SELLARS, GIVENNESS, AND EPISTEMIC PRIORITY

in The Self-Correcting Enterprise
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Abstract

Recent critics of Sellars’s argument against the Given attack Sellars’s (purported) conclusion that sensations cannot play a role in the justification of observation beliefs. I maintain that Sellars can concede that sensations play a role in justifying observation reports without being forced to concede that they have the foundational status of an epistemic Given. However, Sellars’s own arguments that observation reports rest, in some sense, on other empirical beliefs are not sufficiently well-developed; nor are his comments concerning internalism, which is crucial to his attack on the Given. As a result, both of these aspects of Sellars’s epistemology have been attacked, and their significance has gone unrecognized by many philosophers. In this paper, I will try to fill in some of the missing pieces, so that we can see that not only are Sellars’s theses concerning internalism and epistemic priority correct, but they represent a devastating attack on the Given, even if Sellars concedes that sensation can play a role in justifying observation beliefs. In short, we will see that these recent arguments in support of the Given have not succeeded in reviving it. The Given remains a myth.