Wilfrid Sellars


Biography of Wilfrid Sellars

Wilfrid Stalker Sellars (May 20, 1912 – July 2, 1989) was an American philosopher.

His father was the Canadian-American philosopher Roy Wood Sellars, a leading American philosophical naturalist in the first half of the twentieth-century. Wilfrid was educated at the University of Michigan (BA 1933), the University at Buffalo, and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, obtaining his highest earned degree, an MA, in 1940. During WWII, he served in military intelligence. He then taught at the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, Yale University, and from 1963 until his death, at the University of Pittsburgh. He served as president of the Metaphysical Society of America in 1977.

Sellars is best known as a critic of foundationalist epistemology, but his philosophical works are more generally directed toward the ultimate goal of reconciling intuitive ways of describing the world (both those of common sense and traditional philosophy) with a thoroughly naturalist, scientific account of reality. He is widely regarded both for great sophistication of argument and for his assimilation of many and diverse subjects in pursuit of a synoptic vision. Sellars was perhaps the first philosopher to synthesize elements of American pragmatism with elements of British and American analytic philosophy and Austrian and German logical positivism. His work also reflects a sustained engagement with the German tradition of transcendental idealism, most obviously in his book Science and Metaphysics: Kantian Variations.

Robert Brandom, his junior colleague at Pittsburgh, named Sellars and Willard van Orman Quine as the two most profound and important philosophers of their generation. Sellars' goal of a synoptic philosophy that unites the everyday and scientific views of reality is the foundation and archetype of what is sometimes called the "Pittsburgh School", whose members include Brandom, John McDowell, and John Haugeland.

Other philosophers strongly influenced by Sellars span the full spectrum of contemporary English-speaking philosophy, from neopragmatism (Richard Rorty) to eliminative materialism (Paul Churchland) to rationalism (Laurence BonJour). Sellars' philosophical heirs also include Hector-Neri Castaneda, Bruce Aune, Jay Rosenberg, Johanna Seibt, Matthew Burstein, Ray Brassier, Andrew Chrucky, Jeffrey Sicha, Pedro Amaral, Thomas Vinci, Willem A. de Vries, David Rosenthal, and Michael Williams.

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