Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

On Sellars’ Attempt to Build a Synoptic Image of the World [Special Issue]

Topics: Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ontology, Philosophy of science, Theoretical philosophy
Keywords: Manifest image, Scientific image, Specialization, Unification


In the first part of the paper, I discuss three possible ways to achieve some unity between Sellars’ manifest and scientific image of the world. The plurality of scientific methods that I am advocating is compatible with the fact that all empirical sciences strive for beliefs based on the normative concepts of evidence, explanatory power, and experimental accuracy. Such methods provide different means to reach the common purpose of justification. In the second part of the paper, I criticize Sellars’ definition of the manifest image in terms of a suddenly (!) acquired conceptual framework, thanks to which we can evaluate our beliefs by using standards and norms of correctness and appropriateness. Finally, I criticize his antireductionist approach to the problem of the relation between the two images.

In the last four centuries, the history of ideas has been characterized by a progressive separation from philosophy of disciplines that before were regarded as its object. Logic, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, medicine, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, and sociology are just some examples of disciplines that, in the more or less recent past, have become independent of philosophy as it had been systematized, for instance, by Aristotle.

Even though, in its axiomatic form, mathematics was fully developed since the time of Euclid, it is not an exception to this rule, since at that time it was not detached from philosophy, in the sense that ancient philosophers gave to their object of study. The role that geometry played in Plato’s philosophy (think of the regular solids in Plato’s Timaeus as the basic components of the universe) is just an example of this fact. Also, disciplines that are not primarily concerned with the descriptive and explanatory tasks of the natural and social sciences but rather with values (aesthetics, ethics), have undergone…


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