Gilbert Ryle’s Review of Sein Und Zeit

Ryle traces the philosophical origins of phenomenology.

Brentano: Association Philosophy

One Brentano’s reading, problems of philosophy are set by Locke, Berkeley, Hume and the two Mills. Brentano partially escapes the conclusions of Hume by positing a theory of judgement, which denies the basic position that judgements are a coupling together of two ideas. According to Brentano, judgements contain one idea plus another element that is irreducible to that idea, for example, accepting and rejecting. A judgement is an ‘ultimate, irreducible and indefinable fact, differing qualitatively from the primitive psychic fact of “having an idea” just in the presence to the former of the extra element of “accepting or rejecting” (357). As a result of this analysis, Brentano can be seen to break with the English school of thought by rejecting association as the one principle and ideas as the one element of psychic complexes (357).

Brentano set up three divisions of irreducible types, each capable of phenomena:

1) Accepting/Rejecting

2) Affirmation/Negation

3) Wanting/Aversion

Common to all three types is the necessary presence of an immanent object or content; for example, one must affirm something. Brentano names the relation between type and immanent content ‘intentional’. Intentionality is the essential character of consciousness, and is what differentiates the psychical from the physical. We must note two things here; first, intending is not meant as purposing, i.e. he intends to go to the shop. Second, the intentional object is not extra-mental, ‘but immanent in the consciousness of which it is the “content”’ (357). One further distinction is made between intentional objects of psychic acts and a thing in space and time, for ‘all psychic acts have intentional object; only some also have real objects’ (358).

Brentano thus posited a theory of the absolute self-evidence of inner perception; our judgements of what is immanent in the consciousness of the judger are self-ratifying, ‘since there is identity between the content and object of the idea which, qua judging, we are asserting’ (358). As such, Ryle states that the theory was a ‘necessary and almost the sufficient condition for the birth of Phenomenology’ (358).

The science of the objects of inner perception stems from the discipline of Psychology, which Brentano split into two parts: genetic (induction) and descriptive (intuition). The latter has subsequently come to be known as Phenomenology. Phenomenology, as the science of the objects of inner perception, acquires primacy over all other sciences because all positive knowledge ‘is, or is founded on “inner perception”’ (359). Objects of perception are phenomena of consciousness in the sense of Comte, i.e. they denote a reality that appears to the perceiver (in contrast to Kant, which posits an appearance opposed to reality).

It was through Husserl that Phenomenology really started to gain traction as a philosophical discipline. Husserl rejected psychologism (the fallacy that the objects of Logic are simply varieties of mental states), however that rejection ‘did not involve desertion of the tack of analysing the types of “intentional experiences”; and clear ideas about the objects of knowing and thinking were an aid and not a hindrance to his study of what knowing and thinking in essence are’ (360).

For Husserl, Phenomenology is the science of intentional experiences, and its subject matter is Essences and method is “exemplary intuition”, ‘so that it stands to empirical psychology as geometry stands to geography’ (361). Following Brentano, it is literally the science of everything, for every object that can be named is potentially correlated with my consciousness. Does Phenomenology exceed itself, in this respect? Setting itself up as the science of everything raises critical questions about its legitimacy, for on what grounds does the science of everything legitimate itself? Husserl also develops a theory of meaning, part of which involves arguing that all objects of psychic acts are ‘things the being of which is to be “accusative” to actual or possible intentional experiences’ (362).

Heidegger was a pupil of Husserl’s (?), and, though Sein und Zeit is at first glance related to Phenomenology, he broke with his predecessors to put forward his own theory of Being. Phenomenology must be presuppositionless, in that it must not take for granted theories that are made in a state of naïveté i.e. those that are not formed through the study of Phenomenology. Heidegger argues that previous Phenomenologists failed to disassociate themselves from such presuppositions, Cartesian mind-matter dualism or the dominance of Platonic and Aristotelian thought, for example. Thus, such things as ‘types’ or ‘real things’ are not discovered by Phenomenologists, but a hangover from before.

