Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind

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Harvard University Press, 1997 - Philosophy - 181 pages

The most important work by one of America's greatest twentieth-century philosophers, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind is both the epitome of Wilfrid Sellars' entire philosophical system and a key document in the history of philosophy. First published in essay form in 1956, it helped bring about a sea change in analytic philosophy. It broke the link, which had bound Russell and Ayer to Locke and Hume--the doctrine of "knowledge by acquaintance." Sellars' attack on the Myth of the Given in Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind was a decisive move in turning analytic philosophy away from the foundationalist motives of the logical empiricists and raised doubts about the very idea of "epistemology."

With an introduction by Richard Rorty to situate the work within the history of recent philosophy, and with a study guide by Robert Brandom, this publication of Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind makes a difficult but indisputably significant figure in the development of analytic philosophy clear and comprehensible to anyone who would understand that philosophy or its history.



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About the author (1997)

Wilfrid Sellars taught at the University of Minnesota, Yale University, and the University of Pittsburgh. The son of the American philosopher Roy Wood Sellars, he won early fame at Minnesota as the coeditor of two volumes, one on logical analysis, the other on ethical theory, that introduced a generation of American students to the problems and issues of analytic philosophy. Readings in Philosophical Analysis (1949) was immediately adopted as the major textbook on analytic philosophy used in American colleges and universities, and his Readings in Ethical Theory (1952) was equally influential. E. W. Hall, reviewing the first edition for Ethics, declared that "This reviewer finds the volume intellectually exciting.... This result was achieved by a rigorous restriction in the range of material used and in a happy and entirely rational collection of it. The selections are uniformly high level: they reveal competent ethicists at work, writing for philosophically literate readers." Sellars's early articles, influenced by the logical atomism of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell (see also Vol. 5), reveal an inquisitive metaphysician who was also a careful student of the great figures in the history of philosophy. As Sellars matured, his work took a turn in the direction of Immanuel Kant and C. S. Peirce. From Kant he derived his sense of the role of conceptual structure---in the contemporary term, language---in shaping experience, so that there is no absolute given. From Peirce he gained insight into the normative aspect of all beliefs, including science. However, Sellars did not merely follow his sources. A profoundly original metaphysician, he transformed all these conceptions in the articulation of a philosophical system distinctively his own. His major book, Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes (1968), received great acclaim. The reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement noted: "Although Professor Sellar's philosophical writings make difficult reading, their content is rewarding.... What distinguishes [his] scientific realism from older and modern versions of scientism is his emphasis on the normative aspects of both practical and theoretical thinking." Richard McKay Rorty is the principal American voice of postmodern philosophy. He was born in New York City and educated at the University of Chicago and Yale University. After having taught philosophy at Princeton University for more than 20 years, Rorty became a university professor in humanities at the University of Virginia in 1982. He has been awarded fellowships by the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations. In 1967 Rorty published The Linguistic Turn, an anthology of twentieth-century philosophy that opens with his 40-page introduction. This work has become a standard introduction to analytic philosophy, and its title names an era. Despite his early hope for the future of analytic philosophy, Rorty came to doubt its foundations. This doubt prodded him to master American pragmatism as well as continental European work in hermeneutics and deconstruction. This work, in turn, led Rorty to question the entire tradition of Western philosophy. These doubts are expressed in his second book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), which is one of the most widely discussed of all recent American works in philosophy. It announces the death of philosophy as a kind of higher knowledge but recommends its continuance as edification and as a branch of literature. Choice proved prophetic in stating that "this bold and provocative book is bound to rank among the most important of the decade."

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