The Ockham Society (Week 4, HT23)

Ockham Society

Throughout his critical engagement with Sellars, McDowell has endorsed and taken as central to Sellars's Myth of the Given a rejection of nonconceptual yet epistemologically significant sensory states. By way of finding problematic the attribution in contemporary epistemology to Sellars of what came to be known as 'the Sellarsian Dilemma', I bring out some apparent agreement between Sellars and McDowell: both view experiential states of rational, discursive beings as both sensory and conceptual yet non-discursive; both stress our rational openness to the world as mediated by experience. The concurrence is only superficial. I argue that Sellars's insistence on the conceptual involvement in sensory experience cannot be appreciated independently from a core aspect of his picture of our ongoing inquiry about the world, which concerns the revisability of the conceptual realm encompassing, for my purpose in particular, an open possibility for fundamental recategorizations. The deepest rejection in Sellars's Myth targets the thought that there can be states in which certain layer of reality is revealed to us as it is. From a Sellarsian perspective, McDowell's account of sensory experience as enabling worldly knowledge falls prey to the Myth in taking as revealing certain necessary categorial aspects of the world our transcendentally-enabled starting points for empirical thinking.