Sellars's ontological nominalism

European Journal of Philosophy 30 (3):1041-1061 (2022)
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Wilfrid Sellars is widely known for two positions that he calls “nominalism.” On the one hand, there is his “psychological nominalism,” according to which any awareness one might have of abstract entities—be they properties, relations, or facts—is a thoroughly linguistic affair, and so cannot be presupposed in thinking about the process of learning a (first) language. On the other hand, there is his ontological nominalism, according to which the world, as it is in itself, is fundamentally a world of concrete particulars and so does not ultimately contain such things as properties, relations, or propositionally-structured facts. Sellars clearly takes these two sorts of “nominalism” to go together. However, one of the most influential inheritors of Sellars's philosophy, Robert Brandom, thinks that they do not. Brandom endorses the former, but denies that the latter “is in the end so much as intelligible.” In this paper, I articulate the connection between Sellars's psychological and ontological nominalism and draw on Brandom's own development of Sellars's functional role semantics to argue, against Brandom, that Sellars's ontological nominalism not only harmonizes with the rest of his philosophical commitments, but is actually made fully intelligible by the very aspect of Sellars's theory that Brandom himself develops.

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Ryan Simonelli
University of Chicago


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