sábado, 24 de marzo de 2012

On Badiou: Truth, Revolution, Decision


Truth, Revolution, Decision 

        Beautiful post by Levi, and of course I agree. Even though I have finally parted ways with Badiou on philosophical grounds, he must be acknowledged as one of the greats, if anything, in virtue of having delivered philosophy back to itself. Without remorse, without lamentations. And although, as he himself emphasizes, Deleuze and Lacan were already weary of the exacerbation of critique that became hegemonic after Heidegger in Continental theory, Badiou did the most explicit work to reactivate truth by bluntly invoking the rights to philosophy. For even Deleuze had to frame his struggle in much the same way as the great phenomenologists and vitalists: a struggle against the horizon that philosophy had set for itself. And of course the result is such a radical reworking of the fundamental problems that a lot of the traditional terminology drops out, as it were. 

      But with Badiou we have something quite different: a true neo-classical philosopher. He brings back not just philosophy, but the dialectic, the great system, the old Platonic complicity between the formal and being, etc. And he does this in crystalline style, which has also worked to supersede what had, as Levi often rightly emphasizes, become a lofty vanity in obscurantist prose. For even Deleuze, as well as Derrida, Lyotard and Lacan, for all their brilliant interventions, were impenetrable writers. I don't think they were bad writers, as much as they were ego-maniacal. Maybe the psychoanalysts can make the correct diagnosis! As I mentioned in my last post, the stylistic gesture of self-aggrandizing is of a piece with the philosophical question of how they take themselves to be splitting the field into two. And indeed, although Badiou preserves the prophetic, priestly tone that his predecessors did, he does so with a degree of clarity that French intellectuals did not tolerate. Perhaps this is the great reason why Badiou actually became popular in the U.S and not so much in France at first! And it's also no surprise that people like Stiegler are much better received there.

      Yet the single most important thing to note is precisely what Levi underlines. Badiou brought back something into philosophy that had, from the beginning, been the condition of its separation from sophistry: namely the preoccupation with truth. The passion for universality, the depth of the matheme, and the suspicion against the cult of experience. As Lacan already knew, something was preserved in the transparency of the matheme that resisted its appropiation into bare ideology; the matheme is closest to the real insofar as it 'sheds off' its semantic envelopment every time, in order to stratify itself ever anew.

      The sad consequence is that a lot of people have used Badiou as a platform for a very fashionable, inane pseudo-Marxism, which is often composed of the same people that enlisted in the ranks of deconstructive apathy. Being a 'leftist' has become a trendy moniker for hipsters and graduate students to play revolutionary under extremely elitist circumstances. You have these pseudo-leftists go brag about Marx and then hit the pubs for their weekly dose of booze and Deerhunter.

       This is not at all a new phenomenon: it is a variant of the 60's hippie, New age liberal motif. But in its current 'commie' version, I think it borrows more from what has been happening in South America for the past decade or so. Coming from Peru, I can speak for the ubiquity of the phenomenon: amassing  indie-group "leftists" vituperating against the State and its morbid excesses. From the very beginning I noticed something profoundly obscurantist in this gesture, and actually thought that Badiou's typology of subjective types allowed us to diagnose this. Upon analysis, it became clear that this gesture often proceeded according to the formalism of the obscure subject: it presented its own convenient sophistic slogans to tacitly avoid real intervention. The whole theme about how 'resistance is surrender', diagnosed by Zizek, was in place here.

    And although I applaud the recent Occupy movements, and believe activism should be approached without cynicism, it must also be held to the highest critical standards not to let itself dissolve into mere sophistry. And that is effectively what is in danger of happening to the Badiouean terms, much like 'deconstruction' became deflated to the point where a silly chef could lay claims to 'deconstructing' a hamburger by replacing bread with lettuce leaves, or whatever else. I think this is a phenomenon that Badiou himself might have diagnosed apropos mathematics; how every breakthrough in the field becomes subsequently re-enveloped by ideology, forcing itself to break through with new creations again and again. The problem is that today it seems like the capacity of ideological re-appropriation within capitalism has become so powerful that it barely lets thought formulate itself before it exhausts its emancipatory potential, assimilated by the culture industry.

