Tyler Gedman, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Polish Hill, Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Hegelians: Hegel’s Unlikely American Renaissance

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Long denigrated in English-language philosophy, Hegelianism experienced one of its great renaissances in the late 20th century—in Pittsburgh. Gathered at the city’s namesake university, the philosophers Wilfred Sellars, John McDowell, and Robert Brandom revitalized, against the philosophical grain, elements of German idealism as a mode for thinking productively about mind and knowledge. Taking their cue from Sellars’s paper “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” which attacked the “myth of the given” that Sellars claims undergirds empiricist epistemology, the Pittsburgh Hegelians (as they’re sometimes called) argued, with Hegel, for the irreducibly normative and social character of human knowledge and rationality. But, just how Hegelian were the Pittsburgh Hegelians? Is philosophical idealism, in some form or another, compatible with the procedures of natural science? How do we know things, and what does it mean to know them?

In this course, we will read from the major works of the “Pittsburgh School,” including “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” McDowell’s Mind and World, and Brandom’s Making it Explicit. We’ll explore their key concepts and ideas like the essential sociality and historicity of rational thought, conceptual holism, the replacement of representationalism with inferentialism, and the nature of normativity. We will ask: How do social norms structure individual thought?  What are the “manifest” and “scientific” images of the world, and how can they be integrated into a single “synoptic vision” of human rationality and cognition? Is idealism reconcilable with naturalism? How viable is Hegelianism as a mode for understanding the human mind, belief, and human rational agency?

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 18 — December 16, 2021
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Thursday, November 25th.


Registration Open