Archives For Wilfrid Sellars

Author Information: Michael P. Wolf, Washington and Jefferson College, mwolf@washjeff.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Wolf, Michael P. 2012. “Rigid Designation and Natural Kind Terms, Pittsburgh Style.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 133-142.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-DC

Abstract

This paper addresses recent literature on rigid designation and natural kind terms that draws on the inferentialist approaches of Sellars and Brandom, among others. Much of the orthodox literature on rigidity may be seen as appealing, more or less explicitly, to a semantic form of “the given” in Sellars’s terms. However, the important insights of that literature may be reconstructed and articulated in terms more congenial to the Pittsburgh school of normative functionalism.

I. The issues

Reflection on Frege’s (1892/1980) account of sense led many analytic philosophers of language to view proper names and other apparently simple singular terms as covert clusters of descriptions. Thus, a proper name such as “Aristotle” had as its meaning some set of predicates and descriptions like “the author of Nicomachean Ethics, the teacher of Alexander the Great, the husband of Pythias…” The name (or other singular term) then refers to that object which satisfies all of the descriptions, or some suitable subset of them. Kripke (1980) criticizes this approach extensively, arguing that the meanings of proper names and natural kind terms could not be understood in such terms. While such descriptions might be associated with proper names and natural kind terms, those associations did not amount to synonymy. We might imagine other possible worlds — or discover in the actual world — that some or all of the descriptions in such a cluster were not true of the expression’s referent. We might also imagine such instances where something else better fit the descriptions. If Aristotle forged the credentials listed above, he does not cease to be Aristotle; if someone else did all of those things, he does not thereby become Aristotle. The proper name refers to that person and only that person, whether the associated descriptions are true of him or not.

The notion was initially introduced in modal terms by Kripke (1980, 48): “Let’s call something a rigid designator if in every possible world it designates the same object,” while non-rigid designators would not do so. Such a designator may fail to designate at all (i.e., in some possible worlds, Aristotle never exists), but it does not designate something else if that thing happens to have other properties. Nor does something else (say, Aristotle’s brother) turn out to be Aristotle if it meets more of the descriptions in the cluster. When we use the proper name “Aristotle,” its reference is fixed for us in the actual world, and that reference remains fixed no matter what we may discover about this world or stipulate about others. Putnam (1973, 1975b) contemporaneously [1] extended many of these ideas to natural kind terms, while others have extended them to include still more classes of expressions such as indexicals and pronouns. [2]

Why should any of this trouble a normative functionalist? Many defenders of rigid designation’s place in a theory of meaning have stated its nature in terms of the “object-involving” character of truth conditions for sentences in which they appear. That is, the object itself would figure in the truth conditions, rather than some means — functions, inference licenses, possible worlds, whatever the tools of the theory may be — for reidentifying and differentiating between potential referents. On a first pass, this would seem to involve an appeal to non-semantic items as elements of the semantic order; a more sophisticated reading would appear to involve appeal to a direct, unmediated word-world relation as an explainer in a theory of meaning. In Sellarsian dialects of Pittsburghese, this would amount to invoking the given in semantic form. Outside those circles, most analytic philosophers after Kripke would say that inferentialist accounts seem to preclude an appropriately direct involvement of objects in their semantic contents. Putnam and Sellars spoke directly to one another on this point, in fact. In 1974 at the APA Eastern meetings, Sellars presented his “Meaning as Functional Classification,” a touchstone of normative functionalism in recent theory of meaning, and comments were offered by none other than Hilary Putnam. Sellars’s views are discussed extensively elsewhere in this edition, but Putnam expressed significant reservations:

The normal-form description of the meaning of a word does include a description of the rules for the use of the word. … The “rule” component gives the full specification of individual competence, or even of collective social competence at a given time; it fails to completely capture what is ordinarily called the meaning of the word and in particular it fails to capture the extension. The battery of rules, whether you take that in an individual or a social sense, does not determine the extension of the word. … The determination of extension is a social matter, and also more than a social matter; it depends also on the contribution of the environment. (1974, 453-454).

Continue Reading…

Author Information: Dave Beisecker, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, beiseckd@unlv.nevada.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Beisecker, Dave. 2012. “Normative Functionalism and its Pragmatist Roots.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 109-116.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-CT

Precis

In what follows, I shall characterize normative functionalism and contrast it with its causal counterpart. After tracing both stripes of functionalism to the work of the classical American pragmatists, I then argue that they are not exclusive alternatives. Instead, both might be required for an appropriately illuminating account of human rational activity.