This is the truly terrifying dimension of capital that I think, perhaps, only Nick Land has been able to appreciate to its fullest consequence. Ultimately, and risking accusations of reactive fatalism, I think that Badiou's apology of the revolutionary spirit will, unfortunately, be seen retroactively as something of a glorious obituary for the spirit of the militant, and the powers of subjective intervention. Yes, the revolutions in the East and South America matter, and remain vibrant. Yes, things can happen, decisions matter. But let us not let these gestures distract us from what is, after all, a still-engrossing empowerment of global capital.

       Perhaps this prophetic dimension sheds light as to why at the extreme of this dialectics of 'rupture' and subjective intervention lies also something of a Kierkegaardian religiosity, a Christian variant of the Heideggerean/Hoelderlinean call for the Gods: Meillassoux's reification of hope as the utmost political category, before the prospect of the coming virtual God after an advent ex nihilo. The short-circuit of a contingency so powerful it overturns even the rights of decision reserved for the event. Yet in these obsessions over decision, and escaping the law, one detects finally something of a terrible weakness. The grip of reasons once again dissolves into the vainglorious celebration of the powers of the will, and the romanticism once again overtakes the painstaking rational kernel of the dialectic. And there is, indeed, something almost saintly about this extremity of the dialectic proposed by Badiou. The sacrosanctness of reason delivers us, in the end, to the pure power of decision, in the hopes, perhaps vain, that humanity might reserve itself the power to interrupt that which has taken hold of it with unprecedented strength.

jueves, 22 de marzo de 2012

On the Analytic/Continental Divide: Philosophy and the State of Academia

- On the Analytic/Continental Divide - 
Philosophy and the State of Academia

     Levi and others have been debating a bit about certain features of the academic and dialogic practices of analytic and continental philosophy departments. 

      I myself have experienced all ends of the spectrum in my academic trajectory. I started as a philosophy major in a heavily Continental oriented department in Peru, moved to an extremely analytic oriented department at Cornell; proceeded to write a thesis on Heidegger there, and now I am in UCLA at a comparative literature department majoring in philosophy! I always feel out of place no matter where I am, to be honest. A few things come to mind:

1) The ethos of dialog in analytic-oriented departments I take to be much less vertical and much more 'democratic' in their modus operandi. Even when notable authorities in the field give seminars (here at UCLA: Tyler Burge, Kaplan...) they are routinely challenged to defend their views every time by undergraduates, grad students, and other professors. This is taken to be commonly accepted practice and they seem happy to engage in arguments and disputes, taking themselves rather humbly in argument.

2) By the same token, I have found that Continental-oriented departments are much more reluctant to allow debate to take place. There is almost a kind of protectionism for the authors one is surveying, as if one would sin of being naive if one dared hope to raise contention with the likes of Heidegger, or Lacan, or Badiou. Professors are usually more prone to lecture, and leave discussion to exegetical issues, more than working out whether the theory is a good one. This reverential attitude leads to students developing a kind of inhibition about developing their own views on the matter, or even asking clarificatory questions of the sort that require formulation in the way of a challenge ("how does the mirror stage work in a society without mirrors?"). This last phenomenon results in a lot of jargon just being passed on to students without them having worked out their meanings properly.

3) I take this to be both a stylistic and a philosophical issue. Stylistically, it makes sense a lot of Continental theory needs unraveling, since the tradition is known, not without justification, for some exceedingly convoluted/obscure writing. Thus the need to lecture and engage in exegesis. By the same token, the clarity and formal coherency, much adored by analytics, goes well with the blunt statements, and openness to debate. 

