A Cybernetic Theory of Persons: How and Why Sellars Naturalized Kant

Philosophical Inquiries 10 (1) (2022)
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Abstract

I argue that Sellars’s naturalization of Kant should be understood in terms of how he used behavioristic psychology and cybernetics. I first explore how Sellars used Edward Tolman’s cognitive-behavioristic psychology to naturalize Kant in the early essay “Language, Rules, and Behavior”. I then turn to Norbert Wiener’s understanding of feedback loops and circular causality. On this basis I argue that Sellars’s distinction between signifying and picturing, which he introduces in “Being and Being Known,” can be understood in terms of what I call cybernetic behaviorism. I interpret picturing in terms of cycles of cybernetic behavior and signifying in terms of coordination between cybernetic behavior systems, or what I call triangulated cybernetic behavior. This leads to a formal, naturalistic understanding of personhood as the capacity to engage in triangulated cybernetic behavior. I conclude by showing that Sellars’s thought has the resources, which he did not exploit, for introducing the concept of second-order cybernetics. This suggests that Sellars’s philosophy of mind could be developed in the direction of autopoiesis and enactivism.

Author's Profile

Carl Sachs
Marymount University

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