Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind"[1] (1956) is an essay by Wilfrid Sellars first given as a lecture under the title "The Myth of the Given: Three Lectures on Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind".

This lengthy and difficult paper is Sellars' most famous work and it is a sustained discussion of the claim, central to both phenomenology and sense-data theories of knowledge, that we can know things about our perceptual experiences independently of and in some important sense prior to the conceptual apparatus which we use to perceive objects.

Sellars targets several theories at once, especially C.I. Lewis' Kantian pragmatism and Rudolf Carnap's positivism. Sellars then goes on to construct "The Myth of Jones," a philosophical parable to explain how thoughts, intelligent action, and even subjective inner experience can be attributed to people within a strict behaviorist worldview. Sellars calls his fictional tribe "Ryleans," named after Gilbert Ryle, whose The Concept of Mind he specifically wanted to address. Sellars' idea of "myth," heavily influenced by Ernst Cassirer, is by no means a necessarily negative one; a myth is something that can be useful or otherwise, rather than true or false. One of Sellars' most central goals, which his later work described as Kantian, was reconciling the conceptual behavior of the "space of reasons" with the concept of a subjective sense experience.

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