4) At this point one can already see, however, how the stylistic issue overlaps with a philosophical issue. The Continental tradition is also regarded, not without justification, as engaging in highly synthetic views of the tradition, which challenge the history of philosophy, if not the West, comprehensively. They often take themselves to be enacting some kind of liberation from a thwarting force that plagues the tradition: whether these be thwarted wills bent before Truth (Nietzsche), the nostalgic mourning for a forgetfulness of Being (Heidegger), an aesthetic reapportioning of thought to intuition against intellection and representation (Bergson),  a crusade against the atonality of the contemporary (non)-world (Badiou), etc. The thinkers in the Continental tradition are often thought of as performing a kind of historical rupture, both a diagnosis of the shackles that have carried us for long (or, in some cases, since always), and thus also the announcing of a new time for thought. All of them wage war against the specialists, and deplore the hegemony of critique, classical epistemology, and representation.  This is why in tone, as much as content, Continental theory often has a 'bombastic' dimension to it, which fits well within the romantic and leftist-revolutionary spirit of the times in which many of their authors worked within.

Yet one must also note that part of what was ferociously criticized under this tradition was the very idea of systematic comprehensiveness, and the very scientific pretensions of philosophy. The critique of critique, which explodes in the 20th Century post-phenomenological tradition, becomes progressively skeptical of the idea that a systematic philosophy, even in the form of (fundamental) ontology, could take place, or at the very least, be worthy of the thought of the 'genuine' thinker. Philosophy, for a large part of this tradition, became not so much about weeding out the true from the false, but about attaining interpretative leverage, hermeneutic clarity, historical acumen, deconstructive awareness, creative exuberance, affirmative power, militant subjectivity, etc.

In short, authors were assessed by their methodological placement rather than by the coherency of their views; we are invited to see what a given thinker thought and why, rather than to examine the internal coherency of their theory. A question of methodological delimitation rather than of internal analysis, was surely in order. And the "laboratory"
 obsession with clarity, with clearly defined 'research programs', and with critique and formal logic to guide its paths, was greatly seen as the evil to be dealt with. Even Hegel, that great foe of immediacy and paragon of systematicity, becomes skeptical with regards to formalization,  and the tradition that ensues therein follows the lead. The emblematic example here is perhaps Heidegger's own attempted reworking of the entire academic structuring, to serve the hermeneutic integration of thought to its past, rendering it aware of the ever aggravating history of an essential forgetting. The mystery lies in the word, for "we have no yet understood!" Indeed, could we ever?

5) Yet the effect of this 'emancipation' from the perils of critique has been awkwardly a profound dogmatism. Reverence takes the place of argumentation, since all one can hope to do is understand, not refute. One can at best go over the old critiques, the old disputes. But to challenge the pillars of thought cannot but result from an overhastiness. This is profoundly reactive: digression is taken to be a symptom of misunderstanding. The tacit assumption is that one can never be wrong since, effectively, one's challenge will always be the result of incomprehension. This dismantles the rational, not to say dialectical, core that set philosophy apart from sophism, and delivers thought back to the adorations of the sacred.

6) The analytic style, for its part, has obviously emphasized the virtues of clarity and rigor, precisely insofar as it has often strived for the scientific prestige of other disciplines. Its major proponents take pride the more they themselves are taken to disappear from the texts, insofar as they 'let the arguments speak for themselves'. What Continentals chastise as a dullness of style, they applaud as the sobriety of real labor. And of course, close to the pragmatic and empiricist traditions, there is something quite patriarchal and deflationary about the rhetoric for clarity and the 'no bs' policy they promote. They take pride in specialization, for it is the mark of institutionalized prestige. Research programs are encouraged, which means that it is not necessary to ruminate on abstractions like 'being qua being'; Fodor claims he is not interested in skepticism, Burge writes a treatise on the origins of objectivity but doesn't care about idealism. Soames applauds the segmentation of the field, and forecasts an even more violent segmentation, as a sign that philosophy is finally on the brink of living up to its promise.

To 'not care' is deemed commendable, since it signals that one is serious enough to brush off the 'Looney bin' populated by Continental crackpots (like Searle says, those philosophers whose names start with 'H'). Thus they end up
 with patronizing dismissal of any attempts to make grandiose statements, a castigation for anyone who seeks to deviate from the seriousness of scientific labor and the resolution of technical issues. Classrooms welcome the argumentative battles, since critique is very much on the side of rigor and technical scrutiny, systematicity is always boon, and the capacity to attain formal coherency and explanatory transparency separates the men from the boys. 

