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Language, Discourse, Society

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Encounters between
Analytic and Continental
Andreas Vrahimis
University of Cyprus
© Andreas Vrahimis 2013
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Ἰδὼν δέ ποτε δύο τινὰς φιλοσόφους κομιδῇ ἀπαιδεύτως ἐν ζητήσει
ἐρίζοντας καὶ τὸν μὲν ἄτοπα ἐρωτῶντα, τὸν δὲ οὐδὲν πρὸς λόγον
ἀποκρινόμενον, oὐ δοκεῖ ὑμῖν, ἔφη, ὦ φίλοι, ὁ μὲν ἕτερος τούτων τράγον
ἀμέλγειν, ὁ δὲ αὐτῷ κόσκινον ὑποτιθέναι.
Lucian, Life of Demonax , 28.
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Acknowledgements x

Chronology xi

Introduction 1

1. Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 8

1. Psychologismus-Streit 8
2. Husserl and Frege, the grandfathers 11
3. The question of influence 14
4. Contra psychologismus 16
a) Frege’s critique of ‘psychological logic’ 18
b) Husserl’s formulation of anti-psychologism 21
5. The crisis and its aftermath 24

2. Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany:

Carnap, Heidegger, Nonsense 31
1. Disputation at Davos 31
2. Neo-Kantianism and the interpretation of Kant 32
3. The ‘end’ of Neo-Kantianism during the
Heidegger-Cassirer dispute 37
4. Further remarks on the historic background
to the disputation 39
5. Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant 41
6. Carnap’s encounter with Heidegger 46
7. Carnap’s ‘metaphysics’ 48
8. Is Heidegger a metaphysician? 50
9. Heidegger’s nothing 51
10. Heidegger’s logic 53
11. Logic, praxis and ontology 55
12. Learning to express one’s feelings without metaphysics 60
13. Music lessons for metaphysicians 64
14. Overcoming first principles 65
15. What does ‘nothing’ mean? 68

viii Contents

16. Contradictions 71
17. Confrontation 72
18. Carnap and Heidegger’s shared background 77
19. Husserl’s influence on Carnap 79
20. Metaphysics and politics 84

3. Was There a Sun before Men Existed?: Ayer, Sartre,

Bataille, and Merleau-Ponty 87
1. A pornographer, a phenomenologist and
a logical positivist walk into a bar 87
2. Ayer’s criticism of Heidegger’s ‘Das Nichts’ and
the British reception of Logical Positivism 89
3. Ayer’s criticism of Sartre’s le néant 91
4. Ayer encountering Merleau-Ponty 96
5. And they ask the barman, ‘Was there a sun before
men existed?’ 98
6. Ayer’s response: the question of empiricism 101
7. The abyss stares back at Bataille 103
8. Unknowing the nothing 106

4. ‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont:

Gilbert Ryle’s Ambivalent Phenomenology 110
1. The battle of Royaumont 110
2. Continental ‘analysts’, Anglo-Saxon ‘continentals’ 111
3. ‘Ryle’s three Austrian rail-stations and
one Chinese game of chance’ 114
4. Ryle’s sympathetic articles on phenomenology 118
5. Phenomenology and meta-philosophy 119
6. Systematically misleading expressions,
or how to sharpen Ryle’s razor 121
7. Shaving Husserl’s beard 123
8. Rylean phenomenology 125
9. Husserl’s method for detecting ‘category mistakes’ 131
10. Analysis and Husserl’s meta-philosophy 133
11. Analysis v. Mistress Science 136
12. Phenomenology and The Concept of Mind 139
13. Fr. Van Breda’s response to Ryle 143
14. Merleau-Ponty and the borders of the continent 148
Contents ix

5. Derrida and Searle: The Abyss Stares Back? 160

1. Balliol, 1967 160
2. Austin and phenomenology 163
3. Derrida’s Austin 166
4. Searle’s reply to Derrida 171
5. Questioning the ‘confrontation between two
prominent philosophical traditions’ 174
6. Forces and fronts 178
7. In whose name? 180

6. Conclusion 182

Notes 184

Bibliography 223

Index 251

This book is derived from my doctoral thesis, titled ‘Nonsense, Dialogue

and Polemics between Analytic and Continental Philosophy’. I am
deeply indebted to the invaluable guidance of my doctoral supervi-
sors, John Sellars and Simon Glendinning, without whom this work
would not have been possible. I am grateful to Michael Beaney, Sarah
Richmond, Dan Zahavi, Thomas Akehurst, Jonathan Beale, Christos
Hadjiyiannis, and everyone at the London Consortium for their
insightful contributions to this work through comments, questions
and general conversation. I am deeply thankful to Orestis Lambrou
who produced the cover image for this book. For their support, I wish
to thank my family and friends.
Parts of this book have previously appeared as journal articles, and
I am grateful to all those who have permitted me to reprint them
here. I am particularly grateful to the British Journal for the History
of Philosophy for permitting me to reprint part of my article titled
‘Is the Royaumont Colloquium the Locus Classicus of the Divide
between Analytic and Continental Philosophy? Reply to Overgaard’
in Chapter 4.
I owe a special thanks to Colin MacCabe, who, along with Stephen
Heath and Denise Riley, helped realise the publication of this book.


1865 Liebmann publishes Kant und die Epigonen, ending each chapter
with the phrase ‘We must then return to Kant’.
1870 The term ‘psychologism’ is coined by Erdmann.
1879 Frege’s Begriffschrift is published.
Wundt founds the Institut für Experimentelle Psychologie in
Leipzig, creating the first laboratory for the study of psychology.
1884 Frege’s Grundlagen der Arithmetik is published.
1891 Husserl’s Philosophie der Arithmetik is published.
Frege and Husserl begin their correspondence.
1893 The first volume of Frege’s Grundgesetze der Arithmetik is published.
1894 Frege publishes a polemical review of Husserl’s Philosophie der
1900 Husserl publishes the first volume of Logische Untersuchungen.
The Psychologismus-Streit ensues.
1901 Husserl publishes the second volume of Logische Untersuchungen.
1902 Russell writes to Frege pointing out Russell’s paradox (16 June).
1905 Russell’s ‘On Denoting’ published in Mind (October).
1906 Husserl and Frege resume their correspondence.
1910 The first volume of Russell and Whitehead’s Principia
Mathematica is published.
1910–1914 Carnap studies under Frege in Jena.
1912 Russell’s review of Bergson’s Laughter (‘The Professor’s Guide to
Laughter’) published in The Cambridge Review (January).
Russell presents ‘The Philosophy of Bergson’ to ‘The Heretics’ at
Cambridge (11 March).
Cohen retires from his chair at Marburg University (June).
1913 Petition against experimental psychologists taking up
philosophy chairs is signed.
1914 The Great War breaks out, marking the end of the
1915 Lask is killed in Turza-Mala while fighting in the Galician
campaign (26 May).
Windelband dies (22 October).

xii Chronology

1915–1916 Hulme writes several articles in The New Age associating the
philosophies of Russell, Moore and Husserl.
1816 Husserl succeeds Rickert at the University of Freiburg (1 April).
1917 Hulme killed by a shell in Oostduinkerke (28 September).
Reinach dies fighting in Flanders (16 November).
1918 Spengler publishes the first volume of The Decline of the West.
Schlick publishes the first volume of General Theory of
Knowledge, in which he criticises Husserl.
Russell is sentenced to prison. Takes with him a copy of Husserl’s
Logische Untersuchungen, planning to review it for Mind (9 February).
1919 Neurath is imprisoned for his activities in the Bavarian Soviet
Republic. While in prison he writes ‘Anti-Spengler’.
1920 Wahl completes his doctoral thesis titled The Pluralist
Philosophies of England and America.
1921 Second edition of Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen (second
volume) is published, in which Husserl responds to Schlick’s
1922 Husserl presents ‘Phenomenological Method and Phenomenological
Philosophy’ at University College London (June).
Carnap completes and publishes his doctoral dissertation Der Raum.
Wittgenstein publishes Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
1924 Ryle becomes an Oxford don and begins teaching himself
German. He soon takes up teaching a course titled ‘Logical
Objectivism: Bolzano, Brentano, Husserl and Meinong’.
1924–1925 Carnap joins Husserl’s seminar at Freiburg.
1925 Second edition of Schlick’s first volume of General Theory of
Knowledge published, omitting the critical remarks on Husserl.
Frege dies (26 July).
1927 Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit is published.
1928 Carnap’s Der Logische Aufbau Der Welt is published.
Heidegger elected as Husserl’s successor at Freiburg.
First meeting of the Verein Ernst Mach (November).
1929 Ryle visits Husserl in Freiburg, stays to study with Heidegger
Davos Hochschule takes place (17 March–6 April).
Heidegger publishes Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik.
Ryle’s review of Sein und Zeit published in Mind (July).
Ryle meets and befriends Wittgenstein at the Joint Session of
the Mind Association & the Aristotelian Society in Nottingham
(12–15 July).
Heidegger presents ‘Was ist Metaphysik’ as his inaugural lecture
at Freiburg University? (24 July).
Chronology xiii

