Philosophy Wilfrid Sellars
by
Michael P. Wolf, Jeremy Randel Koons
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0134

Introduction

Wilfrid Sellars (1912–1989) did some of the most interesting and challenging work in Western philosophy in the 20th century. At a time when most philosophers were moving towards increasingly narrow specialization in their scholarship, he produced a large corpus that was both systematic and extensive in scope. Sellars is also a difficult philosopher to read, however. “I revise my papers until only I can understand them,” he is rumored to have said, “and then I revise them once more.” His prose is both idiosyncratic and ambitious, striking out in novel directions while striving to address the concerns of the past on every page. In this entry, we strive to address his most significant contributions to epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and ethics. We pass over most of the details of his work in the history of philosophy, particularly his work on Kant. Wherever possible, we have included original dates and sources of publication to give the reader a sense of the progression of Sellars’s work, but nearly all of these papers are included in one or more of the anthologies listed.

Collections

The wide scope of Sellars’s work makes him a philosopher best understood through collections of related papers, and several excellent collections are available. For those interested in the broadest collection of his best papers in several areas, the collection edited by Scharp and Brandom (Sellars 2007) is a good choice. For those more interested in his major papers on epistemology, language and science, Sellars 1991 has been the preferred source for many years. Sellars 1979, Sellars 1967a, and Sellars 1980a offer more narrow selections, tailored to more specific periods and interests. Sellars 1992 and Sellars 1980b are both collections of lectures that function well as complete books to encapsulate the major themes in Sellars’s work. (Readers may also want to see Castañeda 1976, cited in Ethics, Actions, and Intentions, for its review of Sellars’s work.)

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. Philosophical Perspectives: Metaphysics and Epistemology. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1967a.

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    Originally published as the second part of Philosophical Perspectives in 1967. This volume includes fewer major works that are not available elsewhere, but it does include some works that will be of secondary interest to those looking deeply on Sellars’s work.

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. Essays in Philosophy and its History. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1974a.

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    A more broad collection than Sellars 1991, with works on Plato and Kant as well as replies to some contemporaries. More heavy on issues in metaphysics, this collection is less a career overview like Sellars 1979 or Sellars 1967a and more a collection of mid-to-late-period works.

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. Philosophical Perspectives: History of Philosophy. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1979.

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    Originally published as the first part of a volume called Philosophical Perspectives in 1967. This volume contains several works on Aristotle and Kant, which are both original readings and point to features of his contemporary works.

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. Pure Pragmatics and Possible Worlds: The Early Essays of Wilfrid Sellars. Edited by Jeffrey Sicha. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1980a.

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    A collection of Sellars’s work from the 1940s and 1950s. The primary virtues of this volume lie in its collecting just the right early works and including extensive outlines of the articles for the readers. Many of these essays will be easily accessible through JSTOR and other electronic resources, but it is also the most readily available source for Sellars 1947a (cited under Conceptual Content, Meaning, and Rules).

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. Naturalism and Ontology: The John Dewey Lectures for 1973–1974. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1980b.

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    This is a shorter work (about 150 pages), but it is probably the most important work from Sellars’s late period. Delivered as the Locke Lectures at Oxford, and primarily a work on metaphysics, though with a significant lecture on meaning. It includes a correspondence with Michael Loux.

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. Science, Perception, and Reality. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1991.

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    Sellars’s first collection of essays and an excellent source for his most important mid-period works on language, epistemology, and scientific realism. Most of the major works in those areas cited below are here, including the main text of Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind (Sellars 1997, cited under Knowledge and Justification), originally published in 1956.

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes. The John Locke Lectures for 1965–1966. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1992.

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    Frequently drawing on the work of Kant, Sellars gives a unified account of perception and its objects, meaning and intentionality, reference, truth, mental episodes, and practical reasoning. This book gives a very good overview of Sellars’s views on these issues, and it comes closer than any other work to giving a broad summary of Sellars’s philosophy. Originally published in 1967.

  • Sellars, Wilfrid. In the Space of Reasons: Selected Essays of Wilfrid Sellars. Edited by Kevin Scharp and Robert B. Brandom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

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    This is a more recent anthology edited by Kevin Scharp and Robert Brandom. It includes several of the essays originally in Sellars 1991—though not Sellars 1997 (cited under Knowledge and Justification)—and expands to include some of Sellars’s historical works on Kant and some later works on the mind. Readers interested in the full scope of Sellars’s work (especially his relation to Kant) and wanting it in one volume may prefer this to Sellars 1991.

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