There where Continentals see a deficit in soul, analytics see a commitment to serious work. There where analytics see a deficit in rigor, the Continentals see the roots of a subversive stand before the historical status quo. Those 'well defined problems' that are the source for scientific progress for analytics, appear to Continentals as the mark of unquestioned phallogocentric violence, ontotheological forgetfulness, bad wills, desire, power, the State, or whatever. In both cases, one elides the other's work for its purported radicalism, but tacit conservatism. Both are quite right about the other, but wrong about themselves.

7) The truth is, that both sides end up reactivating a form of dogmatism. Analytics, for their part, think it is philosophically legitimate to obviate those 'big questions', for it is instructive to know that any sensible practice cannot begin 'from scratch', if not less, and so that it must put to the side the full weight of historical exegesis. It barely takes a coarse scanning over Burge's much celebrated 'magnum opus' and its 'attempts' to make brief commentary on Heidegger, or Soames' avowal of how the early forefathers of the analytic 'school' destroyed Idealism in a few pristine sentences, to realize this. Then one cringes, and must in good consciousness be appalled.

     But one cannot simply obviate the idealist, or the skeptic; and one cannot simply 'drop' the 18th Century baggage and raise a generation of experts in debating about whether sixty seven grains of sand make a heap. And again, although many exceptions exist, there is something of a ubiquity in the tradition that corresponds to this. They overlook the difficulties of philosophy insofar as it would be capable of grinding down not just of a 'well defined' subject matter in the company of researchers, but of thinking its time, perhaps in solitude. It forgets what I take to have been the lesson taught to us by Socrates, and repeated in Descartes and Hegel; namely, that philosophy must begin anew, ever again, perhaps with very little, if not nothing, in the interests of never letting itself be decided in advance. And indeed, in obviating the dangers with the 'hard line' rhetorical appeals to the clownishness of crackpots and their lofty prose, they elide, far too often, the proximity philosophy bears not just to its scientific conditions, but  to its political, artistic and historical ones, as well. 

        Continentals, for their part, have often confused the destitution of rationality for an invitation to refuse the demand for rigor and systematic coherency, in favor of an engrossing exegetical interpretation that deflects anything but scholarship. And yet in doing so, their purported radicalism reverts to conservatism, and their purported anti-academicism reappears in the guise of an objection-repellent specialization. For what else could one do once truth has been deposed, once representation holds no sway over the wills of the strong, once the ontological difference precludes the objectification of Being, or once the cunning of desire overturns every cunning of reason back onto itself? What can we, contemporaries, hope for besides toast to the long sought freedom from the shackles of reason, from the Westernized hegemony, from the patriarchal desire, or from the metaphysical obsession? What can we strive for, except to exert a perpetual vigilance against those who, in the name of truth, seek to confront us with the force of reasons? What are we to do but to revert into our cozy corners, and pledge, before an insular wall, not to let these spooks haunt us any more? 

The result is clear: in what becomes an exacerbated skepticism, historicists patronizingly brush off the attempts to enter into rational deliberation, and not just historical apprehension. Everything is decided for them, until the next 'big thing' out of France acquires guru status and 'breaks the history of the world in two'. Until the next event, metaphysical beginning, act of divine violence, or advent ex nihilo interrupts the stability of the world, rendered otherwise immobile. The obsession with stylistic exuberance passes on, as a sign of spiritual elevation,  and everything that reeks of being mundane, of  being perhaps immediately comprehensible, is suspected of harboring authoritarian prejudices and is symptomatic of positivist shallowness.  The impenetrability of discursive obscurity guarantees that one may dedicate a lifetime to deciphering rather that weaving, and thus philosophy becomes a perpetual deferral of its task, with a presumed modesty camouflaging what in truth enacts stagnancy, a courtesy that veils an order. Twenty years of Aristotle before Nietzsche, no less, ordains the Master! Isn't this exactly the observe of Searle's call for us to 'drop all the bad 18th Century' terminology and its parochial excesses in one fell swoop? 

