Wilfrid Sellars


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The son of the philosopher Roy Wood Sellars (1880–1973), Sellars was educated at Michigan, and after time at Buffalo and Oxford completed his doctorate at Harvard. He taught at Iowa, Minnesota and Yale, but established himself from 1963 at Pittsburgh. His early work represented a blend of analytic philosophy with logical positivism, and together with others he founded the journal Philosophical Studies to act as a platform for this approach, and edited influential works bringing such methods before the American profession (Readings in Philosophical Analysis, 1949, and Readings in Ethical Theory, 1952). Sellars's own work revolved around the difficulties of combining the scientific image of people and their world, with the manifest image, or natural conception of ourselves as acquainted with intentions, meanings, colours, and other definitive aspects of the human world. His reputation was established by his most influential paper ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind’ (1956), which was possibly the central text introducing functionalism in the philosophy of mind (See also use (of words)). In this and many other papers Sellars explored the nature of thought and experience, defending the view of thought as a kind of inner speech, and above all attacking the myth of the given in all its forms. For Sellars all intentional events live in the ‘space of reasons’; that is, even apparently blank experience is a theoretical concept, or a kind of reflection of our thoughts about the world and the authority we allow each other over various kinds of report. It follows that no such experience can play the role demanded by foundationalism in the theory of knowledge. Collections of papers include Science, Perception, and Reality (1963), Philosophical Perspectives (1967), and Essays in Philosophy and its History (1974).

Subjects: Philosophy.

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