Section 1

When we attempt to unpack some notion or phenomenon functionally, we try to characterize it, not in terms of its intrinsic features, but rather in terms of its upstream “inputs” and its downstream “outputs.” However, there are different ways in which we may choose to characterize or specify such inputs and outputs, which thus give rise to different flavors of functional analysis. Thus when we subject some phenomena to a normative functionalist analysis, we conceive of the relevant inputs and outputs in broadly normative terms. That is, we attempt to understand the phenomenon in question in terms of how it is influenced by, and how it in turn influences patterns of proprieties, obligations, and permissions (or commitments and entitlements, to deploy Robert Brandom’s (1994) preferred idiom). So Wilfrid Sellars, one of the pioneers of normative functionalism, urged us to think of the meanings of words or concepts in terms of their role in a richly interconnected network of material inferential proprieties (Sellars 1953, 1956). To give the meaning of a word is (on the upstream side) to specify when one is obliged or permitted to infer sentences deploying that word, and also (on the downstream side) to make explicit what one is in turn obliged or permitted to infer from such sentences. Those who can properly be said to understand a concept are those who have, perhaps implicitly, mastered these inferential proprieties. More recently, Rebecca Kukla and Mark Lance (2009) have similarly encouraged us to botanize various kinds of speech acts according to the interpersonal proprieties that govern when speakers may deploy them, as well as the licenses and obligations they confer upon their audiences. Kukla and Lance ambitiously argue that by doing so we can make substantial headway understanding how mind meets world in perception and action.

Section 2

Thus those who advertise the virtues of normative functionalism will typically urge us to view their chosen phenomena (usually something like thought, rationality, or meaning) in a social setting. The thought is that such phenomena only become intelligible in an intersubjective context. Subjects to whom certain philosophically interesting concepts are appropriately applied must be understood in a context of many such subjects interacting with one another to produce a pattern of changing permissions and obligations. Normative functionalists are thus likely to be unabashed social externalists. And here we have one chief contrast in philosophical temperament between normative functionalists and their cousins who subscribe to more traditional, and possibly more familiar, causal functionalisms. Causal functionalists like to think of the relevant inputs as causal influences upon the states of a system exhibiting some target phenomenon, and the outputs as the various causal effects that stem from such a system being in those states. Famously, Hilary Putnam (1975) suggested that mental activity was amenable to such causal-functional analysis, in which individual mental state-types could profitably be identified as states of a system characterized in terms of intrasubjective causal inputs and outputs. Causal functionalists like Putnam typically construe the relevant systems of interest as a sort of stimulus-response machine: individual organisms receiving inputs from their environments and then making responses to those inputs, perhaps through the mediation of some internal “cognitive processing.” Causal functionalists are much more likely than their normative counterparts to be methodological individualists. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Frank Scalambrino, University of Dallas, Texas, scalambrinof9@gmail.com

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Scalambrino, Frank. 2012. “Tales of the mighty tautologists?” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 83-97.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-Ca

Abstract

There is supposed to be deep agreement among the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Robert Brandom, and John McDowell in regard to normativity. As a result, according to Robert Brandom (2008), and echoed by Chauncey Maher (2012), “normative functionalism” (NF) may refer to a position held by Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell, i.e., “The Pittsburgh School” of philosophy. The standard criticism of the various forms of this normative functionalist position points out the inconsistency in the commitment of normative functionalists to both metaphysical realism and psychological nominalism. Yet, the inconsistency between metaphysical realism and psychological nominalism may be difficult to see until the relation between normativity and perception is clarified. To this end, in this article I discuss the role of habit in perception. Normative functionalists aspire for a sort of pragmatism between the horns of psychologism and pan-logicism. However, once a discussion of habit in perception reveals a kind of relation between an agent and its environment that exceeds the inferential capacity of normativity, the normative functionalist position seems tautological. Put more specifically, the NF thesis may merely be claiming that the inferential sort of normativity which governs rational synthetic processing of experience is an inferential sort of normativity governing rational synthetic processing. The revelation of such a tautological grounding should be sufficient evidence for the Pittsburgh School to consider re-working its understanding of the functionality of normativity; for example, regarding claims such as: “In an important sense there is no such boundary [between the discursive and non-discursive], and so nothing outside the realm of the conceptual” (Brandom 2000, 357). This discussion should be, at least, valuable as a supplement to the standard criticism of NF or in regard to the Pittsburgh School’s avowed relation to G.W.F. Hegel.