 Perhaps the single most blunt exemplar proper to this pathological tradition comes with Lacan's declaration before a court of agigated, revolutionary-thirsty students: "You all want a Master, you will get it!". Indeed, there is in the political and artistic inflections of Continentally oriented theorists and students a paradoxical congruence between the need for liberation and absolute submission.  An urgency to give away that which binds becomes indiscernible from an absolute bindedness, the cult of the individual, the enslavement of the passions, and all the other perils for those who insist on freeing thought from the shackles of reason. Such is the paradox: absolute freedom from rational constraint becomes equivalent to the absolute constraint. Is this not the cunning of reason, after all? This much Kant knew; reason is the condition of possibility for freedom. We are gripped by norms, and the normative dimension of our being is that in which we become beings that are capable of challenging, revising, and endorsing; indeed, of judging and making commitments. One gives away freedom along with reason; one disowns one's capacity to partake in the sensus communis as the disguised vanity of the skeptic purports to avoid domination.

      All of this to say, that in freeing oneself from the (scientific) kernel that illuminates the rational demands for rigor and justification, one gives away that which allowed oneself to engage in debate in the first place. The power of deliberation becomes deflated in the great market for theories, before which one may, at best, choose and hope to understand, but never question or challenge. This is the obverse of the anti-critical nod towards intuition; the normative envelopment of judgment and intellection is given over in the name of an experience which reason cannot touch. In the name of the 'subject', 'culture', 'being', or whatever other deflationary icon for the profane to adore, every commitment becomes weary, and the revolutionary stupor reveals itself for what it is: a liberal, if not 'democratic', relativism. It should come as no surprise then that the moment of opening of liberation is the obverse of the closing of deliberation

8) What to do in these confused times? The task ahead is perhaps somewhat obvious: philosophy cannot afford to disconnect itself from the exigencies of its time- it must preserve from science the passion for systematic rigor and formal coherency. It must applaud the scientific irreverence for tradition, in its capacity and ambition to call into question any claim, at any time, albeit not all of them at once, as Sellars knew. At the same time, it must appropriate its reverence for the rational scrutiny without which philosophy dissolves into sophistry, and gives away its discursive richness.  

But it must also applaud the political irreverence towards institutional sedimentation, against the prescription of arbitrarily assigned limits. It must wage war against the sedentary and unspoken rule that can be brought to sight only after patient examination of that which conditions it. That is, it must also appropriate the political and artistic reverence for the unruliness of spirit, for the philological obsession to unearth the roots from a past that unknowingly binds us to an immobile present, and for the affirmative purchase of thought to edify and not just challenge, to revisit and not just renew, ever anew. Systematic rigor without synthetic ambition is indeed too small, but synthetic ambition without systematic rigor is indeed too reckless. Neither the thoughtless enclosure of the Church of the Book, elevated by the adoration of the bovine aestheticist, nor the soulless enclosure of the instrumental demand, with its desacration of every lead bestowed to us by those who came before us, in the name of an enlightenment, far too dim to be worthy of the name.

Only the conjunction of the two poles, escaping from their self-proclaimed solemnity, can mobilize a significant philosophical traversal of our time. It is ours. 

domingo, 18 de marzo de 2012

On Sellars and the Inconsistent Triad: Brassier and Brandom

On Sellars and the Inconsistent Triad:
- Brassier and Brandom -

       I have been continuing my study of Sellars' Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, and I think a few crucial points are worth making in relation to Ray Brassier's (2010) presentation of the rejection of the Myth of the Given, at the excellent conference To Have Done With Life.


The point in contention concerns how Sellars responds to a quandary concerning the construal of sense contents. Sellars considers the following inconsistent triad:

 A) 'S senses red sense content x' entails 'S non inferentially believes (knows) that x is red.'

B) The ability to sense sense contents is unacquired

C). The capacity to have classificatory belieds of the form 'x is F' is acquired.

