The Philosophical Quest and the Clash of the Images
There is no better entryway into Sellars' philosophical system than to begin with his reflections on what he characterized in 'Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man' (1962) as "the philosophical quest" (PSIM 1). This first chapter will include a hefty sampling of quotations from Sellars in order to convey a sense of the shape of the key problems as he characterized them. Later chapters will provide the more detailed and critical analyses.
The quest for a stereoscopic fusion of the manifest and scientific images
In one of his most frequently quoted passages, Sellars wrote that the "aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term" (PSIM 1). In his 1971 Matchette lectures on 'The Structure of Knowledge' he put it this way:
The ideal aim of philosophizing is to become reflectively at home in the full complexity of the multi-dimensional conceptual system in terms of which we suffer, think, and act. I say 'reflectively', because there is a sense in which, by the sheer fact of leading an unexamined, but conventionally satisfying life, we are at home in this complexity. It is not until we have eaten the apple with which the serpent philosopher tempts us, that we begin to stumble on the familiar and to feel that haunting sense of alienation which is treasured by each new generation as its unique possession. This alienation, this gap between oneself and one's world, can only be resolved by eating the apple to the core; for after the first bite there is no return to innocence. There are many anodynes, but only one cure. We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize. (SK I.3)
The aim of this stage-setting chapter is to gain a sense of what Sellars means by the "alienation, this gap between oneself and one's world" that comes to light only as a result of philosophical reflection, and which he thinks "can only be resolved by eating the apple to the core": that is, only through further sustained and systematic reflection in which "no intellectual holds are barred" (PSIM 1).
Sellars has chosen his words carefully in referring to "the multi-dimensional conceptual system in terms of which we suffer , think , and act ." As we shall see, he wants to structure the issues raised by our loss of intellectual innocence in terms of certain difficulties that stand in the way of our becoming "reflectively at home" with our understanding of our own nature as (1) passively sensing , (2) conceptually thinking , and (3) rationally active beings. Ironically, it is one of our greatest intellectual achievements in opening up the nature of reality to us - the development of the modern natural sciences since the sixteenth century - which has by its very success threatened to alienate us intellectually from that same natural world. Sellars' overarching philosophical aim is firstly to articulate the nature and sources of our loss of intellectual innocence, and then to cure our resulting sense of intellectual alienation by eating the apple to the core.
The philosopher or the philosophically inclined, according to Sellars, strives for "a reflective insight into the intellectual landscape as a whole," attempting to grasp in one overall "synoptic vision" how it all hangs together (PSIM 2-3). Since it is clearly impossible for any thinker to competently know her way around all the different specialized fields of human knowledge, Sellars recognizes that the idea of "the synoptic vision of true philosophy" is what Kant would have called a regulative ideal of reason . We seek "to approximate to the philosophical aim" (PSIM 2-3) through a sustained 'second-order' reflection on the general principles, methods, and assu