“[A] tree or a rock can become subject to norms insofar as we consider it as engaging in social practices.” [1] — Robert Brandom

I. Introduction

The “Pittsburgh School” of philosophy refers to the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Robert Brandom, and John McDowell from the University of Pittsburgh. And, there is supposed to be “deep agreement” within the Pittsburgh School regarding normativity (cf. Brandom 2008, 357; cf. Maher 2012). “Normative Functionalism,” then, refers to the philosophical position indicated by the deep agreement among these various Pittsburgh School understandings of normativity. So, how may the position of normative functionalism (NF) be characterized?

Consider Brandom’s characterization from his Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas (2009),

The synthesis of a rational self or subject: what is responsible for the [normative] commitments … has a rational unity in that the commitments it comprises are treated as reasons for and against other commitments, as normatively obliging one to acknowledge some further commitments and prohibiting acknowledgement of others [Brandom’s emphases] (Brandom, 2009, 14).

It is as if the meaning of an experience for an agent depends on its relation to the norm-governed network, i.e., a space of reasons, in which it functions as an assertion. And, according to Brandom: “This is Kant’s normative inferential conception of awareness or experience” (Brandom 2009, 14). Further, in his book The Pittsburgh School of Philosophy (2012), Chauncey Maher explains, “the big idea is that the meaning of a term or a whole sentence is its norm-governed [emphasis added] role in rational conduct, broadly construed to include perception, thinking, speech, and deliberate action” (Maher 2012a, 5). Ultimately, in this article, I will argue that the domain of experience the Pittsburgh School considers norm-governed is too widely construed in regard to perception. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Patrick J. Reider, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PJR23@pitt.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Reider, Patrick J. 2012. “Sellars and Knowing the Thing-In-Itself.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 68-82.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-BQ

Abstract

DeVries’ article “Sellars, Realism, and Kantian Thinking” misinterprets my argument that Sellars cannot show a sufficient degree of perceptual access for science to produce knowledge of “things-in-themselves” as involving a Cartesian characterization of Sellars. In correcting this misinterpretation (among many others), I will show that there are aspects of Sellars’ views on sensory receptivity, analogies, and representation that are at odds with the epistemic claim Sellars makes in regard to knowing the thing-in-itself, which deVries fails to acknowledge. In highlighting the nature of these internal discrepancies, I argue that Sellars’ and deVries’ (reading of Sellars’) account of science’s ability to achieve metaphysical realism entails criteria for knowing the thing-in-itself that is normative and/or presumed rather than the product of scientific discovery. In short, this paper has two foci: first, to respond to deVries’ misinterpretations of my account of Sellars, and second, to show that the traditional analytic commitment to metaphysical realism is central to Sellars, as well as to his readers, but cannot be sustained.

Section 1

In “Sellars on Perception, Science, and Realism: A Critical Response,” I argued that Sellars cannot show a sufficient degree of perceptual access to permit his accounts of scientific concepts, theories, analogies, and models to count as knowledge of “things-in-themselves.”[1] DeVries’ response to this paper in “Sellars, Realism, and Kantian Thinking” misinterprets my critique as relying on a Cartesian form of the “new way of ideas” to characterize Sellars. In attempting to dissuade me from a view I do not hold, deVries offers several excellent accounts of Sellars’ views on analogy and picturing. While correcting his mischaracterization of my view of Sellars, I will argue that neither Sellars’ nor deVries’ (reading of Sellars’) account of science and picturing permits knowledge of the thing-in-itself. Additionally, I will argue that Sellars’ and deVries account of the attainability of metaphysical realism via science entails criteria for knowing (what Sellars calls) the “thing-in-itself,” which can only be normative and/or presumed rather than the product of scientific discovery. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Willem A. deVries, University of New Hampshire, willem.devries@unh.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

deVries, Willem A. 2012. “Sellars, Realism and Kanitan Thinking.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 57-67.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-BA

This essay is a response to Patrick Reider’s essay “Sellars on Perception, Science and Realism: A Critical Response.” Reider is correct that Sellars’s realism is in tension with his generally Kantian approach to issues of knowledge and mind, but I do not think Reider’s analysis correctly locates the sources of that tension or how Sellars himself hoped to be able to resolve it. Reider’s own account of idealism and the reasons supporting it are rooted in the epistemological tradition that informed the British empiricists, rather than in the metaphysical reasons that ruled within the German tradition from Leibniz through Hegel that has much more in common with Sellars’s position. Thus, Reider takes Sellars’s notion of picturing to be just another version of the representationalism that has dominated the Anglo-American tradition since Locke, whereas, in my view, because picturing is a non-semantical relation, it is an important ingredient in naturalizing the coherentist theories of the idealists.

Section I

Reider starts off, appropriately, with a discussion of analogy and science in Sellars’s thought. The target here is correct, but the discussion goes awry in some important ways. This is most directly seen in Reider’s speaking as if Sellars wants to exploit something like a Thomistic “analogy of proportion,” when, in fact, Sellars is claiming that the kinds of analogies he’s exploiting, unlike the Thomistic version, offers us “new determinate concepts” [my emphasis], rather than an allusion to something of some general nature whose specific reality remains beyond our ken.

Granted, there is something like a Thomistic analogy of proportion in play when, in the midst of his analysis of perception, Sellars tells us that “sheer phenomenology or conceptual analysis takes us part of the way” in understanding sensory episodes, namely, “to the point of assuring us that

Something, somehow a cube of pink in physical space is present in the perception other than as merely believed in (SSOP §26: 89).”

This result yields, like a Thomistic analogy of proportion, a highly indeterminate concept of what is present to us in the perception: something that is somehow a colored, shaped object in physical space. However, for our purposes the main point is that scientific theorizing goes far beyond this; eventually, it will develop a determinate conception of what is present in the perception and how it can manage to be colored and shaped, that is, what properties it has that are counterparts to the properties of the physical objects that normally cause such sensory states. This will be a family of determinate concepts of sensa.

There are two significantly different forms in which Sellars thinks analogies can lead to new determinate concepts. One is a matter of analogical relations between sets or families of concepts. Scientists use such analogies to generate new conceptual schemes that might prove explanatorily useful and be subject to empirical test. So, for instance, around the turn of the 20th century, after the discovery of the electron, J. J. Thomson proposed the “plum pudding” model to explain the structure of the atom, which was fairly quickly replaced by the Rutherford “planetary” model, which was then quantized by Bohr. Analogies to plum puddings and solar systems enabled scientists to think about the objects they were investigating and the principles that might explain their behavior by using concepts of domains with which we were already familiar. This facilitated the development of new tests that drove the scientists to new models. Sellars has this kind of analogy in mind when he argues, as he did in so many places, that our mentalistic concepts are formed by means of such an analogy, and in fact, by two different analogies. One likens our intentional states to episodes of ‘inner speech’, the other likens our sensory states to ‘inner replicas.’

The second significant form of analogy that Sellars considers is based on an isomorphism between two domains of objects and their relations (as opposed to concepts and their relations). When the objects and their relations in one domain bear a useful isomorphism to those in some other, nominally different domain, Sellars often speaks of “counterpart properties and relations.” We can find at least two or three different places where Sellars claims that such an isomorphism plays an important role. One is in the analysis of the sensory domain, where our sensory states exhibit counterpart properties to those exhibited by the manifest image sensory objects they are typically caused by, and are arranged in a scheme that involves counterparts of spatial and temporal relations (SM I ¶74). The other is in Sellars’s difficult notion of picturing. Some tokens of a linguistic type (what Sellars calls a “natural linguistic object”) picture some objects in nature in virtue of participating in a complex system of such natural linguistic objects that, in virtue of an unimaginably complex projection relation, is isomorphic (in certain respects) to the worldly objects thus pictured. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Patrick J. Reider, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PJR23@pitt.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Reider, Patrick J. 2012. “Sellars on Perception, Science, and Realism: A Critical Response.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 39-56.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-B8

Abstract

In this article, I explain the manner in which Sellars’ version of realism is undermined by his Kantian commitments and his normative functionalism. After providing an account of the perceptual and scientific models that support his realism, I argue for the following: Sellars’ perceptual/cognitive models do not permit sufficient perceptual and conceptual access to warrant a version of realism predicated upon our ability to know mind-independent existence. In other words, Sellars’ Kantian commitments, his norm-driven view of concepts, and his norm-guided view of reason place severe limits on one’s access to mind-independent reality. Consequently, when one strictly holds Sellars to these limits, he cannot show (or significantly support) the manner in which knowledge of mind-independent existence is possible.