     In Brandom's study guide to EPM he claims that Sellars drops A, since the latter is a version of the Myth of the Given, i.e. the belief that certain experiential states can serve as foundations for beliefs and epistemic states just by virtue of having them. Now, the interest thing is that Brassier claimed in Zagreb that Sellars endorsed A and C, and refused B instead. With this in mind I was trying to figure out why these discrepancies obtained in their respective readings, and what I thought was going on.

What Brandom argues is that A must fail for Sellars in favor of a new account of thoughts and sensations, at the order of justification and causation, respectively. Thus, he thinks such an account must disassociate epistemic states which concern the intentionality of thoughts and beliefs, from the non-epistemic realm of causes which concerns the causal order of sensations. This is part of what Sellars envisions as an integration of sensa into the scientific image of thought, as opposed to reifying non-conceptual immediacy as a phenomenological bedrock for the underdetermination of all posterior intentional states. Thus, Sellars contends that linguistic intentionality must be predated by a kind of psychological intentionality, i.e. experience is epistemically mute, both at the level of objectual individuation (Husserl) and of holistic integrated comportments (Heidegger). I shall suggest below why this is an issue of particular importance within the contemporary debates concerning epistemology and psychology that have become central in much philosophy of mind, and in particular in the dispute between externalists and internalists. The point to stress, for the moment, is simply that Sellars takes sensible experiences to be non-cognitive in character, and thus refuses to reify them as foundational items for higher order intentionality. If so, then how could Sellars be said to endorse A in any sense, like Brassier stipulates?

Now, I think that what Brassier was trying to convey by saying that Sellars retains A and drops B is the fact that non-inferentially acquired states (i.e. causally triggered states) are not for this reason unacquired, since one can give an evolutionary story for how organisms and species come to be in these sorts of states. These states are not miraculously divined capacities, and that much is certainly also a crucial rejoinder that Sellars makes to the Cartesian account of sensory transparency. Now, the delicate issue here is that non-inferentially acquired states can amount to knowledge if the subject is imbedded within the space of reasons, i.e. if the subject is not just capable of reliably responding to the situation in question, but also knows that he/she is reliable in doing so. This means that for a non-inferentially acquired state to count as a knowledge, the subject must be capable of responding to a hypothetical challenge to his endorsement.

  The examples McDowell gives are simple and excellent: one directly comes to observe that one's neighbor is at home when one sees the neighbor's car parked in his parking lot; one does not need to make an inference to arrive at this state. Yet for this state to count as a case of observational knowledge, it must be possible for the us to respond to being challenged about the issue: "couldn't have he taken the bus to work?", in which case I must be able to provide a justification for my claims, or perhaps, revise my commitment and accept that my belief was not a good one. So, to return to the inconsistent triad: the idea behind reading Sellars as endorsing A would be to say that there is a sense in which non-inferential states which serve as observation reports can count as knowledge. Yet one must resist the idea that this entails these capacities are unacquired, since they surely require a period of conditioning and acculturation, i.e. one learns to see that one's neighbor is home on the basis of seeing the car present, and knowing oneself to be reliably reporting in such cases. And even if this capacity required at some stage inferential procedures, the point is that there it is possible to be in a state of knowing that was not arrived at by means of inference: this is what Sellars famously calls language entry transitions, of which perception is the paradigm case.

     Indeed, as Brassier has highlighted more recently, this is what Sellars' thinks in terms of the disambiguation between doing things for a reason and things because of reasons. The former does not require intellection or sapience, while the latter requires that one be engrossed in the logical space of reasons, and thus be capable in engaging in meta-discursive talk about the rules one is following. The former case is exhibited uniformly by sentient creatures and machines, and simply play a functional role, i.e. a thermometer may reliably report on the room's temperature, but it lacks knowledge since it cannot know of its reliability or respond to being challenged. This means that although non-inferential capacity to issue observation reports can amount to knowledge, they only do so on condition that these reports/capacities be properly integrated within the capacity to draw inferences from them, i.e. to be able to undertake logical revision of beliefs and states. Thus, not all non-inferentially acquired states are knowledge.

