Notes for “Stereoscopy, Exit, and Escape”

July 3, 2015

&&& Journal has published some of my recent material on their blog:

A portion of these notes were delivered as a guest lecturer for Diann Bauer and Patricia Reed’s “Art and its Reason(s)” seminar at the New Centre for Research & Practice on June 8th, 2015. I have since added to them and cleaned up the presentation. The intent of this material was to present a broad outline of Wilfrid Sellars philosophy and make suggestions as to how we might think of some of his positions in relation to problems with recent art practice, and in what ways it may help us reconsider certain positions on art. For the most part it remains focused on Sellars’s philosophy with a few suggestive remarks on how it may be applied to art which could surely be expanded. In composing these notes I relied not only upon Sellars’s own texts, but the indispensable commentary of the late Jay Rosenberg, Willem deVries and Tom Triplett’s reading of Sellars’s “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”, Steven Levine’s insightful criticism of Sellars’s positions, and Johanna Seibt’s process ontology.

The Myth of the Given

What is the given? The notion of the given derives from a particularly entrenched view in the history of Western philosophy derived from Descartes mind/body dualism. This view has both an epistemic and metaphysical character. In its metaphysical formulation, there are two distinct kinds of things in the world: the mental and the material. The material is associated with the causal laws of physics, while the mental with laws of reason and thought. The epistemological mistake of the Cartesian picture is to associate the immediacy of what is known with the cause of that knowledge, such that directness of access to a cause guarantees the foundation of that knowledge. However, this elides the distinction between justification and causation. What is caused cannot act as a justification for our knowledge, since, being non-conceptual, and therefore non-contentful (propositional), it lacks the right kind of status to act as a reason for our beliefs about the world. Yet, even propositional statements about our direct experience by themselves are insufficient in their own right – for to make a reliable statement, one must have knowledge about the reliability of their own statements, which is itself further justification. Broadly speaking, it is the foundational assumption of some epistemically independent basis that the philosopher Wilfrid Sellars takes aim at with the myth of the given. By sorting out the relation between causation and justification, and identifying the constructed nature of our knowledge, Sellars hopes to overcome Cartesian dualism and propose a picture of the world that naturalizes the mental.

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