The Ernst Mach Society and the Berlin Society for Empirical
philosophy jointly hold the ‘First Conference for the Epistemology
of the Social Sciences’ in Prague. ‘The Scientific World Conception:
The Vienna Circle’ is published (15–16 September).
Carnap presents ‘Der Mißbrauch der Sprache’ to the Dessau
Bauhaus, in which he first presents Heidegger’s ‘Das Nichts
Nichtet’ as an example of nonsense (19 September).
Wittgenstein comments sympathetically on Heidegger’s
concepts of Being and Angst to Waismann (30 December).
1930 Erkenntnis is founded, with Carnap and Reichenbach as
Husserl writes to Dawes Hicks, commenting on Ryle’s review of
Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (15 March).
1931 Cassirer publishes ‘Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics’ in
Kant-Studien, responding to Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant
Carnap publishes Überwindung der Metaphysik durch Logische
Analyse der Sprache in Erkenntnis (December).
1932 Ryle presents Systematically Misleading Expressions to the
Aristotelian Society (21 March).
Wittgenstein reads ‘Physicalistic Language as the Universal
Language of Science’ and becomes enraged with Carnap
Carnap presents versions of Überwindung der Metaphysik durch
Logische Analyse der Sprache at Berlin and Brünn, concluding
by noting the historical significance of the struggle against
metaphysics (July).
‘Phenomenology’ symposium organised by Ryle at the Joint
Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association at
the University of Reading (8–10 July).
Reichstag election results in the National Socialists becoming
the largest party in parliament (31 July).
Quine visits Europe on a Sheldon Travelling Scholarship, sitting
in with the Vienna Circle (August).
Ayer marries Renee Lees, and visits the Vienna Circle during his
honeymoon (25 November).
Wittgenstein dictates some critical remarks on Heidegger to
Waismann, to be sent to Schlick (December).
1933 Cassirer is forced by the rise of Nazism to emigrate to Oxford
(12 March).
Heidegger is elected Rektor of Freiburg (21 April).
The Nazi regime passes a law that requires all Jewish professors
to be fired from German Universities (28 April).
Heidegger joins the Nazi Party (1 May).
xiv Chronology

Heidegger’s Rektoratsrede, ‘The Self-Assertion of the German

University’, culminates in three shouts of ‘Hail Hitler’ (27 May).
Collingwood publishes An Essay on Philosophical Method, in
which he criticises what he calls ‘analytic philosophy’.
The journal Analysis is founded (November).
1934 Carnap presents ‘Philosophy and Logical Syntax’ at the
University of London, following an invitation by Susan
Stebbing (October).
1934–1937 Adorno goes to Oxford, producing a critical study of Husserl
under Ryle’s supervision.
1935 Carnap emigrates to the United States (December).
1936 Ayer’s Language Truth and Logic is published.
Ernest Nagel publishes the first part of his ‘Impressions and
Appraisals of Analytic Philosophy in Europe’ in The Journal of
Philosophy (January 2).
Horkheimer meets Neurath in the Hague. Correspondence
between the two ensues (January).
Moritz Schlick is assassinated by Johan Nelböck (22 June).
Neurath visits Horkheimer and attends a seminar at the
Institute for Social Research in New York (November).
1937 Horkheimer publishes ‘The Latest Attack on Metaphysics’ in
Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung (July).
Horkheimer refuses to publish Neurath’s reply to his ‘The Latest
Attack on Metaphysics’ (December).
1938 Husserl dies (26 April).
1943 Sartre’s Being and Nothingness is published.
Sartre publishes ‘Un nouveau Mystique’ in Cahiers du Sud
1945 Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is published.
Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception is published.
Ayer is sent to France by the SOE, where he is introduced to
Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, Camus and others.
Cassirer dies (13 April).
Ayer publishes article on Sartre in Horizon magazine (July).
The denazification committee at the University of Freiburg
examines the case of Heidegger, banning him from teaching as
a preliminary step (23 July).
Neurath dies (22 December).
1946 Heidegger has a nervous breakdown (January).
French Military Government bans Heidegger from teaching.
Freiburg Senate grants him Emeritus status without permission
to teach (June).
Chronology xv

1947 J. L. Austin presents a series of lectures titled ‘Problems in

Philosophy’, which are posthumously published as Sense and
Sensibilia, wherein he attacks Ayer’s The Foundation of Empirical
Knowledge (April–June).
H. B. Acton surveys ‘Philosophy in France’ for Philosophy,
noting the limited transmission of French books due to the war
Ryle takes G. E. Moore’s place as editor of Mind (6 July).
1950 Carnap mentions Frege’s influence on Husserl in his Logical
Foundations of Propability.
1951 Ayer presents ‘The Idea of Truth and Contemporary Logic’ in
the presence of Bataille, Merleau-Ponty and Wahl. Afterwards
Bataille, Merleau-Ponty and Ayer have a discussion over drinks
(11 January).
Bataille presents ‘Unknowing and its Consequences’ (12
Ludwig Wittgenstein dies (29 April).
1952 C. A. Mace’s polemic review of P. J. R. Dempsey’s The Philosophy
of Sartre published in Mind (July).
Isaiah Berlin’s review of Croce’s My Philosophy in Mind mentions
the ‘chasm’ which divides Anglo-American philosophy from
that of the continent (October).
1954 Russell publishes Nightmares of Eminent People, which includes a
satirical piece on existentialism.
1956 Austin presents ‘A Plea for Excuses’ to the Aristotelian Society,
referring to his work as ‘linguistic phenomenology’.
1957 Hare presents ‘A School for Philosophers’ at various German
Nowell-Smith publishes his review of Mandelbaum’s
Phenomenology of Moral Experience in Philosophy, claiming that
‘the linguistic and the phenomenological approaches are
1958 The colloquium ‘La Philosophie Analytique’ takes place at
Føllesdal’s doctoral dissertation Husserl and Frege: A Contribution
to Elucidating the Origins of Phenomenological Philosophy is
A. J. Ayer and Stuart Hampshire discuss Sartre’s philosophy on
BBC radio.
1959 A symposium on ‘Phenomenology and Linguistic Analysis’ is
held at the Aristotelian Society, with presentations by Charles
Taylor and A. J. Ayer.
1960 J. L. Austin dies (8 February).
xvi Chronology

1961 Merleau-Ponty presents a lecture on Wittgenstein at Manchester

The Positivismus-Streit between the ‘Frankfurt School’ and
‘Critical Rationalism’ commences at a conference held at
Tübingen by the German Society for Sociology.
Merleau-Ponty dies (3 May).
1962 First meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential
Bataille dies (8 July).
1964 Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia is published.
1965 Wittgenstein’s ‘Zu Heidegger’ is published as Waismann’s ‘Notes
on Talks with Wittgenstein’, with Wittgenstein’s sympathetic
comments on Heidegger edited out.
1967 Derrida publishes L’Ecriture et la Difference, De la Grammatologie
and La Voix et le Phénomène.
Derrida presents ‘La Différance’ at Balliol College, Oxford.
Founding of the British Society for Phenomenology (May).
1969 Publication of Der Positivismusstreit in der Deutschen Soziologie.
A series of symposia titled ‘Philosophers into Europe’
is organised at the University of Southampton by the
Royal Institute of Philosophy and the British Society for
Phenomenology (26–28 September).
1970 Russell dies (2 February).
Carnap dies (14 September).
1973 Bar-Hillel publishes ‘On Habermas’ hermeneutic philosophy
of language’ in Synthese, criticising Habermas’ conception of
speech-act theory.
1974 Wahl dies (19 June).
1976 Heidegger dies (26 May).
Ryle dies (6 October).
1977 The first two volumes of Glyph are published, including
Derrida’s ‘Signature Event Context’ and Searle’s ‘Reply to
Derrida’ in the first volume, and Derrida’s ‘Limited Inc, A b c ... ’
in the second volume.

