Sellars's Argument for an Ontology of Absolute Processes

  • David Landy


Scholars have rejected Wilfrid Sellars’s argument for an ontology of absolute processes on the grounds that it relies on a dubious and dogmatic appeal to the homogeneity of color. Borrowing from Rosenthal’s recent defense, but ultimate rejection of homogeneity, I defend this claim on Sellarsian/Kantian transcendental grounds, and reconstruct the remainder of his argument. I argue that Sellars has good reason to suppose that homogeneity is a necessary condition of any possible experience, including indirect experience of theoretical-explanatory posits, and therefore good reason to hold that Reductive Materialism, as he conceives it, is an untenable account of color. The remainder of his argument aims to answer the question of what the metaphysical relation is between the state of an experiencing subject that we take color to be and the colorless microphysical particles that we take to constitute that subject. After rejecting Substance Dualism, Epiphenomenalism, and Wholistic or Emergent Materialism as explanatorily inadequate, Sellars proposes that both color-states and micro-physical particles should be understood as manifestations of an underlying ontology on absolute processes.


Dennett, Daniel, 1981. “Wondering Where the Yellow Went.” The Monist 64: 102–08.

Hooker, C. A., 1977. “Sellars’ Argument for the Inevitability of the Secondary Qualities.” Philosophical Studies 32: 335–48.

Kant, Immanuel, 1781/1787. Critik der reinen Vernunft. Riga: Hartknoch. English translation Kant (1998).

———, 1790. Ueber eine Entdeckung nach der alle neue Critik der reinen Vernunft durch eine ältere entbehrlich gemacht werden soll. Königsberg: Nicolovius. Reprinted in Gesammelte Schriften (Akademieausgabe), pp. 185–251. Berlin: Königlich-Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1902–, vol. VIII. English translation as “On a Discovery Whereby Any New Critique of Pure Reason is to be Made Superfluous by an Older One”, in Kant (2002), pp. 281–336.

———, 1998. Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———, 2002. Theoretical Philosophy After 1781, edited by Henry Allison and Peter Heath, translated by Gary Hatfield, Michael Friedman, Henry Allison, and Peter Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Landy, David, 2015a. “A Rebuttal to a Classic Objection to Kant’s Argument in the First Analogy.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 31: 331–45.

———, 2015b. Kant’s Inferentialism: The Case Against Hume. New York: Routledge.

McGilvray, James, 1983. “Pure Process(es)?” Philosophical Studies 43: 243–51.

Rosenberg, Jay F., 1982. “The Place of Color in the Scheme of Things: A Roadmap to Sellars’s Carus Lectures.” The Monist 65: 315–35.

———, 1994. Beyond Formalism: Naming and Necessity for Human Beings. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Rosenthal, David, 2015. “Quality Spaces, Relocation, and Grain.” In Sellars and His Legacy, edited by James O’Shea, pp. 149–85. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seibt, Johanna, 2000. “Pure Processes and Projective Metaphysics.” Philosophical Studies 101: 253–89.

———, 2015. “How to Naturalize Sensory Consciousness and Intentionality within a Process Monism with Normativity Gradient: A Reading of Sellars.” In Sellars and His Legacy, edited by James O’Shea, pp. 186–223. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sellars, Wilfrid, 1948. “Concepts as Involving Laws and Inconceivable without Them.” Philosophy of Science 15: 287–315.

———, 1956. “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind.” Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 1: 253–329.

———, 1963. “Phenomenalism.” In Science, Perception and Reality, pp. 58–99. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

———, 1967. Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview.

———, 1977. “Scientific Realism or Irenic Instrumentalism.” Reprinted in Philosophical Perspectives: Metaphysics and Epistemology, pp. 141–66. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview.

———, 1981a. “The Lever of Archimedes.” The Monist 64: 3–36.

———, 1981b. “Naturalism and Process.” The Monist 64: 37–65.

Sellars, Wilfrid, 1981c. “Is Consciousness Physical?” The Monist 64: 66–90.

———, 2002. “Towards a Theory of the Categories.” Reprinted in Kant’s Transcendental Metaphysics, edited by Jeffrey F. Sicha, pp. 342–60. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview.

———, 2015. Wilfrid Sellars: Notre Dame Lectures 1969–1986, edited by Pedro Amaral. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview.

Strawson, P. F., 1959. Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics. London: Methuen.