Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
In the Space of Reasons

In the Space of Reasons

Selected Essays of Wilfrid Sellars

Wilfrid Sellars

Edited by Kevin Scharp and Robert B. Brandom

ISBN 9780674024984

Publication date: 04/30/2007

Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989) was, in the opinion of many, the most important American philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century. He was, Richard Rorty writes, "as original a mind as C. S. Peirce, and it has taken almost as long for the importance of his ideas to be appreciated." This collection, coedited by Sellars's chief interpreter and intellectual heir, should do much to elucidate and clearly establish the significance of this difficult thinker's vision for contemporary philosophy.

The volume presents the most readable of Sellars's essays in a sequence that illuminates what Robert Brandom calls the "inferentialist" conception of meaning at the heart of his work. This conception, laid out in the early essays, is deployed in various epistemological contexts throughout the book so that, upon arriving at the concluding papers on Kant, the reader has been given a tour d'horizon not only of the central topics of philosophy of mind and language, but of much of the history of philosophy as well--and, with this, a sense of what a shifting of analytic philosophy from its Humean into its Kantian stage would entail.


  • Sellars was as original a mind as C.S. Peirce, and it has taken almost as long for the importance of his ideas to be appreciated. Once this collection appears in print, we shall see articles about Sellars popping up all over the journals, just as articles about Peirce began popping up after Hartshorne and Weiss had finished their editorial work. The editors of the collection have made very judicious choices about what to republish. They have arranged the essays in an illuminating sequence so as to make clear that the heart of Sellars's thought is what Brandom calls his "inferentialist" conception of meaning. Inferentialism was shadowed forth darkly in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, but Sellars was the first to make it explicit and to grasp its full implications. It represents a radical break with the representationalist way of thinking of mental and linguistic items that has been dominant in Western philosophy since Descartes. The essays in this volume, if read in sequence, gradually unfold to the reader the implications of this non-Cartesian outlook. As this collection goes along, the inferentialist position sketched in the first two essays is restated in various contexts so that, by the time the concluding papers on Kant are reached, the reader has been given a tour d'horizon not only of the central topics of philosophy of mind and language, but much of the history of philosophy as well. If analytic philosophers were to come to accept inferentialism, they would have to rethink almost every topic that they have discussed, from intentionality to meaning-change to indeterminacy of reference to mind-body identity to Kant's transcendental ego. There would be a sea change in philosophy far more profound than that caused by Quine's "Two Dogmas." This book, for the first time, gives them the opportunity to study the case for bringing about this change, as that case was presented by the philosopher who first realized inferentialism's full implications. I very much hope that it will be published quickly, since I believe that its appearance will have an important influence on the course of philosophical thought.

    —Richard Rorty


  • Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989) graduated from the University of Michigan in 1933. He taught at Iowa, Minnesota, and Yale, and was University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh from 1963 until his death. His works include Science and Metaphysics (1968) and Science, Perception, and Reality (1963).
  • Kevin Scharp is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The Ohio State University.
  • Robert B. Brandom is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy. He delivered the John Locke Lectures at the University of Oxford and the Woodbridge Lectures at Columbia University. Brandom is the author of many books, including Making It Explicit, Reason in Philosophy, and From Empiricism to Expressivism (all from Harvard).

Book Details

  • 528 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author