Archives of Scientific Philosophy: The Wilfrid S. Sellars Papers
363 Hillman Library
3960 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
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Wilfrid S. Sellars, now regarded as one of the most important American philosophers of his time, was active throughout the middle and later twentieth century. Sellars was born May 20th, 1912 in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the son of the distinguished American philosopher Roy Wood Sellars, whose papers comprise a series within the present archive, and Helen Sellars. Wilfrid Sellars graduated from high school in Ann Arbor, and then went to Europe with his family in 1929, living in Paris and in Munich. Sellars first academic encounters with philosophy were at the Lycee-Louis-Le-Grand, where he studied while in Paris. At the Lycee he read many of the classic texts of the European philosophical tradition, especially the works of Plato and Aristotle, as well as more modern thinkers such as Marx and Engels.
Sellars’s undergraduate education was at the University of Michigan where he deepened his knowledge of philosophy. He furthered his understanding of the Critical Realism espoused by his father and some of his father’s Michigan colleagues as well as extending his range by becoming familiar with the works of George Edward Moore, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, thus grounding him in the contemporary developments of analytic philosophy. After earning a BA from the University of Michigan he enrolled in the graduate philosophy program at the University of Buffalo and earned an MA in 1934. While enrolled at Buffalo Sellars studied the works of Immanuel Kant and Edmund Husserl in depth. Beginning in 1934 Sellars attended Oriel College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. At Oxford Sellars studied several important methods of contemporary philosophy that subsequently influenced his own creative contributions. His first class BA from Oxford was awarded in 1936 and transformed into an MA subsequently. Sellars remained at Oxford, starting work on a doctoral degree. He then transferred to Harvard University in 1937. He left Harvard to take up his first teaching position without taking a degree.
His first academic job was at the University of Iowa where he began teaching in 1938. Following service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota, where he was active in the University’s Center for the Philosophy of Science. At Minnesota he worked closely with Herbert Feigl. Between 1958 and 1963 Sellars was a member of the faculty of Yale University. He then joined the faculty of the Philosophy Department at the University of Pittsburgh in 1963. Sellars remained a professor at the University of Pittsburgh during the remainder of his active teaching and research career. Wilfrid S. Sellars died in 1989.
Wilfrid Sellars philosophical activities produced a comprehensive body of work addressing many areas of philosophical thought, including philosophy of mind, epistemology, philosophy of science, studies of Immanuel Kant, and of Aristotle.
Sellars’s 1956 address in London, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, was a major exposition of his thought during that period. The archive holds the manuscript that Sellars used to deliver this lecture as well as other versions of the essay.
One of the most important distinctions Sellars made was that between the manifest image and the scientific image. The manifest image is one of observable material objects and human beings as entities with beliefs, desires, and intentions. The scientific image involves microscopic objects such as atoms as well as human beings as the subject of scientific scrutiny by physical scientists. Among the materials in this collection are documents recording his preliminary speculations about this suite of concepts.
The Sellars Archive contains materials documenting Wilfrid Sellars activities as a university professor, as an original philosopher, and as an officer in several professional philosophical associations. It also contains material relating to his personal life. The archival materials of his father Roy Wood Sellars are also in this archive. Sellars maintained a life-long exchange of ideas with his father on various philosophical topics. The W. Sellars/R.W. Sellars letters address personal as well as philosophical topics. The Wilfrid Sellars materials include letters, both professional and personal, educational materials from his school days through his time at Oriel College and while he was at Harvard, scholarly manuscripts and handwritten tablets recording early sketches of his ideas, and documents from official transactions of professional societies. In addition, his annotated books, journal volumes, and off-prints are retained in the archive. There are a number of boxes of dictabelts recording Sellars’s original dictation of letters, manuscripts, and lectures.
This page provides a link to the contents lists of the archives. In addition there are links to a list of annotated books found in Sellars’s library and to a list of journal issues and scholarly off-prints that provide information on which articles Sellars annotated and where the annotations are located within the article. The bulk of the annotations are underlinings, but in many cases there are substantial commentaries written in the margins of the books, journals, or off-prints. There is also a list of the un-annotated books once found in Sellars’s library as well as a list of journal titles held in the Sellars library.