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Instructor: Marc Lange. This course meets W 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. in CW 213.

The influence of the mid-20th-century American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars has continued to grow in recent years. This course will focus on some of his most famous essays and some of the most notable work by others that they inspired.

We will read closely large parts (at least) of his essays “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” (EPM), “Some Reflections on Language Games”, “Abstract Entities”, “Phenomenalism”, “The Language of Theories”, “Is Scientific Realism Tenable?”, “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man”, and perhaps others. (Of course, there are many other essays by Sellars that we will not examine.) Time permitting, we will also read some essays prompted by his work, including probably (at least pieces of) essays by Robert Brandom, Paul Churchland, John McDowell, Richard Rorty, Bas van Fraassen, and Michael Williams.

Topics likely to be taken up (though the students enrolling in this course are not expected to know anything already about the topics that I about to mention!) include the Myth of the Given, foundationalist empiricist epistemology, how things look, the Manifest Image and the Scientific Image, conceptual content, modality, scientific realism, phenomenalism, laws of nature, the mental, the space of reasons, nominalism and semantic discourse, reference, truth, rules and norms, and scientific explanation. No particular prior background knowledge of these or other related philosophical topics will be assumed. The course lectures (and readings, in some cases) will have to supply the philosophical background needed to appreciate Sellars’s work. The course is intended to be useful both for those with no prior acquaintance with its topics and for those with some relevant background knowledge.

We will have to work s-l-o-w-l-y through Sellars’s papers (especially through his most famous essay, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”, to which we will devote a lot of time). So the course is not recommended for those who tend to become impatient with that kind of unhurried pace and with close reading of individual sentences and paragraphs. But Sellars’s work rewards close attention and that is what I will be trying to give it. These close readings will occasionally lead us on tangents that allow us to explore other regions of 20th-century American philosophy.

Writing required of undergraduates will consist of periodic short essays asking the student to unpack some paragraph of Sellars’s (or someone else’s) writing that we have discussed in class—along with a take-home final. These periodic essays are intended to make sure that the students are keeping up with the material. Graduate students taking the course for regular credit can choose to write a term paper or instead to write all but one of the periodic short essays. Graduate students taking the course for non-writing credit have to write any two of the periodic short essays.