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


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