Heidegger pursues ontology as an examination of the root, which is Being: the root problem is the meaning of Being. The project of Sein und Zeit is therefore to show how one might uncover or unconceal the meaning of Being. Moreover, Being is not simply a component of consciousness: it is consciousness itself. Heidegger’s blend of ontology and phenomenology is directed toward turning our eyes back again ‘to contemplate with a new clarity the springs of Meaning from which flow our most familiar and most “homely” conceptions and classifications’ (364).

At the core of Heidegger’s ontological phenomenology is Dasein, a temporal, thinking being. Heidegger reinterprets fundamental concepts such as thinking and being in order to make us see the world anew. Being is more than just existence; you own it, you have it – being-in-the-world is what I am about. In Heidegger’s analysis, the subject/object distinction that has plagued metaphysics at least since Kant disappears, because being-about is both thinking-about and doing-about. (The distinction between theory and practice also dissolves, as the two components of consciousness – thinking and doing – are one?) Dasein is ‘Sorge’ i.e. Being is to care or worry, which entails an attitude toward something or another Being (Phenomenological influence). Perhaps even more importantly, Dasein is potentiality, i.e. what I can be but am not yet, so I am not exhausted by what I have done. It is about orienting oneself to the future, and that means toward death. Life as a whole terminates in death without completing it.

The concept of a thing is not primitive but derived from conceptions of ‘unemployed’ and ‘instrument’ i.e. use value (365), but the mode of being about which is using is primitive to modes of being about which are knowing (366). Ryle objects to this notion of primitiveness. He argues that primitive attitudes involve knowledge which ‘necessitates universals and categories upon which the analysis of Dasein throws – and can throw – no light at all’ (366). Moreover, Dasein has a self-understanding of what it is being or doing; if it were not so, ‘the analysis of Dasein would have no self-evidence, and so would not be the proper approach to our ultimate problem’ (366).

See for a good introduction to Being and Time


Reading Gilbert Ryle ‘Knowing How and Knowing That’

Text is on Scribd:

The traditional doctrine contends that intelligence ‘knowing that’ is distinct from the practical application of intelligence ‘knowing how’. Intelligence does not influence action and is expressed in regulative propositions: I know that the car is red, for example. Practice, or impulse, is not expressed in regulative propositions and effects some kind of action: I know how to ride the bike. For Ryle, this is a fallacy. He argues that intelligence is directly exercised, and that intelligent performance ‘need incorporate no ‘shadow-act’ of contemplating regulative propositions’. That is to say, there is no gap between theory and practice and consequently no requirement to postulate a ‘go-between’ faculty i.e. one which mediates between intelligence and action.

Ryle argues that the prevailing traditional doctrine leads to two regresses. This will form the main part of his argument against the traditional doctrine, in favour of his view that there is no gap between theory and practice. First, he uses an example to demonstrate that the traditional doctrine results in an infinite regress: if no-one possessed any money, no-one could get any money on loan. Second, the ‘go-between’ faculty mentioned above must be able to fulfil two functions that would appear to be mutually exclusive in the traditional doctrine’s own terms. For the ‘go-between’ faculty must be able to influence action – unlike theory – as well as being amenable to regulative propositions – unlike impulses. Thus a tripartite system emerges: 1) faculty of intelligence contemplates but does not execute action; 2) faculty of impulse executes but does not contemplate; 3) faculty of ‘go-between’ reconciles these irreconciliables.

Proponents of the traditional doctrine are guilty of a type mistake, in that they believe that an adverb (a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word-group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.) adds something else to the act; in other words, the adverb expresses the intelligent part of an act. Ryle argues that these ‘special internal acts’ are actually the ‘modus operandi’ of the action. For example, to dance gracefully or clumsily relates to the way in which the motion is executed, not to a special act of intelligence added on to the action of dancing. This points to intelligent actions as single, not tandem, operations.

