Nothing “Given”: Struggling with Sellars

Diary 8/15 to 8/16/22: American insanity; notebook helps avoid work? Irony dammit; perceptible causation? philosophical mumbling, literary meandering; Angel Has Fallen DVD; Paladin dream; neighbor noises.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989)


My accomplishment of the last half-hour:  I copied this bit from my diary (4/19/22) to my Collected Quotations:  “It is not possible to be a sane and informed American.  Once one is informed, all that’s left is a limited choice of various insanities and denials.”

Adding a note to my Projects notebook, I see that I have so much material there and I’m not using any of it.  The notebook is a way of avoiding work, in a sense.  Store it and forget it?  So it seems.  Is this a problem?  If so, what is the solution?  For starters, review the notebooks monthly, as the Bullet Journal Method insists on.  Or in my case, weekly would not be excessive.  And how do I manage to remember and do this?  Write a note about it?

The note that I added was that Apple might write a book for Fynn.  That book might be “the story of Apple and Fynn”—or it might be “Apple and her father.”  The first would offer irony, the second, dramatic irony (i.e., the ironies are below Apple’s awareness).  The second, or either, could be a poem rather than a book.  I should try both approaches, or at least one, dammit.

Hayley Mills (born 1946) as “Pollyanna” (1960)

How would Apple react to Pollyanna?

The bananas I’ve been buying lately tend to rot before they’re “ripe.”

So I went to In-Shape on White Lane and was suitably impressed—it’s huge and not crowded.  Annoyingly, I was working sudoku on the way home and forgot to go to the library, which was the “urgent” part of my errands today.

Reading Wilfrid Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” and finding it so abstract as to be almost unreadable.  It’s a real struggle, and I’m dubious that it’s worth the effort.  The main difficulty (in the first dozen pages) is the distinction between the “manifest image” and the “scientific image” of man-in-the-world.  This doesn’t sound difficult, but I fear that Sellars is not a good writer, regardless of his value as a philosopher.  So the distinction remains difficult; my attempts to reduce the distinction to more familiar (i.e., “real world”) terms haven’t worked.  Certainly, Sellars’s name is familiar enough through the writings of Richard Rorty and other recent philosophers, I think especially among those writing about the mind, so I’m in no position to just dismiss his book.

I looked in the indices of several books; Sellars is listed in Dennett’s Freedom Evolves but not in Julian Baggini’s The Edge of Reason.  He’s prominent in the index of The Oxford Handbook of American Philosophy (Cheryl Misak, ed.) and the book I’m reading [Science, Perception and Reality] is listed in the bibliography of Chapter 15, Christopher Hookway: “Pragmatism and the Given: C. I. Lewis, Quine, and Peirce.” 

A sentence in the Hookway says that according to Peirce, “we directly perceive external things, that we can experience the causal impact of one thing on another…” and I imagined seeing a dog killing a rat, and the remains of the rat being “dead” because it doesn’t move.  Is this “experiencing causal impact”?  Not strictly—it’s “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”—yet the thought that “the dog caused the death of the rat” would be psychologically inescapable, one would think.  I mention this because it demonstrates what I can’t do, at least so far, with what I’m reading in Sellars, and because by this example I’ve clarified a small piece of my own thought processes.  This is also a real-world example of the kind of thing Dewey says about what philosophers do. [Translate abstractions into real-world events.]

[Sellars:] “The ‘manifest’ image of man-in-the-world can be characterized in two ways, which are supplementary rather than alternative. It is, first, the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man in the world. It is the framework in terms of which, to use an existentialist turn of phrase, man first encountered himself—which is, of course, when he came to be man. For it is no merely incidental feature of man that he has a conception of himself as man in the world, just as it is obvious, on reflection, that ‘if man had a radically different conception of himself he would be a radically different kind of man.’” Wilfrid Sellars, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man,” in Science, Perception and Reality, Richview publishing company, Atascadero, California, 1963-1991, p. 11.

Henry James (1843-1916)

The above lengthy mumbling about the manifest image is only the first of the two ways it is to be characterized. That this is to be combined in obscure fashion with “the scientific image” is not encouraging. It’s not helpful that here he has this kind of meandering locution so common in English literature:  “it is no merely incidental feature…” etc.  In Henry James this verbal tic is beaten to death, along with the non-Ph.D. reader.  The alternative is the direct statement, e.g., “it is an important feature,” which requires no mental translation.


Watched Angel Has Fallen (2019), another Gerard Butler “thriller” from the same DVD package as Hunter Killer, reviewed here briefly on 8/12.  It’s two hours long and held my interest after an uninvolving and painfully slow start (after a ridiculous pre-start start).  It’s the third movie of a trilogy and I haven’t seen the first two, but this didn’t present a problem for me.  Anyway, the movie is preposterous and grows increasingly silly throughout, but the action is almost nonstop, so it fulfilled what I had hoped for from it, keeping me awake until bedtime (as opposed to nodding while trying to read).  39% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes, 93% from audiences; this time I’ll go with the critics.

Getting back to Wilfrid Sellars, the Oxford book mentioned above refers to p. 41 of his book for “the myth of the given,” but it must be a reference to a different edition because p. 41 says nothing about it.  Since I’m only halfway through the first essay in Sellars, and not getting much out of it, I’m going to skip ahead to the second essay (which starts on p. 44) as the likely intended reference in the Oxford book, because I started reading Sellars because it’s “the myth of the given” that I wanted to read about.  I’m in a hurry, you see, to get back to my time-wasting with despicable things, as I whined about a day or three ago.

Richard Boone (1917-1981) as “Paladin”

But before I do that, I had a kind-of dream this morning.  “Paladin” [of Have Gun, Will Travel tv show] was being held captive and didn’t have his gun, but had his two-shot derringer and his gunbelt.  A woman was in the room with him, and one of the bad guys was in an adjoining room.  And I kept running through sequences of events, trying to think of a plausible way for Paladin to get the better of the bad guy.  I was getting more and more fully awake, and finally gave up the effort in disgust (what, again?), because it wasn’t entertaining or of any interest whatsoever—very like this description, and probably this whole morning’s diary entry.

What I hear of my neighbor:  thumps, sometimes shockingly loud; what my neighbor hears of me: wordless yells, sometimes shockingly loud.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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