        However, I think that what is probably at stake for Brandom in the three claims is the idea that insofar as we are speaking about sensory states qua causally triggered states, then these are in strict Sellarsian terminology not epistemic in any case. I believe that he would insist in that we need to be careful not to conflate perceptual states which involve judgments on the basis of perception to function as language-entry moves, with sensations of sense contents qua non-epistemic causally triggered states. And the idea is plainly that while non-inferential perceptual states can be epistemic insofar as they entail that one judges (that some x is the case), sensations qua purely causal phenomena intractable to the conceptual domain of judgment remains resolutely non-epistemic in character.

        Brandom's proposal is to read Sellars along these lines and to say that the capacity to bear sense contents is correspondingly unacquired in the simple sense that such a capacity not gained by virtue of the process of conditioning that we associate with knowledge-acquisition, i.e. hypothesis building, projectibility, etc. So, he thinks that Sellars endorses B in the inconsistent triad. Brandom thinks that Sellars' sense of non-acquisition is narrower than the sense in which Brassier reads him, i.e. he does not take unacquired states to imply that the capacity to have the appropriate causal onsets requires a complex story in the development of the organism's growth, and more broadly its evolutionary history within a species. For in this latter sense 'acquired' appears almost trivially equivalent to 'having appeared in time for some reason', and he thinks that can't possibly be of philosophical interest.

        With this distinction in mind, the disavowal of A seems to run from the disambiguation between sense/perception. If sensation is epistemically mute, then we must distinguish perceptual beliefs qua non-inferential states, and which are already of facts- propositionally articulated by universal subsumption, from the sensory apprehension of particulars. So the idea would be that Sellars drops A in order to distinguish sensation from perception, deflating sense-datum theories, and running with the idea, proposed by (C), that the capacity to be in epistemic states is acquired by acculturation and a process of conditioning which itself might be inferential, without for this reason vitiating the non-inferential character of the states it comprises.

    Perhaps a route out of this dilemma is to claim that Sellars actually endorses (A), (B) and (C) in qualified manners, by reshuffling the terms, albeit he seeks to rescue crucial points from the three claims in their usual form.

    From (A) he seeks to rescue the idea that perceptual states may constitute non-inferential knowings; but he will distinguish conceptually enveloped perceptual judgments from non-conceptual and so non-epistemic sensory states.

   From (B) he seeks to rescue the idea that sensory states are causally acquired capacities while accepting that they are non-conditioned by cultural learning in the sense defined above; so he will distinguish causally triggered sensory states from causally triggered epistemic states.

    From (C) he seeks to rescue the idea that epistemic states require cultural conditioning and so are acquired in that sense; but he will disambiguate between the evolutionary rationality of sensory acquisition that explains causally triggering non-epistemic states, and the causal triggering of non-inferentially acquired beliefs as epistemic states that function as language-entry transitions within the logical space of reasons.

Thus, both sensations and perceptual judgments are causally triggered in a broad sense, and so acquired, i.e. the evolutionary sense in which nothing happens ex nihilo. We learn to enter a language much in the same way as we are causally delivered into sensory states, we develop capacities by virtue of our evolutionary history, and our causal interactions with the environment. The crucial difference is that classificatory beliefs require conditioning within the sensus communis and social order of language, and sapience marks the transition from merely causally triggered states to the epistemic capacities associated with entering a conceptual economy. But the capacity to have epistemic states, while causally acquired and non-inferential like sensibility, involves a narrower sense of conditioning. We move from merely causal non-inferential state of being to non-inferential knowledge when we move from sentience to sapience, from pure mechanical process to knowledge.

  Thus, we should insist, in that proposition (C) is endorsed, since perceptual judgments are acquired causally, both in the way that sense contents are, but also in the narrower sense in which they require conditioning into language.

