: From Empiricism to Expressivism: Brandom Reads Sellars [Book Review]

Ethics 126 (3):808-816 (2016)
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One of the better known of the many bons mots of the Sellarsian corpus concerns his definition of philosophy: it is the attempt to understand “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” When applied to Sellars’s philosophy in particular, one might be forgiven for doubting the possible success of such an endeavor. Richard Rorty once quipped of Sellars’s followers that they were either “left-wing” or “right-wing,” emphasizing one line of thought in Sellars’s work to the exclusion of the other. The two lines of thought to which Rorty referred were, first, Sellars’s conception of the normativity of all thought and language, famously captured by his evocative phrase “the space of reasons.” Second, and equally important to Sellars, was his “scientia mensura,” the notion ðshared with contemporaries such as Quine that “in the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not” Wilfrid Sellars, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 1 [1956]: 41,303). The left-wing adherents to the normativity thesis included Rorty himself, along with John McDowell and Robert Brandom. Among the right-wing naturalists are such as Ruth Milliken, Jay Rosenberg, and Paul Churchland. Such a disparate group of philosophers suggests irreconcilable differences. Brandom himself reports in the introduction to his newest book, From Empiricism to Expressivism, that, “for a dismayingly long time, I did not really see how all the pieces of [Sellar's] work hung together, even in the broadest possible sense of the term”.

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Colin McLear
University of Nebraska, Lincoln


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