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Departmental Colloquium, 2019/2020

Colloquia take place from 4.15pm to 6:00pm in OC1.07 (Oculus Building) unless otherwise indicated. For further information, please contact Naomi Eilan ( or Barnaby Walker ( Details of previous years’ colloquia can be found here.

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Department of Philosophy Colloquium

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Location: S0.17

Speaker: Michael Kremer (Chicago)

Title: 'The Development of Ryle's Conception of Logic'

Abstract: Gilbert Ryle’s distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that has come under pressure from intellectualists like Jason Stanley, who claim that knowledge-how is simply a species of knowledge-that. Stanley argues that Ryle’s famous regress argument for the distinction shows that Ryle conceives of propositional knowledge as “behaviorally inert,” and that appreciating this shows that Ryle’s regress argument is impotent against “reasonable intellectualism.” However Ryle characterizes knowledge as dispositional in character in The Concept of Mind. This seems to support Stephen Hetherington’s “practicalist” view that knowledge-that is a form of knowledge-how, and puts into question whether Ryle can really rely on the regress argument for his distinction. In this essay I address such questions as: how is the regress argument connected to his distinction? what conception of knowledge-that is implied? does the regress argument survive if we do not think of knowledge-that as involving acts of acknowledging-that, of contemplating propositions and judging them to be true? I approach these questions through examining the development of Ryle’s thinking about knowledge, from his life-long insistence that knowledge and belief are generically distinct, through his early rejection of a dispositional conception of knowledge and belief, his later development of the distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that, including a dispositional characterization of knowledge-how, and his introduction of a distinction among dispositions between capacities and tendencies, with knowledge (both -how and -that) on the capacity side and belief on the tendency side. I argue that his initial formulations of the regress argument and the knowledge-how/knowledge-that distinction come from an earlier stage of his thought before he had drawn the capacity/tendency distinction and located knowledge as a capacity. As a result, his formulation of the regress argument even in The Concept of Mind sits poorly with his view of knowledge and belief there. I conclude by discussing whether the regress argument can be reformulated in a way that fits Ryle’s conception of knowledge as a capacity, and meets Stanley’s objections. Along the way I discuss Ryle’s relationship to a number of other historical figures, including Cook Wilson, Prichard, MacDonald, Ayer, and Vendler, as well as the contemporary philosophers Stanley and Hyman.

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