A Commentary on Sellars Distinction between Manifest Image and Scientific Image

The following blog entry is one of the clearest presentations of Wilfred Sellars account of the distinction between the "manifest image of man" and the "scientific image of man." (In the Sellars' article he also discusses the the relation between the two and their relation to the project of philosophy as a whole.) I really like the use of summary in conjunction with quotes in this blog entry.

The question "What is philosophy?" has intrigued me for some time and I think Sellars article "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man" is a really seminal piece of work. It has parallels with Thomas Nagel's The View from Nowhere, where he contrasts the "view from nowhere" with the perspective of subjectivity and argues that both are necessary and need to be reconciled, as well as with some of the work of Roger Scruton who contrasts empirical approaches ("This arm is rising") with phenomenological approaches ("I am raising my arm") and also argues that they are irrudicible and both important branches of philosophy. The difference is that Sellars opts for the scientific image of man and gives it much more priority.

Sellars is also important since he seems to have exerted some influence on Ray Brassier, the Speculative Realist. (Brassier prefers this term to describe his own approach, though he denies there is any such "movement" and is loath to associate himself with Bryant, Harman, or the term "object oriented ontology.")

Here is the first part of the precis of Sellars. (Ignore the study questions at the end as they come off as rather sophmoric. The piece was written for a study group.)

Here is the second part, which is not as good, and kind of degenerates at the end, but given the difficulty of Sellars is still pretty good. (Scroll past the Churchland entry.)

I'm not necessarily looking for discussion here, just presenting this for our own edification. (I'm interested in the roots of "OOO" or "Speculative Realism" and its relation with the ideas of other thinkers.)

In any case, the following seems relevant to Brassier's appropriation of some of Sellars' thinking:

The consequence of saying that thinking and brain processes are parallel is that it becomes easy to say that the SI is a symbolic tool; it is an artifact of human thinking, rather than an account of what really is.  The postulated theoretical entities of the SI are not really real; Greek atoms, super strings, and neurological processes would all be abstractions which rest upon the ultimate primacy of the manifest world.  The table and its brownness would be really real, and a homogenous thinking, feeling thing called “mind” would be equally real.

Sellars refuses this conclusion, and re-examines the case against option 3, the claim that it is the scientific objects which are really real.  The mistake in the case against (3) “arises from the mistake of supposing that in self-awareness conceptual thought presents itself to us in a qualitative guise.” Sensations and images arequalitative, but conceptual thinking cannot be equated with them.  Thoughts are presented as inner speech.  “It is no accident that one learns to think in the very process of learning to speak.” 

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On another note, here's an interview with Brassier in which he clearly presents his case for nihilism, and like Sellars, brings up the spectre of the great chain of being and philsophia perennis.

Not entirely sure sure where this will go, but I've always understood "extension" as referring to the "referent" and "intension" as loosely being analogous to what is sometimes called the "signified."

This entry attempts to situate (by the use of a four-square), on the one hand, two "OOO" philosophers, and on the other, a Speculative Realist and a Speculative Materialist.

Sellars, and probably following him, Brassier, understands the philosophia perennis and its 'great chain of being' as a middle period version of what he calls the "manifest image" approach. He also understands phenomenology (and probably Heidegger), as well as the "ordinary language" philosophy at Oxford (Ryle, Austin, Strawson) and the "linguistic analysis" of the later Wittgenstein at Cambridge, as later incarnations of the "manifest image" approach.

It is nice to hear from people who place these two worlds side by side -- a realm of populated worlds & a realm of networked fact-schemes. A world & a matrix. The former cannot explain the latter... but the latter feeds back into the former as it reveals previously unknown elements and functions. A great muddle and medley ensues. The revelation-revolution of thinking announced by Nietzsche goes on in Sellars.

In order to hold both "sides" together we need a larger, holistic spaciousness within ourselves. We need or are producing the integrative worldspace. Ultimately that space must agree that it is enactive, inclusive, complementary & post-metaphysical. There are many ways to do this but they all involve a de-emphasizing of the simplistic reality of either the MI or the SI.

This is why I refer to this movements as the Metaphysics of Adjacency. It involves simultaneously placing our alternatives "next to" each other... and becoming suspicious about all claims about which objects are "really real". Proximity or adjacency describes the condition of relational co-activity and the Ishness which characterizes our descriptions of reality following our skepticism about reductive identities.

The question "What is Philosophy?" is easily and colloquially quarantined in discussions about how we have discussions about reality. It is perhaps more general to apply a yogic filter and say that philosophy is a self-developmental practice which reveals and suggests movements of consciousness that lead toward depth of being. Philosophy is distinction-work in the sense that prostitution is sex-work. To combine the alternatives and separate what appears to be singular. Ultimately the presentation of conclusions about reality is a secondary philosophical function to the contagious utility of performing distinction work and growing into the community of those who have done so.

Again it seems like the tripartite (or 3.5 if we want to get technical) gross-subtle-causal structure of Reality comes into play.

The pinkness of an ice cube is a qualitative enactment which can, in some sense, be distinguished from the structural descriptions of the material components. Pinkness is situated at a blending of the gross and subtle realms.

On the other hand, the scientific description -- if it is reduced as far as we can go -- results in an insubstantial mechanical ensemble of empty pattern components whose roots are infinitesimal and ineffable as they are physical. The quanta, for example, are one way of discussing a situation where the gross and causal domains are blended.

The "second tier vision" or "integral worldspace" must be understood very broadly as consisting of the work of people who are constantly rediscovering, requiring or implying the basic summary structures which ought to be collected under the general heading of "integral theory". It is no simple matter to map the work of complex thinkers relative to each other, but the more modest task of rooting out the general integral components which show up in the work of people who are pressing forward in post-post-modern philosophy (broadly inclusive, non-reductive, nuanced, post-metaphysical & post-relativistic thinking) is available to us.

Of course it would be NICE if they discussed their meditative and embodied contemplative practices a little more. Still, we understand their politics and forgive them...

I get the sense that Sellars and Brassier may not really be all that interested in actually retaining the manifest image, it sounds like lip service, and I'm not sure if Sellars suggestion (and that's all it really is at bottom) actually works.

I find it all interesting though, more interesting than neo-positivistic pragmatism...

Something else on Brassier and Sellars that suggests otherwise to some extent. Sellars coined the term 'myth of the given.' Note the reference to 'privileged access.'

I just borrowed from the library Dennett's new book, Intuition Pumps. Therein he gives a lot of thinking tools based largely on our manifest image. He addresses the manifest/scientific image dichotomy on pp. 69-73, just a brief intro. But in practical matters of everyday living, his tools are mostly manifest but based in science. There's also a YouTube video on the topic.

You might appreciate this blog post:

"My thesis is that conscious states give no reliable insight into their causes and that therefore we risk completely misconstruing our mental life if we take phenomenological description at face value. [...] This is the point behind the borromean critical theory I’ve been talking about.  The knot of borromean critical theory (not to be confused with Lacan’s knot), is meant to emphasize that the three orders simultaneously overlap and interpenetrate and are autonomous.  It is a logic of the both/and, not the either/or.  What it tries to reject is any of the three orders as being treated as foundational to the others.  The order of the symbolic (S) is the order of signs, signifiers, language, meaning. [...] The order of the imaginary (I) is the order of phenomenological lived experience.  The order of the real (R) is the order of the physical, natural, or material investigated by biology, physics, chemistry, and neurology."

And I'd add that the center where they all interact is the withdrawn.

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