Revisiting the Myth: Husserl and Sellars on the Given

By Soffer, Gail | The Review of Metaphysics, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Revisiting the Myth: Husserl and Sellars on the Given


Soffer, Gail, The Review of Metaphysics


I

IN SCIENCE, PERCEPTION, AND REALITY, Sellars marvels at the power of fashion in philosophy, which all too often offers us the spectacle of a stampede rather than a careful sifting of gold from dross. (1) Sellars was worried that the flight from phenomenalism would lead to the familiar pendulum effect and so thwart his effort to "usher analytic philosophy out of its Humean and into its Kantian stage," as Rorty has put it. (2) Accordingly, Sellars's critique of the Myth of the Given aimed to show that what was really wrong with phenomenalism was nothing particular to the sense-data of the positivists but the framework of givenness itself.

Sellars's critique of the Given made an enormous impact, but did it not set off a new stampede? On the contemporary horizon, the dust is settling around numerous philosophies, including phenomenology, and the hoofprints look strikingly like those of the postpositivistic analytic philosophers who are Sellars's progeny. And, some might think, not without good reason. Are not phenomenology and phenomenalism kindred cousins? Does not the notion of an immediate, private "given" lie so much at the core of the Husserlian enterprise that phenomenology is unthinkable without it? Does not Husserl wish to erect the edifice of objective knowledge on this unshakable foundation? Does not Sellars extend his critique of the Given to Chisholm and so to Brentano and Husserl? (3) When we come to the essence of the matter, can we not treat Husserl and Russell in one breath as an indivisible unity, as does Rorty throughout Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature? (4) In the wake of Sellars, Wittgenstein, Rorty, the linguistic turn, and the rest, would we not do well only to mention and not to use the word "given" in polite philosophical company?

According to the spirit if not the letter of Sellars, it is my hope in this paper to redimension the relationship between postpositivistic analytic philosophy and Husserlian phenomenology by revisiting some of the arguments advanced by Sellars against the Myth of the Given and in favor of the linguistic turn. One thesis advanced in this paper is that there is more common ground between Husserl and Sellars than is usually thought. For the main aim of Sellars's critique is to attack the given as the immediate and to show that empirical knowledge requires concepts, inferences, and language. Here there is little if any disagreement with Husserl, who is hardly concerned with immediacy and makes very similar points about the mediacy of empirical knowledge, albeit in a different way.

However, certain divergences remain, and a second aim of this paper is to reconstruct and evaluate them. One important dispute concerns the relation between language and intentionality. For Sellars and his progeny, language is a precondition for attentive, object-directed consciousness; whereas on a phenomenological account, there are prepredicative, preverbal forms of intentionality. A second, related difference arises in the respective approaches to intersubjectivity. Sellars treats the attribution of intentionality to others as primarily a theory for the explanation of behavior; whereas for Husserl the "constitution" of the other is not primarily theoretical, and a relation to behavior does not belong to the very concept of intentionality.

Behind these disputes lie certain deeper differences concerning the nature of the mental and the relation between science and everyday life. For there is a secondary tendency in Sellars's linguistic turn which shies away from the given not as the immediate but more generally as the subjective, experiential dimension of life, which Sellars sometimes associates with the Cartesian, "mind's eye" view of consciousness. Sellars's functional-linguistic approach to intentionality aims to define the mental without making any explicit reference to the properly subjective dimension of mental life. This approach is meant to clear the way for an eventual reduction of the mental to the physical in neurophysiological terms. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Revisiting the Myth: Husserl and Sellars on the Given
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.