Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jason Stanley "Know How" Meisterkurs

In early July, Jason Stanley will be giving a three-day Meisterkurs (in English) at Humboldt University's Berlin School of Mind and Brain.  With his blessing and the permission of the organizers, I have registered and plan on attending the event.  It's going to be hard, because I have no sympathy at all for Stanley's interpretation of Ryle, which is likely going to take up a large portion of the course.  Discussion has been encouraged (even in German, which means I might not understand everything that's said), but I don't want to bother him or the other students with countless objections.  Still, half the required reading is either on or by Ryle, so I'm going to have a hard time biting my tongue.  I'll try to measure my comments carefully and keep them short and to the point.  I would love to go head to head with Stanley on Ryle, and perhaps I will have a suitable opportunity over the course of the three days, but I'm not going with that kind of agenda.  I would much rather spend the time trying to figure out where Stanley and I agree (or disagree, though I'm rather keen on finding some common ground) on more general issues, like how to understand propositional knowledge and the relationships between linguistics, epistemology, cognitive science and the philosophy of mind.

Now that I've registered for the course, I have access to the readings online.  They include three chapters from Stanley's recent book, Know How, which circumstances have prevented me from purchasing.  I've thus been able to find yet more problems with Stanley's interpretation of Ryle.  I'll describe one for now.

Stanley quotes the following passage from Ryle's 1946 paper, "Knowing How and Knowing That":


If a deed, to be intelligent, has to be guided by the consideration of a regulative
proposition, the gap between that consideration and the practical application of
the regulation has to be bridged by some go-between process which cannot by the
pre-supposed definition itself be an exercise of intelligence and cannot, by
definition, be the resultant deed. This go-between application process has
somehow to marry observance of a contemplated maxim with the enforcement of
behavior. So it has to unite in itself the allegedly incompatible properties of being
kith to theory and kin to practice, else it could not be the applying of the one in
the other. For, unlike theory, it must be able to influence action, and unlike
impulses, it must be amenable to regulative propositions. Consistency requires,
therefore, that this schizophrenic broker must again be subdivided into one bit
which contemplates but does not execute, one which executes but does not
contemplate and a third which reconciles these irreconcilables. And so on forever.

This is a clear case of hypothetical reasoning.  Ryle begins with "if a deed . . .," because (as the context makes clear) he does not agree with the stipulation.  Specifically, he is trying to draw logical consequences from the intellectualist view of intelligent action, which he explicitly rejects.  Thus, later in the paragraph, when he refers to the "allegedly incompatible properties of being kith to theory and kin to practice," we should remember that it is the intellectualist who alleges this incompatibility.  Ryle does not make this allegation, as careful reading of his work should make clear.  It is the intellectualist, in Ryle's view, who supposes that theory and action are so at odds.  This is precisely the view he is trying to overturn.

 Indeed, on the same page, Ryle writes the following:

It also helps to upset the assumed type-difference between thinking and doing, since
only subjects belonging to the same type can share predicates. But thinking and doing do
share lots of predicates, such as ‘clever’, ‘stupid’, ‘careful’, ‘strenuous’, ‘attentive’, etc.

Recall that, in Ryle's understanding, it is the intellectualist who wrongly assumes that theory is where intelligence is found, and that action is only intelligent by virtue of its association with theoretical acts. Ryle, in contrast, denies this supposition.  Thus, when Ryle says that, "unlike theory, it must be able to influence action," Ryle is not presenting his own view of the relationship between theory and action.  Ryle rather says that reflection and contemplation are varieties of intelligent action.

Thus, as I said, the passage which Stanley quotes shows Ryle trying to draw the intellectualist view to its logical conclusion.  It is hypothetical reasoning, an attempt to draw problematic consequences from the intellectualist view of thought and action, and not a presentation of Ryle's own views of thought and action.  Stanley is therefore egregiously mistaken when he says on page 40, after quoting this passage:  "Ryle assumes here that possession of propositional knowledge is behaviorally inert. In other words, Ryle assumes that the possession of propositional knowledge does not entail the possession of dispositional states."  Ryle makes no such assumption.  Ryle is not here presenting his view of propositional knowledge.

I find myself disagreeing with Stanley's interpretation of Ryle at every turn.  This is not just a difference in emphasis.  It's not confined to one or two isolated passages.  Stanley consistently and profoundly gets Ryle wrong, so much that he accuses Ryle of believing the very opposite of what Ryle explicitly claims.

As an attempt at objective adjudication, one might ask the following question:  whose interpretation of Ryle is the most consistent and charitable?  On my account, Ryle is consistent and, if not always right, at least always thought-provoking.  On Stanley's account, Ryle is constantly contradicting himself and often times absurdly flying in the face of common sense.  Charity clearly falls on my side.

I have more reading to do to prepare for the course.  Unfortunately, this June's a terrible month for me, so I'm a bit frustrated with the timing.  Still, I'll try to organize my thoughts as much as possible, and I plan on writing more blog posts to help.  So expect more thoughts on Stanley, Know How and related topics in the coming weeks.