Gilbert Ryle on Heidegger’s Being and Time

Arch-analytic Gilbert “Category Mistake” Ryle reviewed Heidegger’s Being and Time sympathetically on its publication in 1928. It is a beautifully clear statement of the methodological parting of the ways that was then taking place. The philosophical concerns, however, are similar, as are their attempts to get away from subjective psychology.

I’ve excerpted the best bits as well as his punchy conclusion.

This is a very difficult and important work, which marks a big advance in the application of the ‘Phenomenological Method’—though I may say at once that I suspect that this advance is an advance towards disaster.

[Heidegger contends that traditional ontological categories] cannot supply the terms in which we are to unpack the Meanings for which we are looking, for they are at least under suspicion of being metaphorical. Phenomenology is Hermeneutic and the categories which are the untested framework of our everyday world are among its primary interpretanda.

As a practical consequence of this view Heidegger imposes on himself the hard task of coining, and on us the alarming task of understanding, a complete new vocabulary of terms—mostly many-barrelled compounds of everyday ‘nursery’ words and phrases—made to denote roots and stems of Meaning more primitive than those in which Plato, Aristotle and subsequent scientists and philosophers have so taught us to talk and think, that we, by the strong force of habit, have come to regard as ultimate and pivotal ideas which are in fact composite and derivative. Heidegger’s ontological Phenomenology is to turn our eyes back again to contemplate with a new method and a new clarity the springs of Meaning from which flow our most familiar and most ‘homely’ conceptions and classifications. The principle on which he seems to be designing his new terminology is, I should judge, the hypothesis that certain ‘nursery’ words and phrases have a primitiveness and freedom from sophistication which makes them more nearly adequate expressions of really primitive Meanings than the technical terms which science and philosophy in the course of a long development have established.

The hypothesis seems to me a perilous one, for it is at least arguable that it is here, and not in the language of the village and the nursery, that mankind has made a partial escape from metaphor.

(I must leave till later my further and fundamental objection that all these so-called ‘primitive’ attitudes or ways of ‘being-an-I’ really involve knowledge, which knowledge necessitates universals and categories upon which the Analysis of Dasein throws—and can throw—no light at all.)

And this leads to dangerous results in the practice of the phenomenological method; it leads to them here in Sein und Zeit. For the presence of knowledge of some reality (which is surely present in any and every conscious experience) though it is not explicitly recognised is surreptitiously imported as well into such terms as ‘understanding’ and ‘illumination’ as into the countless nursery-terms which Heidegger is trying to build up into a new philosophical vocabulary.

I think, too, that it can be shown that the only reason why Heidegger’s Hermeneutic of ‘Dasein’ takes or promises to take the form of a sort of anthropologistic Metaphysic (smelling a little oddly both of James and of St Augustine) is because Heidegger presupposes that the Meanings which his Hermeneutic is to unravel and illuminate must be in some way man-constituted.

But though I deplore the damage wrought upon his Metaphysics by the presuppositions which Heidegger has unconsciously inherited, I have nothing but admiration for his special undertaking and for such of his achievements in it as I can follow, namely the phenomenological analysis of the root workings of the human soul.

He shows himself to be a thinker of real importance by the immense subtlety and searchingness of his examination of consciousness, by the boldness and originality of his methods and conclusions, and by the unflagging energy with which he tries to think behind the stock categories of orthodox philosophy and psychology.

And I must also say, in his behalf, that while it is my personal opinion that qua First Philosophy Phenomenology is at present heading for bankruptcy and disaster and will end either in self-ruinous Subjectivism or in a windy mysticism, I hazard this opinion with humility and with reservations since I am well aware how far I have fallen short of understanding this difficult work.

Sein und Zeit, it is worth mentioning, is most beautifully printed and the pages have generous margins.

Gilbert Ryle, “Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit” (1928)

In his essay, “Analyzing Heidegger: a history of analytic reactions to Heidegger,” Lee Braver has also remarked on the value of this review, complimenting Ryle’s sympathy toward Heidegger and pointing out their shared concerns. I think Braver makes too much out of some lingering Kantianism in Ryle’s terminology with which he tries to show that Ryle later embraced a position he’d criticized Heidegger for; but from a Heideggerian standpoint I can see why Braver says this.

For my part, I might like Ryle’s Heidegger more than most other versions I’ve encountered (Dreyfus’s, say).