The Space of Motivations, Experience, and the Categorial Given

In Daniele De Santis & Danilo Manca (eds.), Wilfrid Sellars and Phenomenology: Intersections, Encounters, Oppositions. Athens, Ohio, USA: Ohio University Press (forthcoming)
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This paper outlines an Husserlian, phenomenological account of the first stages of the acquisition of empirical knowledge in light of some aspects of Wilfrid Sellars’ critique of the myth of the given. The account offered accords with Sellars’ in the view that epistemic status is attributed to empirical episodes holistically and within a broader normative context, but disagrees that such holism and normativity are accomplished only within the linguistic and conceptual confines of the space of reasons, and rejects the limitation of the relevant normativity to the cognitive domain. Attention to the phenomenological notion of motivations in our mapping of the structure and acquisition of empirical knowledge reveals a form of weak categoriality given in experience, one outside exclusive mediation by language and concepts but also not merely causal. Section 1 outlines some basic aspects of Sellars’ account of empirical knowledge in Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, including a regress objection that arises due to his claim that empirical knowledge presupposes knowledge of general facts about perception. Section 2 examines Sellars’ later revisiting of the objection, via his critique of Roderick Firth, in “The Lever of Archimedes,” focusing on his analysis of the “Myth of the Categorial Given” and his use of the notion of ur-concepts. Section 3 looks at Sellars’ psychological nominalism and his rejection of the explanatory primacy of experience in light of the strict dichotomy between the space of causes and the space of reasons, and shows how Firth’s account aligns with phenomenology in its advocating for an irreducible and non-inferential role for experience. It also raises an important objection to Sellars’ account concerning the categorial givenness of causality. Section 4 turns to Husserl, arguing that his conception of motivation in the Logical Investigations and Ideas II reveals a third explanatory or logical space “between” that of causes and that of reasons. Section 5 further develops this account with regard to the explanatory role of lived experience. Section 6 revisits the regress objection to Sellars from the phenomenological standpoint developed earlier in the paper, and argues that an Husserlian account of empirical knowledge offers a viable alternative to Sellars’ that overcomes the regress objection and gives proper explanatory weight to the evidence of lived experience vis-à-vis scientific presuppositions about causality.

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Jacob Rump
Creighton University


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