Some Reflections of Roy Wood Sellars

On philosophical insularity

This is the way things go in philosophy. There are traditions and winds of doctrine and many seem shut into the tradition in which they have been brought up. There is vital need of communication. I may remark here, incidentally, that I have found European philosophers more shut into their traditions than Americans. This is not a matter of virtue of American thinkers but of historical circumstances. They have had to learn and assimilate until it came about that they could strike out on the paths which appealed to them. Such independence was not always welcomed abroad when it occurred. This, I think, happened in the case of pragmatism and, in some measure, with realism. And, then, curiously enough, when what was regarded as a stalemate in the realistic movement occurred—how justifiable remains to be seen—a new kind of colonialism manifested itself in the United States. One soon heard only of analysis a la Moore, of Wittgenstein, and of logical positivism. This to be followed by existentialism. I do not say this attitude was universal. There remained many Deweyites and the study of Peirce increased. But I had to work rather alone. I continued to circle around perceiving, evolutionary levels, double knowledge of the mind-brain functioning and humanism. That is the way things go and one must have what has been called intestinal fortitude. I think the situation is somewhat altering and more of an international equilibrium is getting established. But what I call journalistic philosophy still echoes the period of neo-colonialism. Literary critics, whose philosophy is second-hand, mouth the accepted terms. And I find that many young philosophers in the United States seem to have little knowledge of past developments. In their eyes, one must be analytic, or a logical positivist or a defender of ordinary language. (pp. 28-29)

On Philosophy for the Future

I have recently read over my Personal Statement of 1930 and find it to be along the right lines. Much the same holds of the cooperative book, Philosophy for the Future of 1949. It was published during the cold war and was not kindly reviewed as a consequence. Since scientists were included, the book had considerable substance. Academic philosophy turned away from realism to positivism and linguistic analysis. I shall say something about these developments in later chapters. I wish now to say something about value-judgments and moral commitments. I think they can be easily fitted into evolutionary materialism at the cultural level. But, before I proceed to this section, I want to make a comment on the so-called formal materialism of Thomism. I commend it in that it did not fall into the pit of subjectivism and dualism opened up by Descartes and Locke. But, as I shall later try to show, it kept a rather naive teleology and an outmoded idea of matter. In looking over its idea of perceiving, I found that it emphasized a cognitive identity of sensible species before the mind and in the object where I had stressed the use of sensations as informed appearings of the controlling thing perceived and thus the point of departure for cognition. In Aristotle in his later years there was a tendency towards naturalism. All in all, then, I recognize the zigzag and checkered career of philosophy. But I do not, like Professor Feuer, wish to cancel it. I hold that basic leads can be found. Perhaps, Americans of my generation had healthy insights, too quickly ignored. (p. 67)

On the philosophical project

One of the difficulties facing a serious philosopher is that he must keep his eyes on so many subjects. He must recognize the fruits of division of labor and yet try to appreciate what is going on. On the one hand, he must be critical of many moves in the past, such as a deductive approach to what is, which have shown themselves to be mistaken. On the other hand, he must have a keen eye for genuine puzzles and problems. I, myself, concentrated on the nature of human knowing, on the status of value in the world, and on the traditional mind-body problem. I did not think that philosophy just by itself could solve these problems. The increase of knowledge would help. But I thought that philosophy could make a cooperative contribution by what has come to be called categorial analysis. Philosophy usually had a long historical perspective in these matters. It could keep its eye on the nature of the puzzle. In short, philosophy never meant to me uncontrolled speculation about a supposed transcendental realm, as positivists always assume. I was quite early naturalistic and even materialistic in my outlook. I just wanted to fit things together in an intelligible way. (p. 91)

SOURCE: Sellars, Roy Wood. Reflections on American Philosophy From Within. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969. ix, 202 p.

American Philosophy Study Guide
includes the following & more:

Reflections on American Philosophy From Within: Foreword & Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Nature of the Project
Chapter 8 — Intersecting Dialectical Materialism

"Epilogue on Berkeley" by Roy Wood Sellars

Principles of Emergent Realism: Philosophical Essays by Roy Wood Sellars

"The New Materialism" by Roy Wood Sellars

Philosophy for the Future: The Quest of Modern Materialism: Foreword & Contents

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