1.1 Introduction

In what manner does Sellars believe perceptual knowledge is possible in light of his normative functionalist views? For instance, if 1) the meaning of words can be partly or fully reduced to the function they play in a language, 2) norms mediate and/or determine these functions, and 3) the manner in which perception unfolds is shaped by these norms (all of which are important aspects of normative functionalism), then in what sense does Sellars believe we can have objective empirical knowledge? This is an important question to ask, as it reveals the manner in which Sellars believes science, as a discipline founded upon empirical observation, can lead to knowledge of mind-independent existence.

In order to answer the above questions, we need to understand Sellars’ account of perception. One of his most complete accounts of perception, as it concerns his peculiar brand of realism, can be found in Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes.[1] Given the norm-driven account of Sellars’ views on meaning and the foreknowledge that Sellars is a realist, one might expect (and believe he needs) a view of perception that un-problematically supports realism. Instead, Sellars surprisingly makes numerous Kantian commitments that are central to his perceptual model — commitments which are historically interpreted as counter to realism. For example, take the following five Kantian commitments that Sellars adheres to in Science and Metaphysics (and throughout all of his later career): 1) neither sensibility (in itself) nor conceptuality (in itself) are capable of providing knowledge of the thing-in-itself, 2) without a pre-existing conceptual framework, no knowledge of empirical content is possible, 3) we are not directly aware of sensations, 4) in order to recognize empirical content, as facts or states of affairs, a judgment is required, and 5) in order to relate concepts to sensory content, via a judgment, the mind must first synthesize sensory content into coherent units of time and space.[2]

The above views are surprising for a realist to embrace, because they play a central role in Kant’s claim that the thing-in-itself (an entity’s true existence independent of how a person’s mind may contingently experience, believe, or feel about it) is unknowable. Despite Sellars’ Kantian commitments, he believes that “the gulf between appearances and things-in-themselves, though a genuine one, can in principle be bridged” (50). In what follows, I will first explain the manner in which Sellars believes this is possible. I then argue that his perceptual views do not support or allow the type of realist conclusion he draws from them. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Tom Rockmore, Duquesne University, rockmore@duq.edu, Tom Rockmore: Wikipedia Entry

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Rockmore, Tom. 2012. “The Pittsburgh School, The Given and Knowledge”. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 29-38.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-Ak

Abstract

The Pittsburgh School, aka the Pittsburgh Hegelians or as the Pittsburgh neo-Hegelians, is often associated with Sellars, McDowell and Brandom. The views of the Pittsburgh School arise on the heels of Sellars’ rejection of the given, but differ in important ways. The difficulty, if one turns away from the given, lies in justifying objective claims to know. I argue that neither Sellars, nor Brandom, nor McDowell successfully justifies claims to know. I further question their supposed Hegelianism. Hegel is a constructivist in that he follows Kant’s claim, which is central to the Copernican revolution, that we know only what we in some sense “construct.” Unlike Hegel, the Pittsburgh “Hegelians” are not constructivists in terms of the letter or even the spirit of their views.

The Pittsburgh School aka the Pittsburgh Hegelians or as the Pittsburgh neo-Hegelians, is often associated with Sellars, McDowell and Brandom, but oddly not with Rescher, who is arguably closer to idealism, hence, since Hegel is an idealist, closer to Hegel.[1] The Pittsburgh School is sometimes understood to feature normative functionalism. Normative functionalism is a distant variation on the Kantian theme of categories. At stake is the nature and role of concepts after Kant, as well as the problem of knowledge if, in isolating spontaneity from receptivity, one gives up empiricism to justify cognitive claims.

Functionalism, which goes back at least to Aristotle, is usually understood as the doctrine that a mental state depends on its function or role in a wider system. The term “normative functionalism,” which is employed in several fields, including at least sociology and philosophy, has no standard philosophical meaning. In the Pittsburgh School, normative functionalism belongs to the effort to work out an approach to knowledge after the so-called given.