Western academic philosophy in the twentieth century has been

responsible for producing an image of itself that haunts it to this
day. This is an image of philosophy as cut into two parts which are
separated by an unsurpassable gulf.1 Over this gulf, a limited number
of thinkers have unsuccessfully attempted to shout, their voices
plunging down into the abyss. And each failure to communicate has
widened the gulf a little more, forcing the two sides to drift further
and further apart.
This image purports to depict the divide between analytic and
continental philosophy. The idea that such a divide exists was first
conjured up following the end of the Second World War, and grad-
ually became instituted within academic philosophy during the
nineteen-sixties and -seventies. And though there are many today
who rightly seek to downplay the importance of the divide, it is
indisputable that this image of division within philosophy still func-
tions in various manners in the practical organisation of philosophy
departments, not simply in European and American universities, but
throughout the academic world.
The image of the divide itself has functioned as a barrier precluding
communication between philosophers thought to belong to either
side. Failures to engage in dialogue between various leading figures in
twentieth century philosophy have often been employed as signposts
marking the existence of barriers in communication.2 The differences
among figures who had engaged in attempts towards dialogue, such
as Frege and Husserl, Carnap and Heidegger, Sartre and Ayer, Ryle and
Merleau-Ponty, as well as Derrida and Searle, have been pointed to as

2 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

indicative of the existence of a divide. In serving as signposts of this

division, particular elements of these encounters have often been the
subject of misinterpretation and overinflation, as well as elementary
errors in scholarship in some cases. The institution of the divide was,
to a great extent, founded upon such supposedly failed attempts at
communication, which were often mistakenly considered to be prec-
edents of the divide.
The analytic-continental divide is admittedly not a dialogical affair.
The phenomenon at hand is, for the most part, thought to be char-
acterised by the silence among the parties involved. Within certain
contexts, it is the accepted norm that philosophers will proudly
refuse to read the work of their peers from the other side. Those who
try to deviate from this norm often tend to give up all too soon, and
negative verdicts are often made too easily, in passing, without much
backing by philosophical argument. As a result of this overall silence,
the few instances of attempted exchange have become surrounded
by a certain aura of significance. The usual ‘willingness not to read’
(Glendinning, 2006, p. 6) might find its justification in some factoid
(usually unconfirmed, often simply false) about a past master being
equally unwilling to read. This study revisits these past masters’
attempts to engage with each others’ thought, showing how in each
case it is inappropriate to consider these as paradigm cases of divi-
sion between two, and only two, movements in twentieth century
At the outset, one is faced with the obvious problem of defining
the two traditions at hand. The recent turn towards the study of
the history of analytic philosophy has given rise to a vivid debate
regarding what the term ‘analytic philosophy’ itself means.3 Strict
definitions (e.g. Dummett’s (1993) designation of the ‘linguistic turn’
as a necessary and sufficient criterion for philosophy to count as
analytic) have faced numerous significant objections and criticisms.4
This has led various authors towards constructing more loose defi-
nitions of analytic philosophy, for example seeing it as a combina-
tion of stylistic, methodological, topical, doctrinal, and other family
resemblances in the work of philosophers thought to be affiliated
with it.5
Despite the difficulties regarding the meta-philosophical definition
of analytic philosophy, there is broadly speaking some consensus
amongst scholars regarding the course of its historical development.
Introduction 3

This may be summed up by saying that analytic philosophy is a

twentieth-century development which goes through various phases:6
an early phase that includes Frege, Russell, and Moore, a revolutionary
phase in the anti-metaphysical tendencies of Wittgenstein and those
he influenced in Cambridge and Vienna, furthered by the revision of
this revolutionary phase on the one hand by Oxford linguistic philos-
ophers and on the other hand by various post-positivistic tenden-
cies in American philosophy.7 Subsequent approaches to philosophy,
mainly within but certainly not limited to Anglo-American academia,8
that hold family resemblances to this series of thinkers have to this
day tended to be placed under the banner of ‘analytic philosophy’,
though this designation is gradually coming to be challenged.
When it comes to defining continental philosophy, matters are
even more difficult. The title of ‘analytic philosophy’ was one which
philosophers in Britain (and later in the United States) took up as a
self-description sometime during the fifties;9 indeed, for many the
term designated a ‘revolution in philosophy’10 that they partook in.11
As both Critchley (2001, p. 5) and Glendinning (2006, p. 3) have
pointed out, this is not the case when it comes to the term ‘conti-
nental philosophy’, which presumably when practiced on the conti-
nent is philosophy simpliciter.12 The name is not a self-description, but
rather may be viewed as a side-effect of the founding of the tradition
of ‘analytic philosophy’.13 Some of the earliest statements regarding a
division between two movements in philosophy (conceived of at the
outset in national terms) were made by those who instituted the idea
of an analytic ‘revolution in philosophy’. Ryle (1971b, p. 181), as we
shall see in Chapter 4, and later R. M. Hare (1960), did not hesitate
to attribute this division to the lack of a continental equivalent of
the Oxbridge tutorial system. Though ‘continental philosophy’ may
have been intended to generalise over what analytic philosophy is
not, this is an inadequate definition since ‘non-analytic philosophy’
is not limited to continental philosophy, but also insofar as it arbi-
trarily imagines ‘continental philosophy’ to be unified. Though it is
possible that there are common themes linking various branches of
continental philosophy, it would be difficult to determine exactly
what unifies phenomenology and existentialism, hermeneutics,
the Frankfurt school, psychoanalytic theory, structuralism (and
what in America is called ‘post-structuralism’), deconstruction,
Neo-Thomism, and Neo-Kantianism.14 Indeed, engagement between
4 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

members of these schools often involves even more controversy than

one finds in the brief encounters between continental and analytic
Intriguingly, the birth of the very idea of ‘continental philosophy’
is related to the series of misunderstandings that this study discusses.
When Ryle, Ayer, and others began to assert that there exists a ‘gulf’
between their own meta-philosophical outlook and one that predom-
inates in Europe, they directed their attacks against members of the
phenomenological movement (broadly construed to include existen-
tialism). Though during the late nineteen-forties and -fifties these
movements played a central role in European intellectual trends,
there were also numerous different approaches to philosophy alive
on the continent which the analytic philosophers’ use of the term
‘continental philosophy’ did not seem to take into consideration. It
was only later, when a variety of intellectual imports from France
and Germany were placed under this banner in American and British
academia, that the problem of the unity of ‘continental philosophy’
would arise.
It might be noted here that, though the explicit idea of a divide
only arose after the Second World War, there have been various
efforts to relate this idea to earlier disagreements between philoso-
phers and movements.16 An early ancestor of the divide may be found
in the comparison by John Stuart Mill of Bentham and Coleridge’s
philosophies, where in fact we find one of the earliest uses of the
term ‘continental philosophy’.17 Mill’s diagnosis may have some-
thing to do with the subsequent rejection by Russell and Moore of
so-called ‘British Idealism’,18 which can be said to have set a prec-
edent for analytic philosophers’ hostility towards their ‘continental’
peers. The early analytic turn against idealism, however, may be seen
as part of an overall crisis that European philosophy underwent in
response to the rise of experimental psychology, rather than a specifi-
cally British battle between realism and idealism.19 The demise of
the idealist schools that prevailed in European philosophy prior to
the First World War gradually led not only to the development of
analytic philosophy but also to the rise of phenomenology and exis-
tentialism in France and Germany (as we shall see in our examination
of Heidegger’s relation to Neo-Kantianism in Chapter 2).
Though this study does relate to the complexities of defining
analytic philosophy and of untangling the meaning of the term
Introduction 5

‘continental philosophy’, I shall not here attempt to propose a solu-

tion to either problem. It is obvious that no definition of analytic
philosophy, which prima facie excludes the contributions of Frege,
Carnap, Ayer, Ryle, Austin, or Searle, would adequately explain the
phenomenon at hand. Similarly, no introduction to the phenome-
nological movement can afford to leave out such figures as Husserl,
Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, or even Derrida. It is also, however,
doubtful whether these figures are representatives of two, and only
two, mutually exclusive movements in twentieth century philosophy.
Indeed, as I shall show in what follows, the assumption of the exist-
ence of two, and only two, such movements severely limits the story
to be told regarding the encounters between these philosophers. This
assumption has often distorted the richer detailed view one sees if
one is attentive enough not to gloss over the multiple approaches to
philosophy by dividing them into two types.
In the work that follows, I closely examine five such encounters
involving primarily six prominent figures of the analytic movement in
philosophy and six thinkers aligned with the phenomenological tradi-
tion.20 In Chapter 1, I begin by discussing the correspondence between
Gottlob Frege and Edmund Husserl during the eighteen-eighties. I
consider the question of influence between Husserl and Frege (§§1–3)
and outline their different responses to the philosophical crisis posed
by the emergence of experimental psychology (§4). I examine the
so-called Psychologismus-Streit in German philosophy, pointing to
the reasons that caused Husserl’s work to become prominent in
Germanophone philosophy, while Frege’s work remained unknown
on the continent and was better received in England (§5).
In Chapter 2 (§§1–3), I begin by considering the aftermath of
the Psychologismus-Streit and in particular the rivalry between
Neo-Kantianism and Lebensphilosophie leading up to Martin
Heidegger’s dispute with Ernst Cassirer at Davos in 1929. I present
Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant and his arguments against Cassirer
(§5). I proceed (§§6–17) to examine the use by Rudolf Carnap of
sentences taken from Heidegger’s 1929 inaugural lecture at Freiburg
(titled ‘Was ist Metaphysik?’) in his 1931 article ‘Overcoming
Metaphysics through the Logical Analysis of Language’. Carnap’s
claim that Heidegger’s sentences are metaphysical nonsense is traced
back to Husserl’s theory of meaning and his differentiation between
two types of nonsense. By examining Heidegger’s arguments in
6 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

