“Counterfactuals, Dispositions, and the Causal Modalities”
In an autobiographical sketch, Sellars dates his break with traditional empiricism to his Oxford days in the
It was, he says, prompted by concern with understanding the sort of conceptual content that ought to be
associated with “logical, causal, and deontological modalities.”
Already at that point he says that he had the
idea that “what was needed was a functional theory of concepts which would make their role in reasoning,
rather than supposed origin in experience, their primary feature.”
Action, Knowledge, and Reality
, H. N. Castaneda (ed.) [Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1975] p 285.
[O]nce the tautology ‘The world is described by descriptive concepts’ is freed from the idea that the business of
all non-logical concepts is to describe, the way is clear to an
recognition that many expressions
which empiricists have relegated to second-class citizenship in discourse are not
It is my purpose to argue that the core truth of Hume’s philosophy of causation is not only compatible with, but
recognition of those features of causal discourse as a mode of rational discourse on
which the ‘metaphysical rationalists’ laid such stress, but also mis-assimilated to describing.” [§82]
The final sentence of the essay invokes the “profound truth” of Kant’s conception of reason, “which
empiricism has tended to distort.”
…although describing and explaining (predicting, retrodicting, understanding) are
, they are
also, in an important sense,
. It is only because the expressions in terms of which we describe
objects, even such basic expressions as words for perceptible characteristics of molar objects, locate these
objects in a space of implications, that they describe at all, rather than merely label.
The descriptive and
explanatory resources of language advance hand in hand…. [§108]
To make first hand use of these [modal] expressions is to be about the business of explaining a state of affairs,
or justifying an assertion.
…a sympathetic reconstruction of the controversy in the form of a debate between a Mr. C (for Constant
Conjunction) and a Mr. E (for Entailment) who develop and qualify their views in such a way as to bring them
to the growing edge of the problem. [Introduction]
It is now high time that I dropped the persona of Mr. E, and set about replying to the challenge with which Mr.
C ended his first critique of the entailment theory.
It is the attempt to specify this peculiar and distinctive sort of pragmatically mediated relation between
vocabularies that leads Sellars to say things like:
It is sometimes thought that modal statements do not describe states of affairs in the world,
because they are
This won’t do at all if it is meant that instead of describing
states of affairs in the world, they describe linguistic habits.
It is more plausible if it is meant that