The Given

In Joseph Schear (ed.), Mind, Reason and Being-in-the-World: the McDowell-Dreyfus Debate. London: Routledge. pp. 229-249 (2013)
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In The Mind and the World Order, C.I. Lewis made a famous distinction between the immediate data ‘which are presented or given to the mind’ and the ‘construction or interpretation’ which the mind brings to those data (1929: 52). What the mind receives is the datum – literally, the given – and the interpretation is what happens when we being it ‘under some category or other, select from it, emphasise aspects of it, and relate it in particular and unavoidable ways’ (1929: 52). So although any attempt to describe the given will inevitably be an interpretation of it, this should not give us reason to deny its existence: ‘no-one but a philosopher could for a moment deny this immediate presence in consciousness of that which no activity of thought can create or alter’ (1929: 53). Whatever those outside philosophy might think, Lewis was certainly right about what philosophers were prepared to deny. His conception of the ‘given’ is without question one of the targets of Wilfrid Sellars’s influential critique of the notion of the ‘whole framework of givenness’ (1957).1 One of the things Sellars was attacking was the idea that something that was merely given by the senses could put one in a position to be justified in making a judgement about the empirical world. The..
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