Ryle then states two theses:

1) Knowledge-how cannot be defined in terms of knowledge-that

2) Knowledge-how is a concept logically prior to knowledge-that

Let’s unpack these arguments. The first thesis can be explicated by way of an analogy; Ryle uses the example of a chess player. If knowledge-how were equitable to knowledge-that, a grandmaster chess player would be able to teach a stupid chess player how to play chess – and how to play it cleverly. In reality, you can’t teach a novice how to play to the same standard as the grandmaster, just by feeding him facts about the game. The ‘intellectualist’ (Ryle’s opponents) would argue against this by saying that he never really or fully knew the truths about the game that the grandmaster was imparting, but Ryle argues that, if the novice were stupid, then a) he would not be able to recall the appropriate rule at the time of making the move, and b) even if he did recall the appropriate rule, he might be stupid to follow it:

‘In other words, it requires intelligence not only to discover truths, but also to apply them, and knowing how to apply truths cannot, without setting up an infinite process, be reduced to knowledge of some extra bridge-truths.’ (6)

In other words, knowing a rule (knowing-that) is knowing how to put it into practice: knowing a set of rules for something, like the chess game or how to act morally, does not necessarily mean that one knows how to do something cleverly. Ryle argues that the ‘intellectualist psychological myths’ cannot account for this because they assume that knowledge-how is reducible or equitable with  knowledge-that. The gap between theory and practice still remains, because in order to posit a premise and conclusion, the intellectualist would have to posit a further step that details propositions about the implications of the conclusion by the premise.

The second thesis is related to the above, in that if knowledge of a rule does not dispose one to act in a certain way, the idea that knowledge-that is prior to knowledge-how falls down. Ryle wants to go further than this and argue that knowledge-how – traditionally seen as the inferior process – is actually logically prior to knowledge-that. We actualise propositions through what we do; for instance, knowledge that one can ride a bike is actualised – put into practice – when one gets on the bike. It is possible to state the reasons for one’s actions – propositions about the action of peddling, but these reasons (the criteria for the success of the action) must be realised in the performance of the action – peddling away: ‘In short, the propositional acknowledgement of rules, reasons or priniciples is not the parent of the intelligent application of them; it is a step-child of that application.’ (9)

The failure of the intellectualists, according to Ryle, rests on the ‘assumption’ that rational behaviour is equated with internal systems of reasoning, such as judging or reflecting. However, even the process of persuading ourselves of the validity of an argument can be done cleverly or stupidly. Thus, one cannot say with certainty that rational behaviour is equal to internal reasoning. The process itself results in an infinite regress: ‘The assumption…credits the rationality of any given performance to the rational execution of some anterior performance, which would in turn require exactly the same treatment’ (10).

Rules, like spectacles, are for looking through, but we don’t look at them. Similarly, ‘rules, like birds, must live before they are stuffed’ (11). Ryle wants to argue that the intelligent application of rules normally does occur without consideration of them in theory. Consider the example of the bike; one does not revert to the laws of motion before riding a bike, but nevertheless one is able to propel oneself forward and maintain that motion whilst balancing. Ryle uses the example of smoking; he might persuade himself of the negative aspects of smoking, but this does not mean that he obeys the argument that he should not smoke. In this way, we see that actions do not normally revert to theory for wisdom, and hence why knowledge-how is logically prior to knowledge-that.

