti-descriptivism. This chapter argues that when properly interpreted, Sellars is a staunch anti-descriptivist. Not only does it accept most of the conclusions drawn by the anti-descriptivists, it goes beyond their critiques to reject the fundamental tenant of descriptivism—that understanding a linguistic expression consists in mentally grasping its meaning and associating that meaning with the expression. The chapter shows that Sellars' accounts of language and the mind provide novel justifications for the anti-descriptivists' conclusions. It presents what he takes to be a Sellarsian analysis of the relation between metaphysical modal and epistemic modal notions. The chapter's account involves extension of the strategy Sellars uses to explain both the relation between physical object concepts and sensation concepts, and the relation between concepts that apply to linguistic activity and those that apply to conceptual activity.

Keywords: anti-descriptivism; modal notions; Sellars; Kripke; Putnam; Kaplan; language; meaning; mind; sensation

Chapter.  15668 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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