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From Empiricism to Expressivism

From Empiricism to Expressivism

Brandom Reads Sellars

Robert B. Brandom

ISBN 9780674187283

Publication date: 01/06/2015

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The American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars ranks as one of the leading twentieth-century critics of empiricism—a philosophical approach to knowledge that seeks to ground it in human sense experience. Sellars stood in the forefront of a recoil within analytic philosophy from the foundationalist assumptions of contemporary empiricists. From Empiricism to Expressivism is a far-reaching reinterpretation of Sellars from one of the philosopher’s most brilliant intellectual heirs.

Unifying and extending Sellars’s most important ideas, Robert Brandom constructs a theory of pragmatic expressivism which, in contrast to empiricism, understands meaning and knowledge in terms of the role expressions play in social practices. The key lies in Sellars’s radical reworking of Kant’s idea of the categories: the idea that the expressive job characteristic of many of the most important philosophical concepts is not to describe or explain the empirical world but rather to make explicit essential features of the conceptual framework that makes description and explanation possible.

Brandom reconciles otherwise disparate elements of Sellars’s system, revealing a greater level of coherence and consistency in the philosopher’s arguments against empiricism than has usually been acknowledged. From Empiricism to Expressivism clarifies what Sellars had in mind when he talked about moving analytic philosophy from its Humean to its Kantian phase, and why such a move might be of crucial importance today.


  • One of the leading U.S. philosophers, Brandom develops his systematic views about language, knowledge, and the mind through a fascinating conversation with the work of Wilfrid Sellars (1912–1989), who influenced English-language philosophy as much as any 20th-century thinker. In Brandom’s hands, the criticisms of empiricism Sellars developed are transformed into a set of powerfully coherent views… Brandom’s scrupulous, illuminating discussion of Sellars’s search for a pragmatic and naturalistic alternative to empiricism should forever establish Sellars’s lasting importance to analytic philosophy. This inspired interpretation of Sellars gradually transitions, chapter by chapter, into Brandom’s thorough development of his own theory of pragmatic expressivism. As a masterwork of late analytic philosophy, this book must be studied as closely as Sellars by those interested in philosophy and linguistics.

    —J. R. Shook, Choice


  • 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

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

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