'Perception in Charles Peirce and Wilfrid Sellars,' Philosophy Seminar

Jim Potter Room, Old Physics Building The University of Melbourne

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Greg Restall

Dr. Catherine Legg, Deakin University

Whereas Charles Peirce’s pragmatist account of truth has been much discussed, his theory of perception still offers a rich mine of insights. I have previously argued (Legg, 2008) that Peirce’s early rejection of ‘intuition’ defines him as an inferentialist – in fact more so than Robert Brandom, who allows certain qualia concepts (such as red) to be given by non-inferential sensory ‘reports’, while Peirce seeks to analyse even qualia inferentially. Such a ‘hyperinferentialism’ has been criticised for replacing the world’s felt immediacy with a congeries of propositions. Such criticisms led John McDowell to shift his landmark Mind and World account of mental content as the unity of sensibility and understanding somewhat towards sensibility, under pressure from Charles Travis (McDowell, 2009). Relatedly, the later Peirce posits in addition to the perceptual judgment a ‘percept’ which is possessed of the insistency, determinacy, and indescribability that Travis urges for perception as a whole.

This paper explores Peirce’s ‘two-ply’ view of perception in the light of the original inferentialism of Wilfrid Sellars. Is Peirce’s percept an obvious instance of the Myth of the Given? Or is his view rather quite Sellarsian in spirit, in that – as claimed in (Forman 2007) – Sellars attempts to combine an internalism concerning concept understanding with an externalism concerning truth?

Forman, David. (2007). “Learning and the Necessity of Non-Conceptual Content in Sellars.” Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 92.1, 115-145.

Legg, Catherine. (2008).  “Making it Explicit and Clear: From Strong to Hyper-Inferentialism in Brandom and Peirce.” Metaphilosophy 39.1, 105-123.

McDowell, John H. (2009). Having the world in view: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars. Harvard University Press.