John McDowell, 'Having the World in View_ Sellars, Kant, And Intentionality - Lecture I_ Sellars on Perceptual Experience'
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Lecture I: Sellars on Perceptual Experience Author(s): John McDowell Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 95, No. 9 (Sep., 1998), pp. 431-450 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2564576 . Accessed: 13/05/2012 12:27Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHYVOLUMEXCV, NO. 9, SEPTEMBER 1998
HAVING THE WORLD IN VIEW:SELLARS, KANT, AND INTENTIONALITY* LECTURE I: SELL ARS ON PERCEPTUALEXPERIENCE tn his seminal set of lectures, "Empiricism and the Philosophy of | Mind,''1Wilfrid Sellars offers (among much else) the outlines of Sa deeply Kantian way of thinking about intentionality about howtllought and language are directed toward the world. Sellars describesScience Metap/zysics: and Variations KantianThemes,2 maon his jorwork of the next decade, as a sequel to "Empiricism and the Philosophyof Mind" (ibid.,p. viii). The later work makes explicit the Kantianorientation of the earlier; Sellars now shows a conviction that own thinking about his intentionality (and, indeed, about everything)can be well expounded through a reading of Kant. I do not think is far-fetched to attribute to it Sellars a belief on the following lines: one has come closer than Kant no to showing us how to find intentionalityunproblematic, and there is no better way for us to find intentionality unproblematic than by seeing what Kant was driving That means rethinking his at. thought for ourselves and, if necessary, correcting him at points where we think we see more clearly than did what he should have been he doing. Sellars does not hesitate claim, on some points, to have a to better understanding of the requirements Kantian thinking than Kant of himself achieved.8 A
revisedversion of the WoodbridgeLectures, sponsored by Philosophy, ColumbiaUniversity,on April 15, 16, and 17, 1997. the Departmentof tIn Herbert Feigl and Michael Scriven,eds., Minnesota in of Science, Volume 1 (Minneapolis:MinnesotaUP, 1956); Studies thePhilosophy reprinted (withsome added footnotes)Sellars'sScience, in Perception Reality and (London: Routledge, 1963; reissued, Atascadero,CA:Ridgeview,1991). I shall give page references to the original printing, followed in parenthesesby references to the 2 London: Routledge, 1967;reissued,Atascadero, reprintedversion. CA:Ridgeview,1992. 0029-362X/98/9509/431-90 431 (C) 1998 The Journal of Philosophy,Inc.
Now, I share this belief I have read into Sellars, that there is no better way for us to approach an understanding of intentionality tllan by working toward understanding Kant. I also believe that coming to terms with Sellars's sustained attempt to be a Kantian is a fine way to begin appreciating Kant, and thereby given the first belief to become philosophically comfortable with intentionality. I mean this as a partly backhanded compliment to Sellars. He makes perfectly clear how he thinks he has to correct Kant, and I want to suggest that the divergence is revealing. I think a fully Kantian vision of intentionality is inaccessible to Sellars, because of a deep structural feature of his philosophical outlook. I believe we can bring into clearer focus the way Kant actually thought about intentionality, and thereby given that first belief how we ourselves ought to think about intentionality, by reflecting on the difference between what Sellars knows Kant wrote and what Sellars thinks Kant should have written.3 The reading of Kant that I aim to sketch in these lectures is under construction in a collaborative enterprise I am privileged to be engaged in with my colleagues James Conant and John Haugeland. Here I want to make a standard prefatory remark, which I mean in a less ritualistic manner than is perhaps usual. Conant and Haugeland should receive full credit for anything in what follows that is helpful toward the understanding of Kant, and thereby toward the understanding of intentionality. The blame for anything unhelpful, or simply wrong, is mine alone. In particular, Conant and Haugeland should not be held responsible for the perhaps perverse idea that we can approach an understanding of Kant through seeing how close Sellars comes to Kant's picture; nor should they be held responsible for the details of my reading of Sellars.43 It is a measure of how difficult it is to come to terms with Kantthat this sort of indirect approachcan be helpful. Dieter Henrich describesmy references to Kant, in my earlier engagement with the issues I shall be considering in these lectures (Mind and World(Cambridge: Harvard, 1994; reissued with an Introduction, 1996)), as "platitudinnahen" "ZweiNaturalismen auf englisch," Merkur, DLXV (1996): 334-43.No doubt it is nearlyplatitudinousthat sensibilitymust have a central role in any even approximatelyKantianattempt at making intelligible the very idea of intentionality,the directedness of subjectivestates or episodes towardobjects. But that is nearly platitudinousjust because it is neutral between Sellars's reading of Kantand the quite different picture I was tryingto give. Sellarsthinks a properlyKantianposition requiresthat conceptual episodes occur in perception in a way that is guided by "sheerreceptivity." do not believe that is a correct picture I of the transcendentalrole of sensibilityin a properlyKantianposition. If this belief were platitudinous,Sellarscould not have understood Kantianthinking as he does. I hope this will become clearerin these lectures. 4 I have also benefited from years of fruitful exchange with Robert Brandom, and from his veryhelpful comments on a draftof these lectures.
