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After Nature blog has an interesting interview from Ray Brassier: here!

In the interview he opens up that his main interest in philosophical speculation is to reconcile "Platonism with naturalism by reconciling the dialectics of the idea with the dynamism of the sensible". He sees a rapport with the work of Iain Hamilton Grant and himself, as well as the work of philosopher Wilfred Sellars whose account of thought and meaning offers a congenial rapproachement

"To think is to connect and disconnect concepts according to proprieties of inference. Meanings are rule-governed functions supervening on the pattern-conforming behaviour of language-using animals. This distinction between semantic rules and physical regularities is dialectical, not metaphysical. To evoke it is to commit oneself to a qualified version of anthropocentrism, which I’m quite prepared to defend. It’s of a piece with the distinction between sapience and sentience, which is fundamental for Sellars."

He is hard at work on a new book with a tentative title of That Which Is Not. He tells us "it will be about the reality of appearance... The challenge of rationalism is to insist on the distinction between appearance and reality, or the sensible and the intelligible, while accounting for the reality of appearances, or the intelligibility of the sensible. This is a problem that goes back to Plato. It’s a question of understanding how every appearance has a kind of reality, but only insofar as it is split from within by what it does not reveal. This ties in to the issues of the intelligibility of becoming and the structure of time." After Nature blog 2012 (c)

We can see the influence and congeniality between Brassier and Sellars if we look into the latters middle-period essay, “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” which is a thoroughgoing and general critique of what Sellars famously called the “myth of the given,” a perennial and polymorphic philosophical motif manifested inter alia in the idea, characteristic of classical sense-datum theory, that empirical knowledge rests on a foundation of “immediate awarenesses” and on the assumption that the “privacy” of the mental and one’s “privileged access” to one’s own mental states are primitive features of experience, logically and epistemologically prior to all intersubjective concepts pertaining to inner episodes. 1 The gist of this according to Sellars was based on a normativity of perception: “The essential point is that in characterizing an episode or a state as that of knowing, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or state; we are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says”.

This ultimately led to Sellars projective defense of a strong epistemic internalism, according to which “observational knowledge of any particular fact...presupposes that one knows general facts of the form X is a reliable symptom of Y”. Sellars advocated a robustly realistic epistemology of scientific inquiry and, correlatively, an understanding of its ultimate outcomes as ontologically definitive: “In the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not”. I can see why Ray Brassier has such a definitive affinity for this type of argumentation, both dialectic and naturalist, since it portends the old adjunctal statement, "saving the appearances", which means that scientific theories are describing the reality of which the appearances are appearances. In other words, a robust realism combined with a full fledged naturalism in science and philosophy.

Sellars ultimately wanted to unify what he termed the manifest and scientific images. The manifest was a conceptual framework of persons in which we think of one another as sharing a community of intentions which provide the ambience of principles and standards within which we live our own individual lives. While  the “scientific image” is the complex new understanding of man-in-the-world that is still in the process of emerging from the fruits of theoretical reasoning, in particular, from the processes of postulational theory construction. For a reconciliation between the two realms of the manifest and scientific images he believed that the scientific image would need to be "enriched not with more ways of saying what is the case, but with the language of community and individual intentions, so that by construing the actions we intend to do and the circumstances in which we intend to do them in scientific terms, we directly relate the world as conceived by scientific theory to our purposes, and make it our world and no longer an alien appendage to the world in which we do our living."

Such an ultimate unification of the manifest and scientific images, the world of persons with the world of science, was the the goal of Sellars’s philososophical heritage. We will watch for Ray Brassier's new work to see if that heritage lives on transformed and translated into a more speculative turn.

1. A Companion to Analytic Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell (January 31, 2005)

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S.C. Hickman
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S.C. Hickman

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