On Sellars’s Analytic-Kantian Conception of Categories as Classifying Conceptual Roles

In Javier Cumpa (ed.), Categorial Ontologies: From Realism to Eliminativism. Routledge (forthcoming)
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ABSTRACT: I argue that Sellars’s metaconceptual theory of the categories exemplifies and extends a long line of nominalistic thinking about the nature of the categories from Ockham and Kant to the Tractatus and Carnap, and that this theory is far more central than has generally been realized to each of Sellars’s most famous and enduring philosophical conceptions: the myth of the given, the logical space of reasons, and resolving the ostensible clash between the manifest and scientific images of the human being in the world. Sellars’s distinctive contribution to this longstanding (if currently on the defensive) metaconceptual approach to the nature of ontological categories was to interpret and reconstruct it in terms of his own ‘meaning as use’ or norm-governed inferential role semantics. With these resources Sellars sought to preserve the genuine insights in the ‘realist’ or broadly platonic traditions while simultaneously defending the idea that in the end, as he puts it, “a naturalistic ontology must be a nominalistic ontology” (1980a NAO IV §129).

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James O'Shea
University College Dublin


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