SELLARS ON PERCEPTUAL EXPERIENCE
Sellars's master thought in "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind"is this. There is a special categoryof characterizations states of or episodes that occur in people's lives for instance, characterizations of states or episodes as knowings; and, we might add, corresponding characterizations the people in whose lives the states or of episodes occur for instance, characterizations people as knowers. of In giving tllese characterizations, place whateverthey characterwe ize in "the logical space of reasons"(op. cit.,36, pp. 298-99 (169)). Sellars'sthesis is that the conceptual apparatuswe employ when we place things in the logical space of reasonsis irreducibleto any conceptual apparatusthat does not serve to place things in the logical space of reasons.So tlle masterthought as it were drawsa line: above the line are placingsin the logical space of reasons,and below it are characterizations do not do that. that That is a merelynegativespecificationof whatwe must distinguish from placings in the logical space of reasons. But Sellars is concerned to warnagainsta particularphilosophicalpitfall,namely,the temptation to suppose, of certain specific below-the-linecharacterizations,that they can fulfill tasksthat can, in fact, be fulfilled only by above-the-line characterizations. This temptationis urgent in respect of some, in particular,of the characterizations that function below Sellars'sline, and we need a positivespecificationof the characterizations that activatethe temptation. Sellarssometimes suggests this helpful wayof putting his thought: characterizations affirmepisthat temic facts need to be distinguished from characterizationsthat affirm naturalfacts.5In these terms, his central thesis is that we must not suppose we can understandepistemicstatesor episodes in terms of the actualization of merely natural capacities capacities that their subjectshave at birth, or acquire in the course of merely animal maturation.I think 'epistemic'here amounts to something like 'conceptinvolving'; shalljustifythis interpretationshortly. I Assuming this interpretationfor the moment, we can bring Sellars'sthought into direct contact with Kant.The logical space of reasons,on this reading,is the logical space in which we place episodes orstateswhen we describethem in termsof the actualizationof conceptual capacities.What corresponds in Kant to this image of the
5 See 17, p. 274 (146), and note the echo of S, p. 257 (131), where Sellars warns a mistakein epistemologythat is "ofa piece with the so-called 'naturalistic of fallacy' ethics."At 36, pp. 298-99 (169), he contrastsplacing things in the space in ofreasonswith "elupirical description"; think this formulationis less helpful. I
logical space of reasons is the image of the realm of freedom. The way to understand the correspondence is to focus on the Kantian idea that conceptualcapacitiesare essentiallyexercisablein judging. It is true, and important,thatjudging is not the only mode of actualization of conceptual capacities;I shall be exploiting the point in these lectures. But even so, judging can be singled out as the paradigmatic mode of actualizationof conceptual capacities,the one in termsof which we should understandthe veryidea of conceptualcapacities in the relevant sense. And judging, making up our minds what to think, is something for which we are, in principle, responsible something we freely do, as opposed to something that merely happens in our lives. Of course, a belief is not always,or even typically,a result of our exercisingthis freedom to decide what to think. But even when a belief is not freely adopted, it is an actualizationof capacitiesof a kind, the conceptual,whose paradigmatic mode of actualizationis in the exercise of freedom that judging is. This freedom, exemplified in responsible acts of judging, is essentially a matterof being answerableto criticismin the light of rationallyrelevant considerations.So the realm of freedom, at least the realm of the freedom ofjudging, can be identifiedwith the space of reasons. Sellarsdescribesthe logical space of reasonsas the space "ofjustifying and being able to justify what one says."6 can see this as a We distinctivelytwentieth-century elaboration of a Kantianconception: the conception of a capacityto exercise, paradigmatically judgin ment, a freedom that is essentiallya matterof responsivenessto reasons. The twentieth-centuryelement is the idea that this capacity comes with being initiatedinto language.II
