Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

I've never really agreed with Wilfrid Sellars, though he definitely gives readers things to think about. This article lays out nicely his argument concerning the 'myrh of the given'. From my perspective, all the work is done in the opening moves, where Sellars distinguishes between reading a sign in nature, like the rings of a tree, say, and a piece of text, like a sentence. Unlike the tree rings, he argues, human sentences can be misleading and mistaken. The problem with empiricists (like me), Sellars says, is that they want to say "sensory experiences themselves are meaningful like tree rings and meaningful like a sentence. And that, for Sellars, is a serious confusion." I agree. You can't give tree rings the properties of sentences. But (unlike most of Sellars's opponents) I argue that you can't give sentences the properties of sentences. That is to say, to me, when we say a sentence is 'true' or 'misleading'; or even 'self-contradictory', we are not saying something about the sentence, but rather (just like the tree rings) we're saying something about our interpretation of the sentence.

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Mar 31, 2021 02:02 a.m.