Prospects for Reconciling Sellars’ World Images
Almost fifty years ago Wilfrid Sellars described two competing ways of imagining the world, the Manifest Image and the Scientific Image. The Manifest Image is an idealization of common sense aided by critical philosophy, whereas the Scientific Image is the product of our best science. The methodologies of the two images are very different: the Manifest Image deals with experience and looks only at relations among bits of experience and analysis of experience into the relations that must lie behind it, whereas the Scientific Image is grounded in explanations of experience, typically causal explanations. This need not be a problem if the two images are compatible. Sellars argued, however, that the Manifest Image implies continuity, but the best science of the time told us (or appeared to tell us) that the world is made up of discrete subatomic particles and discrete transitions between quantum states, making the two incompatible. Although Sellars noted that future science might show that the world is continuous, he did not follow this up. Science in the last fifty years has given much more evidence for continuity in the world from complexity studies and Quantum Mechanics, so perhaps the two images can be reconciled after all.