Much of contemporary technical philosophy is the result of the direct or indirect influence of Wilfrid Sellars. This is a forum devoted to a critical examination of some philosophical problems arising from his work. The main problems are:

The Myth of the Given
Does empirical knowledge have foundations?
[Audio from Sellars' Carus Lectures]

The Myth of Jones
What is the relation of thought to language?

The Manifest-Scientific Image Relation
What is the relation of a commonsense conceptual framework to a scientific one?

This forum is devoted to discussing issues centered around the writings of Wilfrid Sellars. In fact, a great deal of contemporary philosophical concerns have their source in his writings. Although the range of topics discussed by Sellars is quite extensive, I will suggest the following three:


Probably the most influential idea found in Sellars is the Myth of the Given. Although it is not clear exactly what this myth is supposed to be -- it allows for several interpretations; yet, a very widespread interpretation of it has it that if an epistemological given is a myth, then there are no foundations to knowledge. This seems to be, for example, the interpretation of Richard Rorty, Laurence Bonjour, and many others. However, not all students of Sellars share this interpretation: for example, James Cornman.

And a puzzling situation exists in the case of Roderick Chisholm, who in his correspondence with Sellars wrote: "I agree with much of what you have to say about the 'myth of the given'. . ."(ITM); yet Chisholm looms large as a target of attack in some of Sellars' writings as a defender of the given (see SK and ME).

From the perspective of a constructive dialogue, Sellarsian antifoundationalists should confront the defenders of foundationalism: such as Paul Moser, Alan Goldman, and William Alston -- instead of ignoring them. It is the intention of this forum to foster such a confrontation.

Click here for the text of "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind" in which the Myth of the Given is formulated.


Almost as influential as the Myth of the Given, is Sellars' account of how introspection is possible on a behavioristic foundation. His account is presented in the tradition of contractarian political theories as the Myth of Jones in the community of Ryleans. Click here for the relevant text.

I believe that Jay Garfield (1989) is correct in writing: "No piece of philosophical science fiction in this half of this century has been as significant in its impact on epistemology and on the philosophy of mind as the Myth of Jones, the heart of 'Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,'. . ." He goes on to note that "The authors of no less than four books ([Churchland, 1979], [Dennett, 1987], [Lycan, 1987], [Garfield,1988]) in the foundations of cognitive science have noted Sellars' seminal role in the field, and each has claimed him as their own intellectual ancestor.[p. 1]" And Garfield lists other descendents as well: Richard Rorty, Paul Feyerabend, and Ruth Millikan.

Concerning the Myth of Jones, mention should be made of Hector-Neri Castañeda's correspondence with Sellars on this very topic, and Ausonio Marras's many critiques. (The Castañeda-Sellars correspondence was freely being distributed by Marras in the 70ies -- though I obtained my copy from Castaneda himself; and I am now making it available on the Internet. Click here for the text.)


The Myth of the Given and the Myth of Jones are actually strategic moves within a larger motivating context. Sellars writes: "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)" And the global problem, for Sellars, is that there are two competing conceptual frameworks of man-in-the-world, roughly, a commonsense conceptual framework (the Manifest Image) and a scientific conceptual framework (the Scientific Image). It is the foremost task of philosophy to try to relate them.

In dealing with this world-knot, Sellars is faced with a multifaceted task. He has the problem of giving an account of intentionality, the problem of giving an account of sensations, and the problem of carrying out his nominalism, among many other problems.

Some of Sellars' students have interpreted him in such a way as to make out of him an Eliminative Materialist. I have in mind Stephen Stitch, Paul Churchland, and the early Richard Rorty. Jay Garfield (1989) argues that they are misreading Sellars. Who is right?

The abbreviations of Sellars' works are expanded in the Bibliography of Wilfrid Sellars.

  • Churchland, Paul (1979). Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dennett, Daniel (1987). The Intentional Stance. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Feyerabend, Paul (1979). Realism, Rationalism & Scientific Method. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Garfield, Jay (1988). Belief in Psychology. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Garfield, Jay (1989). "The Myth of Jones and the Mirror of Nature: Reflections on Introspection." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 50.
  • Lycan, William (1987). Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Millikan, Ruth (1984). Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Rorty, Richard (1979). Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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