At a pivotalpoint in "Empiricism the Philosophyof Mind,"Selland ars addressesthe questionwhether empiricalknowledgehas foundations (op. cit., VIII,pp. 293-300 (16670)). His answeris nuanced. In an empiricisticfoundationalismof the usual kind, it is not just that the credentials of all knowledge are ultimately grounded in knowledgeacquiredin perception. Beyond that, the grounding perceptual knowledgeis atomistically conceived. Traditionalempiricists take it that each element of the grounding knowledgecan in principle be acquired on its own, independently not only of other elements of the grounding perceptualknowledge but also of anything
6 36, p. 299 (169). This connects with the perhaps infelicitouslylabeled thesis of "psychological nominalism": 29, p. 289 (160); 31, p. 291 (162); and, for an see anticipationearlyin the lectures, 6, p. 258 (131).
SELLARS ON PERCEPTUAL EXPERIENCE
in the world view that is grounded on this basic stratum of knowledge. What Sellars objects to in traditional empiricism is just this supposed independence. He writes: There is clearlysome point to the pictureof human knowledgeas resting on a level of propositions-observatioll reports which do not rest on other propositionsin the same wayas other propositionsrest on them. On the other hand, I do wish to irlsistthat the metaphor of "foundation"is misleadingin that it keeps us from seeing that if there is a logical dimension in which other empirical propositions rest on observation reports,there is anotherlogical dimensionin which the latter rest on the former (op. cit., 38, p. 300 (170); cf. 19, p. 275 (148)). Sellars does not deny that there is a logical dimension in which observation reports are basic. His point is just to insist on the otller logical dimension, in which observation reports depend on the world view that is grounded on them, in the logical dimension to which a traditional empiricism restricts itself. The result is a picture that is still in a way empiricist, by virtue of its acknowledgment of the one logical dimension, though it is separated from traditional empiricism by virtue of its insistence on the other. Of course Sellars's point here is at least partly epistemological, in an intelligibly narrow sense; he is telling us how we should conceive the credentials in virtue of which a world view counts as knowledgeably held. But the divergence from traditional empiricism means that we cannot take Sellars to be doing epistemology in some sense that contrasts with reflecting about intentionality. It is indeed perceptual knowledge (knowledge expressed in observation reports) about which he is here urging that it depends, in respect of the concepts that figure in it, on a world view. But that is just a case of something more general; his thought is that the conceptual equipment that is operative in perceptual experience generally, whether the experience is such as to yield knowledge or not, is dependent on a world view, in the logical dimension that the metaphor of "foundation" risks leading us to forget. We can capture this part of the picture by saying that the intentionality, the objective purport, of perceptual experience in general whether potentially knowledge yielding or not depends, in that logical dimension, on having the world in view, in a sense that goes beyond glilupses of the here and now. It would not be intelligible that the relevant episodes present themselves as glimpses of the here and now apart from their being related to a wider world view in the logical dimension Sellars adds. But the wider world view depends
in turn, in the logical dimension that figures in traditional empiricism, on perceptual experience that is capable of yielding knowledge, in the form of glimpses of the here and now. With this mutual dependence, the nontraditional empiricism that Sellars espouses constitutes a picture both of the credentials of empirical knowledge and of the intentionality of empirical thought in general. This makes it unsurprising that we find Sellars speaking of "the epistemic...