At least initially, “functionalism” may be defined as the view that to say that a word has a certain meaning or that a thought has content is to say that the word or thought has a certain functional role in a system of some kind. Normative functionalism gains traction for the Pittsburgh School in the discussion through the supposed relation to the given. The idea of the given, which is now firmly identified with Sellars, was anticipated earlier by others, for instance C. I. Lewis, who, in Mind and the World Order, draws attention to a distinction between the given or immediate sense data about which one cannot be mistaken, the interpretation of the given, and the concept through which we interpret it.

I believe no one can say with certainty precisely how Sellars understands the given, though it is at plausible that he intends to counter Lewis and others committed to empiricism. Moore and Russell, the founders of analytic philosophy in England, were broadly empirical thinkers. Sellars’ attack on the given loosely belongs to the analytic attack on empiricism underway roughly since the later Wittgenstein. The analytic turn against empiricism featured in recent analytic philosophy was anticipated in Kant’s critique of Humean naturalism. For naturalism, he substitutes a transcendental approach to knowledge. In relying on the supposed parallelism between judgments and categories, he proposes a transcendental deduction of the latter. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Patrick J. Reider, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PJR23@pitt.edu

Normative Functionalism and the Pittsburgh School: Table of Contents

Reider, Patrick J. 2012. “Normative Functionalism in the Pittsburgh School.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 2 (1): 16-28

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-AA

Abstract

Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell (whom Maher aptly calls the “Pittsburgh School”) have tremendous influence on the current shape of the analytic tradition. Despite their differing views on philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and epistemology, their shared application of ‘normative functionalism’ highlights important similarities in their approaches to the aforementioned disciplines. Normative functionalism interprets the ability to form judgments, possess concepts, rationally defend or be critical of judgments, and consequently act as an agent, as largely guided by one’s responsiveness to norms. In this article, I argue for two related claims. First, I argue that the Pittsburgh School’s normative functionalism has germinated from the seed of Sellars’ ‘psychological nominalism’ and cannot be separated from it. Second, no philosophical question or approach can be free of competing claims as to the manner in which human beings think, communicate, act, and know. As a result, normative functionalism (insofar as it is a natural extension of psychological nominalism) is relevant to many philosophical disciplines, because it opposes nearly all the traditional views concerning how the human intellect comes into being and functionally operates.

Section 1

Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell (whom Maher aptly calls the “Pittsburgh School”) have tremendous influence on the current shape of the analytic tradition.[1] Despite their differing views on philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and epistemology, their shared application of ‘normative functionalism’ highlights important similarities in their approaches to the aforementioned disciplines.[2]

As of yet, there is no definite way to refer to ‘normative functionalism,’ nor can one claim that its use is well established. Nonetheless, normative functionalism indicates a philosophical approach that will continue to have important repercussion in contemporary thought for two distinct reasons. First, via the considerable influences of Sellars, Brandom, and McDowell, the approach (if not the term) of normative functionalism is embedded in the most important issues facing one of the historically most prominent trends of the 21st century. Second, the theory of normative functionalism appears to maintain its explanatory power within a wide range of philosophical disciplines. Continue Reading…

Author Information: Chauncey Maher, Dickinson College, maherc@dickinson.edu

Maher, Chauncey. 2012. Reply to Reider. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (11): 16-23

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-tL

1. Introduction

In his review of my book The Pittsburgh School, Patrick Reider characterizes the philosophers of the Pittsburgh School — Sellars, McDowell, and Brandom — as aiming to inherit empiricism. As he puts it, they offer “modified versions of empiricism … to resolve various problems associated with knowledge.” [1]

While I agree that the Pittsburgh School can be seen as responding to empiricism, I think it is more helpful to see them as critics of foundationalism — or, in Sellars’s provocative words, as critics of “the entire framework of givenness.” [2] That is, they are critics not just of foundationalism in epistemology, but of foundationalist ideas in, for instance, philosophical thinking about meaning and action. In place of “static” conceptions of these things, they propose dynamic, diachronic conceptions of them.

In this short reply to Reider, I want to give a rough sketch of the Pittsburgh School’s opposition to foundationalism, starting from their critique of “the Given”. I will move over a lot of terrain very quickly in order to give a synoptic overview of the landscape. Continue Reading…