Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Sellars and Kant on Intuition (II)

In my last posting on this topic I looked at the first movement of the first chapter of Wilfrid Sellars' book Science and Metaphysics whose argument culminated with a problem concerning the notion that space is the "form of outer sense". Today I want to reconstruct and assess some of the elements of the second movement of this first chapter. 

Sellars opens the second movement by stating the up-shot of the first movement has been to suggest that representations of a manifold as a manifold, representations described by Kant as "intuitions", are a special class of representations of the understanding that belong to spontaneity, not to receptivity or at least not to "receptivity" in its "radical" or "sheer" sense. The "radical" or "sheer" sense of receptivity is, however, also now suggested to be a "postulate", albeit a transcendental one. The items which make up the manifold that belongs to the radical or sheer form of receptivity are, however, characterised by Sellars as "sense impressions" which ensures that what Sellars means by such impressions is somewhat different than the role they played in empiricist accounts.

Despite the fact that the place of "sense impressions" in Sellars' reconstruction of Kant is not equivalent to the role they play in empiricist accounts there is a consideration of how the role of this notion has often functioned within philosophy generally (and hence within empiricist accounts). The general account that follows focuses on the notion of an impression of a red rectangle which is analysed by Sellars as including three components. The first component is that what is meant by sensing this impression is that we are undergoing a conscious state. The second component concerns what is happening what this state is undergone which is that we are faced by a process in which this impression is, at least in "normal circumstances", brought about by physical objects that fit the appropriate description. The third component is that the impression in question represents the appropriate physical object.

Having analysed the experience in question through this discussion of its components Sellars goes on to discuss the understanding of the "state of consciousness". The phrase is itself described by him as "both ambiguous and obscure". The ambiguity is focused on first with the point initially made that such impressions, considered as states of consciousness, are often assimilated to bodily sensations and feelings. Sense impressions, in the broadest sense, are comprehended as "non-conceptual" and the impressions are understood as being not just "states" of consciousness but also as "objects" of it.

The question now arises as to whether the sense impressions are, as specific individuated "contents", themselves made objects of awareness (or, as Sellars puts it in more Kantian language, are "apperceived"). The point is made that once we grant the existence of such "impressions" it becomes almost impossible not to consider them as apperceived, particularly if we do not have care with our distinctions.

Cartesians, for example, have the possibility of saying that the specific, individuated, sense-impressions are objects of awareness but that they are things of which we are "inadequately" or only "obscurely" aware. Similar statements are made in a more recent vocabulary when philosophers suggest that we are not aware consciously of what the manifold of our senses "really" (physically, i.e., natural-scientifically) "represent". Sellars wishes to move away from such models precisely through his notion of "sheer receptivity" and its corresponding notion of "sense impression". So the point is that the classic uses of "sense impression" which develop this sense of "inadequacy" do so because they have not really distinguished the two senses of "receptivity".

In response, then, to the classic pictures of sense impressions we arrive now at a notion of them that allows for the possibility that such impressions are not specifically given to us as objects of awareness. In a sense, this fits, according to Sellars, with Kant's usage since he need not relate to any such manifold of "sheer receptivity" as something of which we are aware. 

The second movement of the chapter appears, therefore, to consist mainly in developing and substantiating the concept of "sheer receptivity" and indicating the way in which it allows for a clarified sense of "sense impression" but Sellars, in this movement, does not yet fill out the place this will philosophically occupy for him in any serious detail and nor has he, as yet, returned fully to the way in which his renovation of the Kantian conception will both build on, and away from, Kant's own view.

No comments: