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Peirce and Sellars on nonconceptual content

posted on 2018-01-01, 00:00 authored by Cathy LeggCathy Legg
How do sensory experiences (or qualia) manage to combine with concepts to produce the rich human thinking we all enjoy? Obviously it happens, as for example when I form a perception of a yellow chair in which an experience of yellowness and a concept of ‘chairhood’ both participate. But the question of how exactly it happens seems worthy of philosophical reflection in that these two things seem crucially different from one another. They differ first in that sensory experiences enjoy a certain felt immediacy or presence (that particular yellow, which I may or may not be able to express in words), while concepts participate in wide-ranging logical relationships across an entire space of reasons (for instance that the yellow chair, qua chair, is not identical with any single electron in the Universe: actual or even potential). But the puzzle extends even further—sensory experiences and concepts seem possessed of incompatible properties in that the former seem to enjoy a kind of ‘private’ infallibility, while judgments constructed from concepts are clearly truth-apt and fallible. Previously I have explicated this ‘Experience-Truth Gap’ as follows:

On the one hand, my perceptions are suffused with immediately felt experience (for instance, the juicy, sweet ‘cherryness’ of a cherry I am biting into), which it seems that in some important sense ‘no-one can take away from me.’ Thus the nature of our sensory feels appears to enjoy some degree of infallibility. (‘Even if that cherry was a total hallucination, I can’t be wrong about how it tasted to me.’) On the other hand, much of the point of perception seems to be to enable us to endorse new propositions about the world that are truth-apt. (‘This cherry is delicious! But is it really a cherry, or rather a small plum?’) In this regard our perceptions seem perfectly fallible. This is all rather confusing.

(Legg 2017, 42–3) Insofar as this disparity does represent a tension in philosophy of perception, it obviously bleeds profusely into epistemology more generally.


Title of book

Sellars and the history of modern philosophy


Routledge studies in American Philosophy

Chapter number



119 - 137



Place of publication

Abingdon, Eng.







Publication classification

B1 Book chapter

Copyright notice

2018, Taylor & Francis




Luca Corti, Antonio Nunziante