 So the tricky word here is 'acquisition', since it is used in three ways:

a) Generally causal: in this sense both classificatory beliefs and sense contents are acquired (C, holds, but B fails)

b) Narrowly/Culturally causal: in this sense only classificatory beliefs are acquired (both B and C hold)

c) Non-inferential: In this sense both classificatory beliefs and sense contents are unacquired (C fails, B holds)

    The trick concerns disentangling these three senses and realizing that while perceptual knowings of the sort required for classificatory belief are also causally triggered, they require a narrow sense of cultural acculturation which distinguishes the sentient strata of species-relative general causality, from full blown conceptual rationality and knowledge. By the same token, sensations are generally acquired in the causal sense, but unacquired in the cultural sense. Both are non-inferentially triggered, and so causally derived in the general sense, but ony knowings involve acculturation and social conditioning in their acquisition, and are so acquired also in the narrow sense. I think this goes back to what Tripplet and Devries call attention to by disambiguating between non-inferential knowing, and independent knowledge. The former simply means that a given piece of knowledge did not result from an inferential procedure. The latter implies the claim that there are knowings of given facts that may be had independently of any other knowings. Sellars endorses the possibility of the former, but denies the latter. Knowledge can be non-inferentially triggered in perception, but in any case, if it is to count as knowledge, one needs to be able to integrate it within a nexus of other beliefs that suffice to render such states justified, i.e. embedding in the space of reasons.

I think this might be why also Sellars does not flatly say which of the three propositions he would drop; he reworks the triad by amplifying the descriptive scope.

II - Some Brief Considerations About Sellarsianism

The question that obviously suggests itself is whether in fact it is fair to construe perceptual representation as involving something like conceptual/linguistic judgment. This is the heart of Tyler Burge's contentions against Sellars, and I think they map onto the tricky debacle between externalists and internalists.

On the one hand, it might seem as if Burge's contention that Sellars over-intellectualizes perception by enveloping it conceptually is really a terminological issue. This is because Sellars is perfectly aware that organisms have a pre-conceptual capacity to react to their environments in reliable or unreliable ways; this is the whole point of RDRD's as a condition for sentience, as Brandom emphasizes. However, by reserving the term perception for the conceptual achievement knit to judgments, Sellars seeks to render it epistemically productive as part of what characterizes sapient activity, and full blown linguistic rationality. Thus, while Sellars reserves a role for sensation simpliter, the latter is plainly non-epistemic in itself, or more precisely is indifferent to the distinction between reasons and causes, i.e. the latter is only a distinction possible from within the normative space which adjudicates claims on the basis of their justification and inferential role. Only creatures embedded in the logical space of reasons could ever articulate knowledge. One could thus just say that perception in Burge's sense would fall within sensation in Sellars' terminology, without there being a substantial disagreement at stake. However, there is a more profound non-terminological issue at stake, and this is the crux of the debate.

Whereas intentionality remains, for Sellars, restricted to the epistemic domain of inferentially articulated beliefs and reasons, Burge ascribes intentional content to non-conceptual, perceptual states. Sellars warned against this because it became the gulf for versions of the Myth according to which experiential primitives could serve as justifications for conceptually articulates beliefs. However, Burge dislodges intentionality from knowledge; sentient creatures have intentional states without the necessity for conceptual rationality. Thus, although Burge agrees with Sellars in that the primitive ability to have experiences would not be conceptual and so would be not-epistemic, it is nevertheless representational insofar as perceptual states have conditions for veridicality which explain the conditions for success or failure in the performance of a perceptual faculty in relation to its environment. The result is that while for Sellars the domain of sensibilia is delegated to the scientific study of the neurophysiology of the individual, bereft of any appeals to intentionality, Burge follows the nativist lead in thinking rather that perceptual psychology is key to understanding perception as a representational capacity. The latter option becomes then that of the possibility of ascribing intentional states and representational capacities to non-sapient creatures, or whether we cannot do this lest we make a category mistake. The question is whether something like representational states, of the sort that host conditions for veridicality, can be built into the Sellarsian account of sensing as a purely causal-mechanical functional process void of epistemic valence. I think the stakes here are far from clear.

 This is, I think, an incredibly interesting juncture of the debate, since it constitutes a crucial dividing line within naturalist approaches to the philosophy of mind today.