Saturday, February 11, 2012

More Things by Sellars: But My Grandfather Wrote That!

In my previous post on Wilfrid Sellars I referenced an autobiographical account by Sellars. If one is online, one could read that from Andrew Chrucky's site. Thankfully, our library does have a copy of Action, knowledge, and reality: Critical studies in honor of Wilfrid Sellars. It was at the library where I first read this. But Chrucky's site has always been useful.  Here are some passages of Sellars talking about writing and philosophy:

I began to write a paper, catch as catch can, pushing ahead, letting the argument go where it would — almost in the spirit of writing an examination. I then made marginal comments and criticisms, after which I rewrote it in the same spirit. As I remember it, the paper started out to be about names, the given, and existential quantification. Three months and ten drafts later it began to be "Realism and the New Way of Words." Rewriting large chunks of it at a time became a way of life. Some seventeen major revisions occurred before it finally appeared in print.
      At last I had found a successful strategy for writing. And if, in the beginning at least, the result was a highly involuted style, I had learned that revising is a pleasure and that even the clumsiest initial draft takes on a life of its own. It took longer to put into practice the truism that a revision must simplify as well as correct and add. I soon discovered that spinning out, as I was, ideas in a vacuum, everything I wrote was idiosyncratic and had little direct connection with what others had said. Each spinning required a new web to support it, and the search for fixed points of reference became a struggle for coherence and completeness. As a result, each sentence of ''Realism" is a "flower in crannied wall." I soon came to see that a dialectical use of historical positions is the most reliable way of anchoring arguments and making them intersubjectively available. In the limiting case, this use of history is illustrated by correspondence and controversial exchanges with contemporaries. Even on paper, philosophy becomes explicitly what it has always really been, a continuing dialogue.
Until "Realism and the New Way of Words," my philosophical development took place in foro interno, in the classroom and in private discussion. Since that turning point, it has found a more public expression and is available for critical scrutiny. Nevertheless, as each publication moves further and further into the past (O, A-series!), there comes that time when I am moved to say, as did Carnap, "But my grandfather wrote that!" 

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