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This week I just want to ask a few clarificatory questions. Last class we were
asked if we understood the project Sellars was embarking on and I certainly
couldn't figure out what his goals were. The discussion which followed was
illuminating and informative, and hopefully my following discussion about my
confusions, in tandem with applying Sellars' approach and position to it will
better elucidate his point. 

The place I would like to start is perhaps at the beginning: what precisely is
'sense data'. The concept itself seems confused to me. The empiricist
originally, beginning all the way with Locke and his primary and secondary
qualities, wanted to embed certain facts about objects within the objects
themselves. The property of having a smell, a shape, a color, a density, a
weight, a size, etc. were facts in the object or they were extensions that we
gathered through our sense perceptions (if I am properly understanding Locke's
distinction between primary and secondary qualities). Kant, while not an
empiricist, certainly attempted to unify empiricist and rationalist ideas by
using an approach which sought to bear out the properties of objects as
impositions on our concepts through a 'unification' of a manifold which the
'thing in itself' impressed upon us. In this way, properties were simultaneously
of the noumena and the phenomena. Throughout this two-hundred-year historical
arc, it seems that most people of the nonidealist camp wanted to impress upon us
that the objects which we perceive have these properties we experience in very
real kinds of ways. Sellars seems to want to split this connection. 

Like Wittgenstein, Sellars seems to be putting this notion of objects and
meaning on its head. While Wittgenstein was far more concerned with meaning and
justification in general, Sellars seems primarily motivated to ground our sense
perceptions themselves in a kind of justificatory practice. It seems that
Sellars wants us to say that we sense particular facts and they generate
knowledge if it is the case that we can justifiably believe these perceptions to
be the case. '(If this is horribly incorrect please correct me immediately!)' My
first question is, how does such a view hold up against Gettier-style problems
of knowledge? It seems that our fallibility of perception would be in part due
to our fallibility of knowing in general, and this seems to be something which
Sellars takes quite seriously. But this leads me to my next point. 

Why do we want to attribute 'knowledge' to the act of sense perceptions in the
first place? This might perhaps seem radical or ridiculous; I'm not aware of
anyone who has suggested this. But it seems that in general we want knowledge to
be a kind of immutable thing; we know 'facts' about the world - the things which
we know cannot undergo revision because then it doesn't seem to be the case that
we can be credited with knowledge at all. But sense perceptions are not about
the world, but instead they are about our interactions with the world as it is.
Take for instance, deer. There is a very good reason why they stare at your
headlights when you're driving fifty miles an hour down the road and want them
to move so you don't hit them: they perceive the speed of your car differently
than you do. This is primarily due to the 'refresh rate' of their eyes; we see
things at a different frequency than them (this is why, for instance, movies are
always shot at 29.97 frames per second: it's the perfect frequency for our eyes;
likewise why lights seem to not be flickering; they are, you just can't tell
because it happens too fast for your eyes to pick up on). Mantis shrimp see far
more colors than humans do; if we could see the microwave spectrum of light, we
would see a very different world. What I guess I'm trying to say is that the
world appears to us in particular kinds of ways not because the _world_ is a
certain way, but because _we_ are a certain way. It isn't because we're limited
or fallible or finite or whatever reason which has been put forward
historically; it is because our bodies are built in a particular kind of way
which makes the way we perceive 'the way we perceive'. We are not seeing the
world as it is, much like Kant believed. We are seeing the world the way that
_we_ see the world. Can we actually be credited of having sensory knowledge of
the world if this is the case? It seems only than we can be charged with seeing
the world how we see the world. 


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