connection with his interpretation of Kant, I develop an account of

Carnap’s criticism which shows that Carnap’s philosophical claims lie
quite close to those made by Heidegger. Their respective approaches
to metaphysics are shown to be reactions to the Psychologismus-Streit
In Chapter 3, I examine A. J. Ayer’s encounter with Maurice
Merleau-Ponty and Georges Bataille in a Parisian bar in 1951. I present
Ayer’s argument against Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre as consti-
tuting the background of this meeting, and as being derived from
Carnap’s use of Heidegger outlined in Chapter 2 (§§1–3). I proceed to
examine Merleau-Ponty (§§4–6) and Bataille’s views on the question
of whether the earth existed before men, demonstrating how Sartre
had already attacked Bataille using Ayer’s critique, and how Bataille
in turn mimics Ayer in attempting to repudiate Sartre (§§7–8).
In Chapter 4, our subject becomes the colloquium titled ‘La
Philosophie Analytique’, which took place at Royaumont in 1958.
Following a brief demonstration of why the colloquium was in fact
not the failure in communication between analytic and continental
philosophers that it has been considered (§§1–2), I go on to examine
Gilbert Ryle’s presentation there, titled ‘Phenomenology vs. The
Concept of Mind’. I consider the relation between Husserl’s theory
of meaning (and particularly his conception of nonsense) and Ryle’s
interest in it (§§3–11), and present the ways in which Ryle responds
to several of Husserl’s arguments in some of his central claims (e.g.
the notion of systematically misleading expressions (§§6–7) and
category mistakes (§9)). I go on (§§12–14) to dispel several miscon-
ceptions created by the Royaumont colloquium and its misinterpre-
tation by scholars, by closely examining the dialogue among Ryle, Fr.
Herman Van Breda (§13) and Merleau-Ponty (§14) following Ryle’s
In Chapter 5, I begin by discussing Derrida’s encounter with the
Oxonians (who had been present at Royaumont) at Oxford in 1967
(§1). Tracing Derrida’s quasi-autobiographical claims regarding this
meeting, I examine several of Austin’s central concepts of speech-act
theory (§2). I proceed to elucidate Derrida’s uses of Austin’s argu-
ments in his later dispute with John Searle; in particular, I attempt to
show how Derrida introduces the work of Austin in his discussion in
response to Husserl’s conception of nonsense (§3). I examine Searle’s
argument against Derrida’s interpretation of Austin (§4); I then
Introduction 7

proceed to show that the controversy is misconstrued as an exchange

between analytic and continental philosophy (§5). I conclude the
chapter by indicating the importance of acknowledging a shift in
the meaning of the terms ‘analytic’ and ‘continental philosophy’
between this and their prior uses (§§5–6).
It must be noted that the choice of telling the story of the encounter
of analytic philosophers with phenomenologists21 excludes various
aspects of a more general story to be told regarding encounters
between ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophers. For example,
another volume could be devoted to exchanges between analytic
philosophers and critical theorists (of the Frankfurt Institute for Social
Research). This long series of encounters may be seen to run parallel
to our study: its roots could be found in the so-called Methodenstreit
among economists of the late nineteenth century; the series may
start with Otto Neurath’s polemical dispute with Max Horkheimer;22
it continues with the so-called Positivismusstreit;23 followed by
Bar-Hillel’s critique of Habermas’ use of speech-act theory;24 the latest
dispute in the series may be seen as that between John Rawls and
Jürgen Habermas on the question of justice.25
There are also a number of other miscellaneous encounters which
go beyond the scope of our enquiry.26 There is, for example, Bertrand
Russell’s very harsh criticism of Bergson.27 Michel Foucault’s tele-
vised dispute with Noam Chomsky presents an interesting case of
exchange (one could even see it as non-polemical) between the two
traditions, possibly because neither Foucault nor Chomsky fall neatly
under the banner of ‘continental’ and ‘analytic’ philosophy.28 Nearer
to the present, the aftermath of the Sokal affair may be considered to
be linked to the lack of communication between the more humanis-
tically minded continentals and the scientistic analysts;29 this is, of
course, no more than a badly painted caricature.
Frege, Husserl and the Future of

1. Psychologismus-Streit

The last decades of the nineteenth century brought with them excite-
ment and turbulence in academic enquiry. A number of radically new
ideas were emerging at the time, many of which would bring about
new ways of doing science, of organising the university, and ulti-
mately, in many cases, of perceiving the world. This revolutionary
period would result in the formation of the academic discipline of
psychology and the development of modern logic, among numerous
other innovations.
The various revolutions in the making are reflected in the fierce
disputes that concurrently arose across a number of disciplines of
knowledge at the time. The simultaneous enactment of these disputes
may be seen as part of a process through which these groundbreaking
innovations were received by academia and gradually became incor-
porated into academic discourse. In many cases, the radical reactions
which are to be found in these disputes failed decisively to bring about
any academic consensus on the subjects in question. It is interesting
to observe how in some of these disputes the commonly prevailing
view did not come to be accepted by the disputants through the
convincing arguments of those that defended it, but rather was
dissolved through various other means.
Our primary concern in this chapter is with the dispute which
emerged at the end of the nineteenth century over the demarca-
tion of psychology from philosophy, known in the Germanophone
world as the Psychologismus-Streit (Psychologism-dispute). The origins

Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 9

of this dispute may be traced back to the creation of the academic

discipline of psychology. Its corner-stone was laid in Leipzig in 1879,
when Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory for experimental
psychology.1 This first step in distinguishing between a particular
type of empirical, experimental research in psychology and its origins
in ‘armchair’ philosophy was gradually to lead to a crisis in the world
of Germanophone philosophy.
As the name Psychologismus-Streit suggests, the philosophical
problem under dispute is the question over ‘psychologism’, which is
roughly speaking the view that some prima facie non-psychological
phenomenon (e.g. the rules of logic) is explainable in terms of psycho-
logical facts. Confusingly, as Kusch (1995) has shown, ‘psychologism’
was a term coined by its attackers, i.e. the defenders of so-called
‘anti-psychologism’, as a kind of derogatory term for an erroneous
set of beliefs in philosophy.2 The term ‘psychologism’ was primarily
weighed as an accusation against those who were suspected to have
(wittingly or not) held it. In particular, it was applied against anyone
who was suspected of upholding views that had as their consequence
the reduction of some aspect of philosophy to facts about human
psychology.3 This term during the dispute was very often used in the
discussion of the status of logical and mathematical laws, though it
has since been applied to a variety of other fields.4
Arguably, the Psychologismus-Streit involved the reclaiming of ‘pure’
philosophy’s proper task in the face of the newly founded empirical
psychology. Thus, the institutional aspect of the dispute revolved
around questions such as the increasing employment of experi-
mental psychologists in philosophy departments. Yet, what was, at
the time, primarily an institutional matter of demarcating empirical
psychology from ‘pure’ philosophy found expression in the form of
a philosophical problem focused around the defence of, and attack
against, some particular thesis which the name of psychologism was
supposed to designate. The two aspects of the Psychologismus-Streit,
the contingent historical facts about institutional academic politics
and the more abstract philosophical questions about ‘psycholo-
gism’, are in this case so closely interlinked that it is difficult fully to
appreciate the latter without having recourse to the former. That is
not to say that the philosophical aspect of the dispute is explicable
only as an irrationally-driven power struggle between contending
professors: the squabble over philosophical chairs is also a struggle
10 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

for the demarcation of one discipline from another, achievable only

through theoretical rigour. In other words, it is not only the philo-
sophical aspect that is caused by the institutional one, but also vice
In a sense, the demarcation of psychology from philosophy as an
answer to the philosophical problem of psychologism was to be the
cause of philosophy’s crisis. This effectively consisted in a call for
philosophy to redefine its purpose, not only in terms of the telos of
its theoretical enquiries, but also with respect to its instrumentality
in relation to academia. If philosophy was not to be psychologistic
(which at the time carried with it the risk of being taken over by
the empirical psychologists and their research programmes), it had to
redefine its inquiry as research into a field irreducible to psychology.
Psychology could claim a vast territory which had traditionally
been considered philosophical ground. ‘Pure’ philosophy would be
required to construct its acropolis, the standpoint to which it would
fall back in defending its grounds.
The academic crisis which the Psychologismus-Streit brought about
is clearly visible in some of its effects. Its upshot is exemplified by a
petition,5 written by Edmund Husserl, Paul Natorp, Heinrich Rickert,
Wilhelm Windelband, Alois Riehl,6 and Rudolf Eucken and signed in
1913 by a Professors’ Union (Professorengewerkschaft) of 107 philoso-
phers7 demanding that the ministries of culture of Germany, Austria,
and Switzerland no longer allow experimental psychologists to take
up chairs in philosophy departments:

