Sellars and Schelling: Some Notes


My thoughts on Sellars have benefited hugely from Brassier’s recent talks (here in Zagreb, here in Bonn) as well as Pete Wolfendale’s comments, Dan Sacilotto’s comments, and their comments on each other. What I’m interested in doing, and what a third of dissertation will attempt to do, is read Schelling as a realist through philosophies of dispositions (Molnar, Bird, Ellis, and Mumford), through Sellars, and through Peirce (each being their own chapter). While I’ve already done work in regards to the first, and groundwork has already been laid by Bruce Matthews, Michael Austin, and others in regards to the third (as Schelling’s kind of abductive non-logic), the second chapter, on Sellars, is the roughest in my mind and to draw him close to Schelling is a bit tricky.

First, given the use of Hegel by Brandom and McDowell to bring another German Idealist into analytic thought is not altogether odd.

Second, I believe that there methodological congruities between Schelling and Sellars. The double series of Schelling’s work (whether discussed as negative versus positive, or naturphilosophie vs transcendental philosophy) can be compared (though is not strictly analogous to) Sellars’ scientific image vs the manifest image, or things as bundles of microphysical processes as well as sensa or irreducible causes in and of experience. What is central here, as James O’Shea points out in relation to Sellars, that physical grounds and logical grounds need not be collapsed. This ties to Schelling’s relation to Peirce (who called himself a Schellingian transformed in the light of modern physics).

Pete has a helpful post here in relation to transcendentalism versus naturalism. Part of these battle lines are, as Pete has been put it elsewhere, lines between Spinoza and Leibniz (Pete places himself in the Spinoza camp and myself, along with others, in the Leibniz camp). I’ve always puzzled by this but have not quite ever known how to respond as I see myself as a Schellingian and Schelling has a strange relation to both Spinoza and Leibniz though saw himself closer to former as he used Spinoza, as Dalia Nassar and others have argued, to escape from Fichte’s orbit. Schelling’s reading of Kant (which Pete sees as vulgar) is where I think in fact Schelling is at his most realist as, in his History of Modern Philosophy, he critiques Kant for not making the noumena dynamic ie the real basis of freedom instead of idealizing them. I think this is also why are reading of Deleuze is quite different as Pete seems far more generous to Deleuze as a realist whereas I see Brassier’s critique of Deleuze in Nihil Unbound pretty damning. And following Iain Grant’s work, I feel that Deleuze becomes too much of a un-realistic materialist, in how he saturates the world with thought (as sense, or thoughtful-sense). I think this holds whether you read Deleuze according to Zourabichvili (in replace the is of classical metaphysics with the and of an experiential ontology) or according to the more popular view espoused by the likes of de Beistegui, Bergen, Alliez and others who argue Kant multiples ontology via sense. One way to attack Deleuze here is to take Sellars’ inconsistent triad against Deleuze’s use of sense.

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 beliefs of the form ‘x is F’ is acquired.

In this regard, and to bring in Sellars, it would seem that in terms of the myth of the given and the inconsistent triad that Deleuze confirms a and b where Brassier argues that Sellars confirms a and c whereas Brandom argues that Sellars merely drops A. It is somewhat difficult to read Schelling here as he seems somewhere between endorsing A and C and endorsing A and B. The division is the ultra-historicism of Schelling from the widespread immanence of Deleuze. Furthermore, while Deleuze seems to fall guilty to the myth of the given it would seem that Schelling may be susceptible to what Adrian Johnston has referred to as the myth of the non-given. By non-given Johnston refers to philosophies (particularly Nietzsche, Marx, Freud) who give negativity a kind of theological dimension motivating thought. This is made far more acidic in their followers or what Meillassoux would label as strong correlationists (Foucault, Agamben, Heidegger, etc). Johnston claims that Hegel escapes this poetry of the negative but does not say how.

Schelling, I think, escapes the myth of the given (through what I see as a critical naturalism or a naturalism which includes a nature of the idea) as well as the myth of the non-given by placing the negative or at least the negative in thought as something not even unthinkable but unpre-thinkable (unvordenkliches). In this sense, the negative cannot be poetically utilized it is only a warning sign, it speaks to the limits of both a chaotic nature and the fragility of system building, one cannot rely on it in anyway but only acknowledge that it may come to destroy you. Schelling’s naturalism attempts to naturalized ideas a project which may be doomed but his methodological separation (akin to Sellars I would argue) moves in the right direction.

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