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How To Naturalize Sensory Consciousness and Intentionality Within A Process Monism With Normativity Gradient: A Reading of Sellars

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In this paper I reconstruct central parts of Sellars’ philosophy of mind and show that his treatment of sensory consciousness and intentionality appears much more plausible once we pay heed to his commitment to a process monism. The standard interpretation of Sellars largely overlooks this commitment and attributes to Sellars a metaphysical bifurcation into a ‘causal order’ and the ‘space of reasons’. Against this I show that Sellars can be read as championing a process monism with different types of processing at different levels of complexity, where linear mechanistic causation is only one of many forms of process architectures that realize non-linear causation. Nowadays, with the benefit of scientific hindsight in embodied cognition and dynamic systems theory, it should be easier to recognize that Sellars’ philosophy has the Gestalt of a process monism with levels of increasingly more complex forms of processing that work up significances in ever wider regulatory contexts, with physiological signals at one extreme and normative content at the other. Within human organisms processing at the level of mechanistic causation is embedded in a series of more emcompassing process architectures that can be associated with more or less rudimentary forms of sensing, map-making, navigating, imaging, mental languaging, verbal languaging, and scientific research. I argue that the logical irreducibility of normative content is merely temporary—if content is functioning, science will, in the long run, provide us with definitions for the process architectures that realize such functioning. I also show that some of Sellars’ most puzzling moves, such his insistence on sensa and his flatus voci theory of predication, appear well-motivated once we understand the centrality of his ‘reduction principle,’ i.e., Sellars’ criterion for which entities can be said to be real. Sellars saw that the reduction principle can only be retained if it is combined with an ontology of pure processes , i.e., occurrings that in their occurring are ‘ways’ of occurring that make a difference. Only with an ontology of pure processes can one solve the deepest problem for a naturalist approach: how to bring information—from difference making to normative content—into nature.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSellars and his legacy
EditorsJames R. O'Shea
Number of pages35
Place of publicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication year2016
ISBN (print)9780198766872
ISBN (Electronic)9780191079474
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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