Is Husserl guilty of Sellars’ myth of the sensory given

Heath Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper shows that Husserl is not guilty of Sellars’ myth of the sensory given. I firstly show that Husserl’s account of ‘sensations’ or ‘sense data’ seems to possess some of the attributes Sellars’ myth critiques. In response I show that, just as Sellars thinks that our ‘conceptual capacities’ afford us an awareness of a logical perceptual space that has a propositional structure, Husserl thinks that ‘acts of apprehension’ (Akt der Auffassung) structure sensations to afford us perception that is similarly propositionally structured. Not only this, but there is much affinity and shared motivation between Husserl and Sellars accounts of the sensory stratum. Reflection on phenomenological considerations prevents Sellars from denying phenomenal non-conceptual content, whilst Husserlian ‘sense data’ are technical designations; dependant parts of perceptual experience grasped in abstraction, necessary for providing a reflective/philosophical account of empirical knowledge. I show that both Husserl and Sellars assert that the proper description of phenomenal content affords it the function of presenting properties of spatial objects during perception, and reiterate the well-known fact that Husserl thinks that perception is of ‘conceptually’ apprehended spatiotemporal objects (not sense data).

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Feb 2021

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