The working area of experimental psychology has increased to

such an extent with the highly gratifying advance of this disci-
pline, that it has long been recognised as an independent field
which demands the full energy of a scholar. Nonetheless, inde-
pendent chairs have not been created for it: instead, professorships
of philosophy have been filled with men whose activity is to a
great extent or exclusively dedicated to the experimental inves-
tigation of mental life. ... this situation has resulted in inconven-
iences for all concerned. Especially philosophy, for which interest
among students is steadily growing, is severely damaged by the
removal of chairs dedicated to her alone. This becomes all the
more disquieting since the working area of philosophy is steadily
growing larger, and since students should not be deprived of the
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 11

opportunity to obtain systematic direction from their professors

as well as about general questions of worldview and philosophy of
life, especially in these philosophically troubled times. (Quoted in
Kusch, 1995, pp. 191–192)

The ‘philosophically troubled times’ of 1913 were soon to turn into

the politically troubled times of the First World War. Kusch’s (1995)
unique research into the subject has shown that the beginning of the
war signified the end of the Psychologismus-Streit.8 In other words,
rather than a philosophical solution to the problem of psychologism
(or even an institutional solution to the crisis given from within the
bounds of the university), the causes of the end of the dispute were
contingent and historical. The war had brought about the view that
differences and disputes among Germans were treacherous, a view
which was also embraced by academia. Thus, abandoning their
prior struggles over philosophical matters, philosophers discovered
a new and different way of answering the institutional crisis which
the establishment of psychology as a discipline had led philosophers
into: philosophy was, for a short while, to become the handmaiden
of the German nation at war, praising German militarism, defending
racism, and attempting to demonstrate the spiritual superiority of
German culture (including philosophy) over the mere civilisations of
France and Britain.9

2. Husserl and Frege, the grandfathers

There are two protagonistic figures behind the dispute over psychol-
ogism: Edmund Husserl and Gottlob Frege. The former was a
Moravian mathematician and philosopher, whose work became the
focal point of the dispute by instantiating the exemplary source for
the anti-psychologistic thesis in the early years of the dispute. The
latter was a mathematician, logician, and philosopher from Wismar,
famous for founding modern logic, whose work, in contrast to that
of Husserl, lurked in the shadow of the Psychologismus-Streit. Their
encounter remains to this day enigmatic and riddled with ques-
tions which are possibly as excitingly puzzling now as they were at
the end of the nineteenth century. The deep influence of both on
subsequent philosophy is immense, wide-ranging, and difficult to
12 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Husserl and Frege are considered by many of their commentators10

to have produced work which is at the root of the two most promi-
nent traditions in twentieth century philosophy. On the one hand,
Frege, whose innovations were primarily in the realm of logic, is
regarded by some to have been ‘the grandfather of analytical philos-
ophy’ (Dummett, 1993, p. 14). On the other hand, Husserl, whose
work gave rise to ‘phenomenology’, is sometimes said to have been
one of the founders of ‘continental’ philosophy. Thus, for example,
in his groundbreaking book on the relation between Husserl and
Frege’s thought, Michael Dummett claims that

Frege was the grandfather of analytical philosophy, Husserl the

founder of the phenomenological school, two radically different
philosophical movements. In 1903, say, how would they have
appeared to any German student of philosophy who knew the work
of both? Not, certainly, as two deeply opposed thinkers: rather as
remarkably close in orientation, despite some divergence of inter-
ests. They may be compared with the Rhine and the Danube,
which rise quite close to one another and for a time pursue roughly
parallel courses, only to diverge in utterly different directions and
flow into different seas. Why, then, did this happen? What small
ingredient in the thought of each was eventually magnified into
so great an effect? (1993, p. 26)

There is something right, and at the same time something mistaken,

about the question which Dummett raises regarding the origins of
this divergence in direction between two ‘radically different philo-
sophical movements’. Leaving aside, for now, the question of the
plausibility of such a ‘radical’ distinction and assuming, for the sake
of argument, that some form of differentiation between ‘movements’
is not prima facie absurd, there appears to be something intriguing in
searching for the origins of the distinction in the relation between
Frege and Husserl’s thought.
What Dummett is mistaken about is the type of relation that
might hold between the divergence of these two movements and the
encounter between Frege and Husserl. According to Dummett, it is the
magnification of some ‘small ingredient’ in the thought of Frege and
Husserl that gave rise to a radical divide between two philosophical
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 13

movements. In other words, Dummett attributes the subsequent

divergence between philosophical movements (with Dummett here
assuming that this same divergence is a philosophical one, i.e. one
reducible to doctrinal, methodological, or other such disagreement)
to some purely philosophical ‘ingredient’, some small diaphony in
the greater symphony of opinion between the two thinkers. In fact,
Dummett points to the fact that Frege’s thought leads toward some-
thing which he calls ‘the linguistic turn’, that paradigm shift which
led philosophers to focus on the study of language (and thus to the
thesis of the priority of questions of meaning over questions of truth).
Husserl’s thought, by contrast, is seen by Dummett not to necessi-
tate the ‘linguistic turn’ because Husserl does not limit his theory of
meaning to language, as Frege does.11
Here, Dummett seems to confuse the purely philosophical aspect
of his study with a historical aspect which does not follow from the
philosophical one. Even if one were to accept the claim that Husserl’s
theory of meaning is more general than the specifically linguistic one
proposed by Frege, it would not necessarily follow that Husserlian
philosophy is simply cut off from the linguistic turn. Similarly, Frege’s
philosophy taken out of its historical context does not have as its
necessary consequence the production of some ‘linguistic turn’. In
other words, that Frege’s philosophy influenced the people it did and
thus resulted in the ‘linguistic turn’, while the influence of Husserl’s
philosophy failed to intermingle with this ‘linguistic turn’, are both
contingent, historical factors rather than metaphysical necessities
which follow from some ‘small ingredient in the thought of each’
The function of such an approach is also to select, out of a multi-
tude of ‘currents’ in German thought, two and only two sources for
the subsequent development of most of twentieth century philos-
ophy. What is correct about such a selection is that, if two (and only
two) thinkers had to be held responsible for a century of philosophy,
then the choice of Husserl and Frege perhaps has the most explana-
tory power (though some might wonder whether Russell and Moore,
who were also quite close to Husserl, might not have a better claim to
the grandparenthood of analytic philosophy).12 Yet, in order to make
the choice of Husserl and Frege in explaining their subsequently
immense influence, one must also take a look at the context in which
14 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

they were working, since it is that context (as has been intimated
above) which enabled both Husserl and Frege to produce work that
was bound to become influential.

3. The question of influence

The context mentioned above is easy to name and is shared by both

thinkers. Both Husserl and Frege grandfathered the future of philos-
ophy because for both, the future of philosophy was precisely part
of the problem which they had attempted to solve. In order to make
the above statement clear, we need here to return to the aforemen-
tioned Psychologismus-Streit and see how it enters into the picture of
the Husserl-Frege encounter.
The common element which brings together Husserl and Frege’s
thought is their attempt to refute psychologism. Of course, this was
not the case at the outset for both thinkers. Unlike Frege, Husserl had
begun his career working in psychology with one of the key propo-
nents of psychologism at the time, Franz Brentano. Husserl inherited
from Brentano a psychologistic philosophy of mathematics, which he
had attempted to apply in his philosophical analysis of the concept of
number, as it is developed in his Philosophie der Arithmetik (1891b). In
this work, Husserl attempted that task which he would later become
famous for refuting, namely the task of giving arithmetic a founda-
tion in psychology.
How, then, did it come about that Husserl’s initial work, the task of
which was to give a psychologistic foundation for arithmetic, led to
his subsequent radical critique of psychologism? This has become one
of the central historical questions regarding the Frege-Husserl rela-
tion.13 The question for Husserl and Frege scholars has been whether
it was in fact Frege who had caused Husserl to take this radical turn or
whether Husserl had independently come to change his views prior
to Frege’s interjection. The issue was first raised by Rudolf Carnap
in his 1950 Logical Foundations of Probability (p. 40) and was further
argued for in Dagfin Føllesdal’s 1958 doctoral dissertation Husserl und
Frege (supervised by W.V.O. Quine). According to the Carnap-Føllesdal
view, Husserl’s turn away from psychologism towards its critique was
caused by a critical review of the Philosophie der Arithmetik, in which
Frege (1894) vehemently attacks Husserl’s psychologistic theses and
in which one may find the most sharpened attack Frege ever made
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 15

against psychologism, an attack which Robert Solomon goes as far as

to term ‘traumatic’ (1976, p. 34) for Husserl:

In reading this work I was able to gauge the devastation caused by

the influx of psychology into logic; and I have here made it my task
to present this damage in a clear light. The mistakes which I thought
it my duty to show reflect less upon the author than they are a result
of a widespread philosophical disease. (Frege, 1972, p. 337)

Aside from being a criticism of Husserl’s psychologism, a large part

of Frege’s review is a reply to Husserl’s criticisms of some of his own
views in Grundlagen der Arithmetic (1884), specifically various views
on definition and on particular definitions. Husserl, who had used
Frege’s Grundlagen in his work,14 wrote to Frege, sending him his
book and various articles, including a review of Schröder’s Lectures on
Algebra (1891a). It is interesting to note here that there is no mention,
within the Husserl-Frege correspondence (Frege, 1980a, pp. 61–71),
of Frege’s critical views against Husserl’s psychologism. Rather, Frege
promises that he will attempt to reply to Husserl’s objection at some
future time (1980a, p. 63), which perhaps resulted in his publication
of the review.
Contradicting the Carnap-Føllesdal view that it is Frege’s review
that effected Husserl’s turn against psychologism, Jitendra Nath
Mohanty has claimed that Husserl had already made the turn prior
to its publication in 1884:

the basic change in Husserl’s mode of thinking which by itself

could have led to the Prolegomena conception of pure logic had
already taken place by 1891. This change may be discerned in
Husserl’s review of Schröder’s Vorlesungen über die Algebra der
Logik. It also underlies the program of Inhaltslogik worked out in
‘Der Folgerungskalkül und die Inhaltslogik’ of the same year. If
pure logic is defined in the Prolegomena in terms of the concept
of ideal objective meanings, then the 1891 review of Schröder’s
work already contains this concept. If the major burden of Frege’s
1894 review of the Philosophie der Arithmetik is the lack of distinc-
tion, in that work, between the subjective and the objective,
between Vorstellung and Begriff and between both and the object,
then Husserl already had come to distinguish between Vorstellung,
16 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

meaning, and object in his 1891 review. If this be so, then another
historical judgment – connected with the above – needs to be
revised. It has been held by many that Husserl’s distinction, in the
Logische Untersuchungen, between meaning and object of an expres-
sion is Fregean in origin. Thus, for example, Hubert Dreyfus writes:
‘Husserl simply accepted and applied Frege’s distinctions ... The
only change Husserl made in Frege’s analysis was terminological.’
Now, if Husserl’s review of Schröder already contains that distinc-
tion, then it surely antedates the publication of Frege’s celebrated
paper ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung’ of 1892, and Husserl must have
arrived at it independently of Frege. (Mohanty, 1982, p. 2)

What Mohanty does not clarify in this passage is the fact that Husserl
had mailed a copy of his review of Schröder to Frege. In other words,
if Mohanty is indeed right in arguing that Husserl had come to reject
psychologism prior to Frege’s review of his work, then it might not
be unlikely that Husserl’s review of Schröder inspired Frege both in
his later formulation of the rejection of psychologism,15 and in his
famous distinction between Sinn (sense, meaning) and Bedeutung
(reference, denotation),16 written soon after his correspondence with
Husserl. Frege writes to Husserl saying that ‘your notice of Schröder’s
work ... has prompted me to write down my own thoughts now’
(1980a, p. 61). A large part of Frege’s letter consists in clarifying his
views on the difference between Sinn and Bedeutung and showing
how his account contrasts with that Husserl gives in his review. In
other words, it is in response to Husserl’s writings on the subject that
Frege was prompted to write down his own views.17

4. Contra psychologismus

Whether it was under the influence of Frege’s thorough criticism or

independently of it, what matters for us here is that Husserl did in
fact come to become aligned with Frege’s position against the rele-
vance of empirically discoverable psychological facts to the founda-
tion of arithmetic. Husserl abandoned the position he had upheld
in the first (and only) volume of his Philosophie der Arithmetik, thus
turning away from his previous research interests in mathematics,
and towards a research programme that delved into the roots of his
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 17

previous faults by looking at the foundations of logic and episte-

mology. Husserl therefore did not proceed with the publication of the
projected second volume of his Philosophie der Arithmetik, and rather
went on to respond critically to various versions of psychologistic
logic and formalist views of mathematics. This path would eventu-
ally lead to his formulation of a thorough criticism of what he named
‘psychologism’ in the Prolegomena to his Logische Untersuchungen,
published in 1900.18
The publication of this volume initiated the Psychologismus-Streit,
which was, to a great extent, formed by the responses of the various
Germanophone philosophers of the time to the arguments against
psychologism that Husserl had formulated in 1900. The Prolegomena
to the Logische Untersuchungen became the primary text in the
Psychologismus-Streit, insofar as the text was taken as definitive both
by those for and those against the various psychologistic positions
that Husserl’s arguments may have touched on.
Contrary to the widespread dissemination of Husserl’s views on
the subject, Frege’s arguments against the psychological founda-
tion of arithmetic were given little attention in his contempo-
rary German-speaking world. In fact, Frege’s anti-psychologistic
work, despite the fact that it touched on a dispute so central to the
Germanophone philosophy of its time, remained out of the debate
throughout the Psychologismus-Streit.
But Husserl and Frege were arguing for very closely related views.
The work of both thinkers may be seen to have been guided by a
concern for the same problems which constituted the crisis of philos-
ophy in the fin-de-siècle (predominantly German-speaking) world of
academia. There are, therefore, two closely linked issues arising from
On the one hand, there is the task of evaluating the theoretical merits
of each thinker’s response to their shared problems and concerns. The
general outlooks of both thinkers lie ‘quite close’. Thus, the histor-
ical hypothesis (the Carnap-Føllesdal thesis) of Frege’s influence on
Husserl’s turn against psychologism had led various commentators
towards an exegetical approach to Husserl that assumed a philo-
sophical convergence between the two thinkers.19 Yet, the assump-
tion of influence has been abandoned by various commentators (e.g.
Mohanty, Rosado Haddock, and Hill). Thus, the divergence between
18 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Frege and Husserl’s theories of meaning became apparent, leading

to an inquiry into their differences, for example of the relationship
between Frege’s concept of sense (Sinn) and Husserl’s concept of
noema.20 At a detailed level of exegesis and analysis, this divergence
is apparent, e.g. in terms of their terminological differences,21 their
argumentative variations on the theme of anti-psychologism, and
ultimately the meta-philosophical theses that may be derived from
their work.
On the other hand, there is the question of deciphering what deter-
mined the extent of each thinker’s influence on their contemporaries.
This task would include the development of an understanding of the
historical forces at work, which may explain why it was that Husserl’s
work took such a central role in the Psychologismus-Streit while at the
same time Frege’s work, dealing with the same issues that Husserl’s
work undertook and providing answers along similar lines, was
ignored by Germanophone academia. Primarily in response to this
question (though not without at least some attention to the preceding
one), I shall proceed here to outline both Frege and Husserl’s attacks
on psychologism in order to examine these quite different fates of the
two philosophers’ doctrines.

a) Frege’s critique of ‘psychological logic’

Husserl had been lucky enough to have changed his mind about
psychologism before commencing on the project of writing a second
volume to Philosophie der Arithmetik. Frege’s thought, on the other
hand, was plagued by bad timing.22 The story of Frege’s unfortunate
discovery of the shortcomings of his project of laying the ground-
work for arithmetic in logic is one that is familiar to all who have
studied Frege. In the summer of 1902, while the printing of the
second volume of his Grundgesetze der Arithmetik was underway, Frege
received a letter from Bertrand Russell, showing Frege’s conception of
the foundations of mathematics to have been flawed. Frege’s shock at
this is expressed in his response to Russell’s letter:

Your discovery of the contradiction has surprised me beyond words

and, I should almost like to say, left me thunderstruck, because
it has rocked the ground on which I mean to build arithmetic.
(1997, p. 254)
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 19

Frege stopped the printing of his book to write an appendix, in an

attempt to resolve Russell’s paradox, which ultimately proved fruit-
less, as did all his subsequent attempts at this.
The ‘ground’ which Russell had ‘rocked’ was one with which Frege’s
objection to the position of psychologism was firmly intertwined.
Frege’s position against psychologism is part of his overall project
of logicism. Logicism is the attempt to provide a logical grounding
for arithmetic, a project which had led Frege to some of the most
important innovations in modern philosophy, such as the creation
of modern logic.
1879 was not only the year in which Wundt had inaugurated the
modern discipline of psychology by establishing the first laboratory
for experimental psychology; it was also the year in which Gottlob
Frege inaugurated modern logic by publishing his Begriffsschrift. In
this text, Frege proposed a new Logistik, a non-Aristotelian logic of
propositions. Although non-Aristotelian propositional logic had
originally been developed by the ancient Stoics, Aristotelian syllo-
gistic logic had come to be the orthodoxy for two thousand years of
Western philosophy.23
Frege’s revolution in logic ultimately consisted in his introduction
of the notion of quantification to his propositional calculus. Thus,
the concept of ‘something’, ‘everything’, and ‘nothing’ became, due
to Frege, logical terms which could be symbolically expressed within
the propositional calculus.24 The implications of this innovation
were immensely significant for the development of philosophy in
the twentieth century. Yet, for Frege, the immediate goal which came
into view with the introduction of quantification into logic was the
emergence of the possible reduction of arithmetic to logic. The moti-
vation behind his development of non-Aristotelian logic was, in fact,
the utility of such a logic to the philosophy of mathematics.
In this way, Frege attempted, in his many writings following his
Begriffsschrift, to realise his logicist project by reducing arithmetic to
the newly founded work in set theory and, ultimately, to logic. One
of the consequent tasks which his logicist thesis imposed on him was
an attempt to demonstrate the implausibility of psychologism.
Frege’s anti-psychologism is derived from his logicist thesis devel-
oped first in the 1884 Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik, in which he holds
that arithmetic can be composed neither of synthetic a priori truths,
20 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

as Kant had held, nor of a posteriori and empirically discernible facts,

the way in which Mill had seen the nature of truths in arithmetic.
Rather, according to Frege, arithmetic must be both analytic and a

the laws of arithmetic are analytic judgements and consequently

a priori. Arithmetic thus becomes simply a development of logic,
and every proposition of arithmetic a law of logic, albeit a deriva-
tive one. (1980b, p. 99)

Logicism thus implies the critique of something like psychologism

(Frege does not, in fact, talk of ‘psychologism’, a term which only
came into prominence with Husserl’s use of it in his Prolegomena), i.e.
in this case, the view that the truths of arithmetic may be a posteriori
and thus discoverable by some form of empirical inquiry into the
workings of the human mind.
It is within this context of proving the irreducibility of arithmetic
to empirically discoverable a posteriori psychological facts that Frege
differentiates between ideas in one’s mind (Vorstellungen) and objec-
tive thoughts (Gedanken).25 Frege coins the particular technical use
of the term Vorstellung to mean simply the psychological presenta-
tion of a thought in some mind. This contrasts with something that
Frege finds to be regrettably confused in our ordinary usage of the
term ‘idea’ to mean both something that is present in one’s mind
and something which has a logical structure (and may eventually
be shown to be either true or false). According to Frege, thoughts
are mind-independent Platonic entities which exist in the form of
concepts, regardless of their individual psychological presentations
as ideas present in some mind. There is, according to Frege, a ‘third
realm’,26 separable from the external world or the world of ideas, in
which the sense (Sinn) (in contrast with the denotation (Bedeutung))
of a thought resides:

A third realm must be recognised. Anything belonging to this

realm has it in common with ideas that it cannot be perceived by
the senses, but has it in common with things that it does not need
an owner so as to belong to the contents of his consciousness.
(1997, p. 337)
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 21

What is implied by the demarcation of this ‘third realm’ is the outline

of the task of philosophical logic as an inquiry into the mecha-
nism according to which this objective world of thought operates.
These mechanisms are independent and prior to the empirically
discernible operations of minds, which psychology may investigate.
Consequently, Platonism provides a way of limiting the realm which
psychology may study from the realm of the new logic, a discipline
which may describe the workings of thought.

b) Husserl’s formulation of anti-psychologism

Like Frege, Husserl attempts to provide a means through which the
domain of psychology may be limited. Husserl’s account, contrary
to that given by Frege, is more self-aware of the future of philosophy
which it prescribes. Whereas Frege is determined to give a demarca-
tion of that which pertains to psychology from a ‘third realm’ which
can be described only through logic, Husserl’s demarcation of the
limits of psychology is one which is concerned primarily with giving
an account of the nature of logic.
An account of the historical development in the use of the term
‘logic’ during the late nineteenth century serves to clarify the context
for Husserl’s work.27 At this time, the term ‘logic’ had been used to
denote a large area of the philosophy of logic, a debate over the
nature of logic (rather than any technical discourse over the content
of logic, which was considered to have been given since Aristotle).
Frege’s technical innovations in logic were perceived by his contem-
poraries to have belonged to a field called Logistik,28 practiced by
mathematicians rather than philosophers and dealing with partic-
ular issues relevant to the content of logic rather than its nature.29
It would take decades for the influence of Frege’s discoveries to
allow for the emergence of a disciplinary study of the content of
logic using modern techniques to take place under the name of logic
(rather than Logistik).
This should be clear to Husserl’s readers, since his Prolegomena
begins by quoting John Stuart Mill on how controversial the defini-
tion of logic has been (2001, p. 11). When Husserl gives his book
the title Logical Investigations, the subject under investigation is to be
understood not as some particular technical aspect of the content of
logic (such as the question of quantification which we have already
22 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

seen Frege introduce) but rather the nature of logic.30 Husserl thus
broadly defines logic as a Wissenschaftslehre,31 a unified theory of the
various separate sciences, which is a normative discipline32 and, by
extension, a ‘technology’ (i.e. an examination of the principles of an
art, a technē).33

Logic seeks to search into what pertains to genuine, valid science

as such, what constitutes the Idea of Science, so as to be able to
use the latter to measure the empirically given sciences as to their
agreement with their Idea, the degree to which they approach it,
and where they offend against it. In this logic shows itself to be a
normative science[.] ... it establishes general propositions in which,
with an eye to a normative standard, an Idea or highest goal, certain
features are mentioned whose possession guarantees conformity
to that standard, or sets forth an indispensable condition of the
latter. A normative science also establishes cognate propositions
in which the case of non-conformity is considered or the absence
of such states of affairs is pronounced. ... a normative discipline
never sets forth universal criteria, any more than a therapy states
universal symptoms. Special criteria are what the theory of science
particularly gives us, and what it alone can give us. ... If the theory
of science sets itself the further task of investigating such condi-
tions as are subject to our power, on which the realization of valid
methods depends, and if it draws up rules for our procedure in the
methodical tracking down of truth, in the valid demarcation and
construction of the sciences, in the discovery and use, in partic-
ular, of the many methods that advance such sciences, and in the
avoidance of errors in all of these concerns, then it has become a
technology of science. (2001, pp. 20–21)

By defining logic in this way, Husserl aims at overthrowing both

certain anti-psychologistic accounts which conceive of it as ‘a theo-
retical discipline, formal and demonstrative, and independent of
psychology’, and more importantly, those accounts of logic as ‘a
technology dependent on psychology’ (p. 13). If logic is a norma-
tive discipline, then it must, according to Husserl, be founded on
some other theoretical discipline, ‘inasmuch as its rules must have
a theoretical content separable from the notion of normativity (of
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 23

the “shall” or “should”), whose scientific investigation is the duty of

these theoretical disciplines’ (p. 23).
This point is stressed by Husserl, who says that it is ‘of decisive impor-
tance’ (p. 23) to his project of founding this new Wissenschaftslehre.
This ‘pure logic’ would be divorced from all aspects of psychology.
It would come to study those terms which logic ordinarily studies,
‘logical terms such as “presentation”, “concept”, “judgement”, “syllo-
gism”, “proof”, “theory”, “necessity”, “truth” etc’ (p. 58), terms which
may be deemed by the proponent of psychologism as mental acts.
Yet, ‘pure logic’ would study these terms not as mental acts (which
is the way in which psychology may study them) but as something
which Husserl calls ‘ideal singulars, genuine species’ (p. 59). What
this means is that, for example, a singular, particular truth is a species
of the genus of ideal truth, an ideal genus which does not correspond
to any mental experience or disposition. To study ‘truth’ as a logical
term is to study some truth as a species of an ideal genus of truth; and
similarly for all logical terms.
In a Kantian sense, pure logic is the study of ‘the ideal conditions
of the possibility of science or of theory in general’ (p. 74). Husserl
sets out three clearly demarcated tasks for this new pure logic. Its
first task is that of clarifying ‘the pure categories of meaning, the
pure categories of objects and their law governed combinations’ (p.
78). In other words, it is the attempt to clarify ‘scientifically’ (p. 78)
those ‘concepts which “make possible” the interconnected web of
knowledge as seen objectively, and particularly the web of theory’
(p. 78), i.e. concepts which allow for unity in science to emerge.
There are two kinds of concepts which Husserl has in mind here:
(a) concepts which fall under what he calls categories of meaning,
i.e. ‘primitive’ concepts (e.g. concept, proposition, truth) together
with ‘elementary connective forms’ (e.g. conjunction, disjunc-
tion), and (b) concepts which fall under categories of objects (e.g.
object, state of affairs, unity, plurality).34 This ‘scientific’ clarifica-
tion is undertaken through what Husserl calls an enquiry into the
‘phenomenological origin’ of concepts, an ‘insight into the essence of
the concepts involved’ (p. 79). It is the primary task, therefore, of
the new Wissenschaftslehre, of the new logic, to clarify the essence,
to ti ēn einai (that which it was for it to be),35 of the central unifying
concepts of science.
24 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

The second task which Husserl gives to logic is that of explaining

‘the laws and theories which have their grounds in these categories’
(p. 79). In other words, logic is to seek out the laws which govern the
operations on the one hand of categories of meaning, i.e. to provide
a theory of meaning36 (which is, in turn, to take account of the laws
which govern the possible combinations of concepts within catego-
ries of meaning), and on the other hand of categories of objects, i.e.
to provide a theory of numbers, a theory of multitudes, etc. Thus,
ultimately, concerning categories of meaning, this second task is to
provide a theory of truth and falsity, and concerning categories of
objects, it is to provide a theory of ‘being and non-being’ (p. 79).
Finally, the third task which a theory of science must undertake is
that of providing a ‘theory of the possible forms of theories’ (p. 80),
i.e. the investigation of the possibility of particular species of theory
forms, such as the theory of manifolds in mathematics.
It is, of course, the first task of ‘pure logic’ as a phenomenology of
the fundamental concepts of science which Husserl was to become
widely known for, and which he would spend the remainder of his
career as a philosopher attempting to ‘introduce’. This ‘pure logic’,
as a kind of enquiry into the phenomenological origins of science, is
Husserl’s answer to the question of psychologism. It is also the spark
that set fire to the Psychologismus-Streit.

