The Role of Picturing In Sellars’s Practical Philosophy

Journal of Philosophical Research 47:147-176 (2022)
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Picturing is a poorly understood element of Sellars’s philosophical project. We diagnose the problem with picturing as follows: on the one hand, it seems that it must be connected with action in order for it to do its job. On the other hand, the representational states of a picturing system are characterized in descriptive and seemingly static terms. How can static terms be connected with action? To solve this problem, we adopt a concept from recent work in Sellarsian metaethics: the idea of a material practical inference, which (we argue) features centrally in how we picture. The key distinction is that the picturing of nonhuman animals involves only Humean material practical inference, in which representational states are corrected only by feedback from the environment and not from discursive interactions. The resulting view shows that Sellars’s contributions to practical philosophy (especially theory of action and metaethics) cannot be separated from his contributions to philosophy of mind, language, and cognitive science. Further, the view makes it clear that picturing is neither a version of the Given, nor is it a fifth wheel to inferential role in explaining representation, but is essential to Sellars’s model of how animals—including humans—represent their environment.

Author Profiles

Jeremy Koons
Georgetown University
Carl Sachs
Marymount University


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