Moreover, we can extract principles from actions but these resist being put in the indicative mood and more naturally fall under imperatives i.e. ‘they belong to a manual for novices’ (12). According to Ryle ‘bogus ethico-epistemological questions’ melt away when one gets to grips with knowledge-how as logically prior to knowledge-that, for knowing-how to behave is exhibited by correct behaviour, not by the issue of propositions or prescriptions: ‘Moral imperatives and ought-statements have no place in the lives of saints or complete sinners. For saints are not still learning how to behave and complete sinners have not yet begun to learn’. (14)

Knowledge-how cannot be built up from pieces of knowledge-that; for instance, propositional knowledge about cooking – beating an egg, whipping cream, making a batter – does not consolidate into the application of that knowledge in the practice of making a cake. Drilling knowledge, like multiplication or grammar tables, does not make one a mathematician or linguist, precisely because the skill of thinking teaches one to use knowledge. You are the judge of your performance. Such knowledge is not imparted but inculcated, which, according to Ryle, process that bodies of knowledge are knowledge-how, for example the discipline of philosophy or sociology: ‘The advance of knowledge does not consist only in the accumulation of discovered truths, but also and chiefly in the cumulative mastery of methods’ (15).

In sum, you cannot be said to have knowledge of a fact unless you can exploit it; the process of exploitation is itself an intelligent operation. One can possess knowledge in the manner of a museum collecting pieces for display, and this is distinct from the ‘workshop-possession’ (16) of knowledge that actualises propositional content, allowing us to make sense of it through use.

Overview of the Themes in the Groundwork

1. Autonomy and Morality

In earlier texts, Kant had suggested the following argument based on three premises: 1) freedom of choice and action is our most fundamental value; 2) but freedom is only preserved across actions that are exercised according to a law of self-consistency, i.e. acts are compatible with others; and 3) satisfaction of particular desires of oneself or others constitutes the greatest happiness that is compatible with the greatest virtue. These three premises are reflected in the Groundwork by three formulations of the categorical imperative: 1) freedom is our ultimate value = treat humanity as an end not as a means; 2) acting on maxims that could be universal laws = freedom is preserved only if it is exercised with self-consistency; 3) the formal consistency of free acts realised in the pursuit of particular ends = conception of the realm of ends as ‘a whole of all ends (of rational beings as ends in themselves as well as of the particular ends that each may set for himself)’ (4:433).

Kant rejects the psychological explanation of the premise that autonomy has absolute value as the foundation for morality in the Groundwork. Further, he rejects the notion of duty towards God, offering instead a catalogue of ‘our real duties with our duties toward ourselves, the fulfilment of which he regarded as the necessary condition of fulfilling our duties toward others (12). This is central to his claim that the immediate good can be found only in freedom; hence nothing has an absolute worth but persons, and this consists in the goodness of their free power of choice. Animals, for example, have the ability to act in accordance with choice, but this choice is not free, as it is conditioned by basic sensory drives. Freedom is simultaneously ‘the highest degree of life…that property which is a necessary condition that underlies all perfections’, and ‘the most terrible thing there can be’. Kant claims that, if freedom is not restricted i.e. bound by objective rules, ‘the the greatest wild disorder results, for it is uncertain whether humans would not use their powers to destroy themselves, others, and all of nature’. The universal law that is the condition of the restriction of freedom is thus: ‘conduct yourself so that in all actions regularity prevails’. In essence, one must act in a way that is consistent with future freedom and the freedom of others affected by one’s actions.

Autonomy is the ‘condition in which human beings both individually and collectively can preserve and promote their freedom of choice and action to the greatest extent possible’ (11). Indeed, Kant writes that human reason itself commands us to achieve ‘autonomy’, the ‘quality of the will be means of which it is a law to itself (independently of any quality of the object of willing),’ and that autonomy is equivalent to morality (G, 4:440). Nonetheless, reason does not give human nature dignity for ‘only freedom alone makes it that we are ends in ourselves’. In other words, Kant does not value human beings simply because of their rationality:

His claim here is that our unconditional value lies in our capacity for freedom, but that reason has an instrumental value because it is by its means that we can figure out how to use our freedom self-consistently, that is, to make each use of our freedom compatible with its preservation and promotion in ourselves and others. (15)

The dignity of human nature lies in freedom, since ‘through it alone we can become worthy of any good’, and the actualisation of freedom through our actions and deeds is fundamental to our worthiness as human beings.

