What to Take Away from Sellars’s Kantian Naturalism

In James R. O’Shea, ed., Sellars and His Legacy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Oxford, UK: pp. 130–148 (2016)
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ABSTRACT: I contend that Sellars defends a uniquely Kantian naturalist outlook both in general and more particularly in relation to the nature and status of what he calls ‘epistemic principles’; and I attempt to show that this remains a plausible and distinctive position even when detached from Sellars’s quasi-Kantian transcendental idealist contention that the perceptible objects of the manifest image strictly speaking do not exist, i.e., as conceived within that common sense framework. I first explain the complex Kant-inspired sense in which Sellars did not take the latter thesis concerning the objects of the manifest image to apply, at least in certain fundamental respects, to persons. In this primary Kantian sense, I suggest, persons as thinkers and agents exist univocally across both the manifest and scientific images, and this in principle would enable an integration of persons within a multi-leveled naturalistic ontology, one that is independent of Sellars’s quasi-Kantian transcendental idealist thesis. Finally, I examine in some detail how this defensible blend of Kantian and naturalist themes turns out to be what is fundamental in Sellars’s complex and controversial views on the nature and status of epistemic principles.

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James O'Shea
University College Dublin


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