The Apoptosis of Belief



In ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’,2 Wilfrid Sellars proposes a compelling diagnosis of the predicament of contemporary philosophy. The contemporary philosopher is confronted by two competing ‘images’ of man in the world: on the one hand, the manifest image of man as he has conceived of himself up until now with the aid of philosophical reflection; on the other, the relatively recent but continually expanding scientific image of man as a ‘complex physical system’ (Sellars 1963a: 25) — one which is conspicuously unlike the manifest image, but which can be distilled from various scientific discourses, including physics, neurophysiology, evolutionary biology, and, more recently, cognitive science. But for Sellars, the contrast between the manifest and the scientific image is not to be construed in terms of a conflict between naive common sense and sophisticated theoretical reason. The manifest image is not the domain of pre-theoretical immediacy. On the contrary, it is itself a subtle theoretical construct, a disciplined and critical ‘refinement or sophistication’ of the originary framework in terms of which man first encountered himself as a being capable of conceptual thought, in contradistinction to creatures who lack this capacity. To understand why Sellars describes the manifest image as a sophisticated theoretical achievement in its own right — one as significant as any scientific achievement since — it is necessary to recapitulate Sellars’s now celebrated ‘myth of Jones’.


Propositional Attitude Phenomenal Concept Phenomenal Consciousness Scientific Image Vector Activation 
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  1. 6.
    J. Fodor, Psychosemantics, Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1987, xii.Google Scholar
  2. 24.
    J. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992, 121.Google Scholar
  3. 25.
    D. Dennett, Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  4. 28.
    Cf. T. Metzinger, Being No-One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity, London: MIT Press, 2004.Google Scholar

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© Ray Brassier 2007

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