2. Autonomy and Rules

Sticking with the notion of rule-bound freedom, Kant claims that we must act in accordance with rules in order to preserve our freedom because ‘the only alternative is to be pushed around by our mere impulses’ (16) like base animals. Moreover, impulses are wont to come into conflict with either other impulses of our own or those of other individuals, ‘which would leave either ourselves or others unfree to act as they might wish to on other occasions’ (16). Therefore, it is only by using our reason to provide rules for our actions that we can free ourselves from acting on impulse, thereby preserving rather than undermining our freedom.

Nevertheless, the demand of morality is not to renounce all particular impulses. Kant states that all right action is a maximum of the free power of choice when it is taken reciprocally. Impulses are permissible if oriented toward achieving the maximal freedom for ourselves and others; in other words, we recognise that actions are reciprocal in that they affect other people and so we choose the ‘right’ action as the one which maximises the freedom of ourselves and others. Thus, the demand of morality is not to renounce all particular impulses, ‘but rather to pursue the satisfaction only of those that are consistent with the maximal intra- and interpersonal exercise of freedom (17). It is permissible to pursue happiness but only under certain conditions.

3. The Value of Autonomy

In order to avoid an infinite regress of values, there must be something of unconditioned value that is the basis for the freedom of the human will – is it the will itself as the end for which those things are the means, for ‘what can be considered merely as a means has value as a means only when it is used’ (18). Not everything can have merely instrumental value; there has to be something unconditioned underpinning everything else. Nevertheless, Kant appeals to the unconditioned value of the human will as an explanation of the instrumental value of other things because he believes the human will to be an independent fact that is an end in itself. But he has not solved the infinite regress, as the ‘fact’ of the unconditioned value of the human will itself needs to be explained. Kant himself states in the Critique of Pure Reason, the first cause or unconditioned cannot be confirmed by experience; it is only a ‘regulative’ ideal to guide our further inquiry (18).

Saying that freedom has unconditioned value points to the feeling that there is something dignified in ‘subjecting our impulses to the rule of reason in order to preserve our freedom’ in contrast to being dominated by our own impulses. The unconditioned value of freedom therefore formalises this feeling, even if it does not explain it (21).

Quotes from Paul Guyer, Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals

The Task of the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

It was in Hobbes’s writing that we properly came to the idea of a theory of rational egoism. The theory states that in using their faculty of reason to deduce what is in their own interest, human beings would ‘realise that cooperation would maximise their self-interest’ (6). Post-Hobbes, several theories of morality emerged; the theory of moral sense, in which human beings are naturally drawn to good actions and repulsed by bad ones, and the theory of perfectionism, which states that human beings should seek to maximise their potentialiaties for perfection in order to reflect the perfection of God in their own nature. These theories fail on Kant’s reading, however, because they leave moral principles up to the ‘particular arrangement of human nature or to contingent circumstances’ (G, 4:442); in other words, these theories are unable to advance principles that are timeless and universal.
Kant further criticises theological ethics as ‘intellectually dishonest…and mean’, dishonest because it ‘presupposes that we know what is right and wrong antecedently to forming our conception of God’s will’, and mean ‘because it portrays us as motivated merely by the self-interested motives of love or reward or fear of punishment rather than by any genuine concerns for other human beings’ (8). We can thus see two themes emerging that will be important for Kant’s task in the Groundwork. First, principles of morality must be universal, and therefore a priori (since they apply to human beings irrespective of time and place). Second, genuine moral motivation must be in some way ‘nobler’ than the pursuit of one’s own happiness (i.e. more than motivated by fear of punishment, for instance). Nonetheless, ‘a moral theory that has nothing to say about happiness at all would be unrealistic, for human beings do naturally desire happiness and there is no reason for moral philosophy to neglect this fact altogether’ (8-9). Kant’s task is therefore to find a genuinely universal principle of morality and a genuinely noble motivation to be moral, which allow for a proper concern with the pursuit of happiness within the framework of morality.

(Quotes are from Paul Guyer, Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals)