Nihil Unbound


Richard Marshall interviews Ray Brassier in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: To understand the significance of Wilfrid Sellars’ notion of the ‘Manifest image’ and the myth of Jones for your defence of the Enlightenment can you say something about these things. What do you think the manifest image is, and what’s the myth of Jones?

RB: The Manifest Image is Sellars’s term for the system of concepts we use to understand ourselves and our world in our everyday life. Philosophers have contributed to its development. It contains notions like that of “person”, “mind”, “thing”, “property”, “belief”, “desire”, “action”, “intention”, and a host of other related notions. It is an extremely sophisticated system of concepts that has developed out of our practical interactions and activities over millennia of human cultural evolution. It is structured around certain fundamental distinctions, such as the difference between minded and mindless things, or between living and lifeless things. (Such differences are fundamental and irreducible within the Manifest Image, but perhaps not beyond it.) The term “manifest” is not supposed to connote “superficial” or “illusory”, at least not for Sellars. In a telling formulation, Sellars suggests the Manifest Image is the medium in which humans first encountered themselves as humans, by which I think he means it is the manifestation of a kind of human self-consciousness: the medium in which we conceive of ourselves as humans engaged in pursuing various practical and cognitive goals.

In Sellars’s account, the “myth of Jones” is perhaps the most momentous step in the construction of the Manifest Image and hence in the development of our collective self-conception as humans. It is the step through which we begin to understand ourselves both as minded beings motivated by beliefs and as sentient beings affected by sensations. In Sellars’s myth, Jones is the genius who first suggests that what humans say and do can be explained as the outward manifestation of inner mental states of believing, desiring, and sensing. In other words, the myth of Jones proposes that we did not always understand ourselves as minded beings motivated by thoughts and sensations; we had to learn how to do this and acquiring the resources to do so was a momentous step in our cognitive evolution.

More here.