5. The crisis and its aftermath

Following the publication of Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen in 1900,

most of the Germanophone philosophical world was busy producing
criticisms of Husserl. Husserl’s Prolegomena became the Ur-Text of
German-speaking philosophy between 1900 and 1914. Almost every
German philosopher, both those who were for and those who were
against psychologism, found some fault with Husserl’s position. For
some, it had even been found guilty of the psychologism which it
The reactions to Husserl’s Prolegomena showed who was with whom
in German philosophy at the time. It clearly spelled out the formation
of ‘schools’ of thought within the Germanophone context, which
would remain, to a great extent, marked on the map of philosophical
‘isms’ for the most of the first half of the twentieth century.38 In many
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 25

cases, the objections they posed to Husserl’s text were indicative of

the fundamental problems each ‘side’ dealt with.
Thus, for example, the ‘Southern’ Neo-Kantians (Windelband,
Rickert, Kroner)39 found fault with Husserl’s use of the distinction
between facts and values.40 The founder of the Vienna Circle, Mortiz
Schlick, took up issue with Husserl’s account of the intuition of
essences (which Schlick construes as different from other empirical
intuitions, while Husserl complains that Schlick misunderstood
him)41 and found fault with Husserl’s account of ideal ‘self-evidence’
(1985, p. 141) as occurring in ‘adequate perception’ (p. 153).42
‘Marburg’ Neo-Kantianism (represented by Paul Natorp) took issue
with Husserl’s distinction between real and ideal laws.43 And these are
only a few examples of the multiplicity of approaches to objecting to
Husserl, which continued uninterrupted for fourteen years until the
outbreak of the war.44
It is intriguing to see that the multiplicity of voices in this dispute
was, in its majority, directed against Husserl; almost none of the
authors of the time make any mention of Frege’s work (with the
major exception being Husserl himself, who mentions Frege twice
in his Logische Untersuchungen).45 It is obvious that Husserl’s text
had brought him to the centre of philosophy’s attention, whereas
a similar line of argumentation made years earlier by Frege was to
remain in obscurity. Nonetheless, it is notable that it was none other
than Husserl’s own disciple, Heidegger, who had in 1912 accused
Husserl of simply repeating an anti-psychologistic view which had
been put forth by Frege.46
In fact, Frege’s impact on Germanophone academia was so
minimal that he could not even find a publisher for his seminal text
Grundgesetze der Arithmetik, in which he first made the arguments for
a normative account of logic of a kind similar to those later made by
Husserl. Notoriously, Frege was forced to publish the second volume of
his book at his own expense. The founder of modern logic thus went
unnoticed by his contemporaries, as did the revolutionary nature of
his work.47 This was largely because Frege held an academic position
at the University of Jena, a relatively impoverished institution.48
As a mathematician, Frege produced work that was perhaps too
technical for his philosophical contemporaries, whose conception
of logic had been very different from today’s understanding of the
26 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

subject. In fact, a number of philosophers (e.g. Husserl, Natorp,

Rickert, Heidegger) had been concerned with the matter of distin-
guishing between philosophical logic and mathematical Logistik,
which had mostly been considered a technical subject inferior to the
grand theoretical tasks of philosophical logic.
Frege’s work was better received outside of Germanophone academia.
In Britain, where a similar logicist project was also underway by
Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead,49 Frege’s revolutionary
work was imported into a British context.50 Despite the devastating
effect of Russell’s paradox on Frege’s project (and on his personal
life),51 Frege owes to Russell (and his student Ludwig Wittgenstein) his
current fame. Russell uniquely combined his interest in the founda-
tions of mathematics with the philosophical insight that was neces-
sary for him to perceive the implications of Frege’s work, and was
thus one of the few of his contemporaries qualified to understand the
depth and breadth of Frege’s revolutionary achievements.52 Russell’s
references to Frege’s work turned a number of young philosophers in
Britain to these innovations in logic. Wittgenstein also refers to Frege’s
work in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.53 A younger generation
of Germanophone philosophers, those associated with the Vienna
Circle, were to be inspired by Frege’s work through its dissemination
by his student Rudolf Carnap.
Thus, a number of factors precluded Frege’s revolution in logic
from becoming a source for the Psychologismus-Streit. In contrast with
Frege’s philosophical isolation, Husserl’s work was, for a number of
reasons, ripe to be brought into the centre of the controversy (with its
ripeness being supplemented by an aptness of timing which allowed
for Husserl to touch upon his contemporary Zeitgeist). Husserl’s work
clearly demonstrated a number of elements which were crucial for
its reception by his contemporaries. The turn against psychologism
which Frege had already also taken was dressed in the appropriate
garb: its arguments were directed against those revolutionaries in
philosophy who sought to modernise the discipline by completely
overturning its outlook. Husserl provided to the ‘psychologicists’ an
answer which was ambiguous between being counter-revolutionary
and an alternative philosophical revolution. It named a new kind of
philosophical project, that of phenomenology, which was capable of
being interpreted as a revolutionary setting of a brave new task for
philosophers. It answered the crisis that lay ahead for philosophy
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 27

with a battle cry for the new century: Back to things themselves. It
aimed to reform philosophy’s vision of itself, by giving it the
self-image of a rigorous science, a science of science. Yet, at the same time,
Husserl’s phenomenology wore an ancient Greek name. It countered
the revolutionary scientific aims of the psychologists by reviving a
quasi-Aristotelian vision of philosophy, whose main task consisted
in categorial systematisation and the intuition of essences. Where
the experimental psychologists were seen as damaging to philosophy
departments by their being unable to teach philosophy histori-
cally, Husserl had devised a way of producing a radical programme
for philosophy which would demand little institutional change –
phenomenologists fashioned after Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen
would still find no objection to teaching Plato, Aquinas, or Kant.54
This double aspect of Husserl’s (counter-)revolutionary approach
to philosophy goes relatively unnoticed by those who wish to set
Husserl against Frege as the founder of a new tradition in philosophy,
a tradition which is seen as radically opposed to that inaugurated
by Frege. To present Husserl as the founder of some phenomeno-
logical ‘movement’ within something called ‘continental philos-
ophy’ is, strictly speaking, to misrepresent Husserl’s influence. The
misrepresentation is caused at least partly by Husserl’s own insistence
on the revolutionary innovations of the method which he names
‘phenomenology’.55 For Husserl, at the roots of the inception of this
method, it is clear that it is to be a theory of science that is itself scien-
tific: phenomenology is the rigorous science which studies science. Yet,
all those thinkers most prominently taken to be associated with what
has been called the ‘continental’ phenomenological ‘movement’,
considered to be founded by Husserl, dismiss Husserl’s aimed corre-
spondence of phenomenology with its being a rigorous science. Both
the Germanophone proponents of existential phenomenology, e.g.
Martin Heidegger or Karl Jaspers, and many of the Francophone disci-
ples of Husserl, e.g. Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, or Maurice
Merleau-Ponty, reject the Husserlian definitions of phenomenology
as Wissenschaftslehre, as science of science, as rigorous science, as
logic.56 Beginning perhaps with Heidegger (although the strand of
phenomenology critical of its status as a rigorous science may be seen
to stretch further back to the early en masse reception of Husserl’s
anti-psychologism), these ‘continental’ phenomenologists can be
seen to draw from Husserl’s radical new vision for philosophy while
28 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

painstakingly rejecting Husserl’s insistence on relating this new

vision to science. The influence of Husserl on this line of thinkers
is twofold and is generated by distinguishing between two revolu-
tionary ideas which are unified in Husserl’s philosophy: On the one
hand, there is the inception of a new beginning for philosophy, and
on the other hand, there is the recognition of the historical neces-
sity of relating philosophy to science. The first, modernistic aspect
of Husserl’s revolutionary phenomenology finds its fullest expres-
sion in this particular sequence of thinkers. The second aspect of the
Husserlian inheritance is transformed by this line of descendants into
a critical enquiry regarding the relation of philosophy to science, one
which almost always rejects Husserl’s definition of phenomenology
as rigorous science. Thus, what is meant when one claims that Husserl
was the grandfather of this tradition is not exactly clear: If he is to
be seen as a father figure, then his children’s intentions are in good
measure patricidal.
The phenomenological tradition’s critical relation to science (or
absence thereof) is itself informed by readings of Husserl, but in many
cases these readings focus on particular elements of Husserlian philos-
ophy (e.g. his methodology), ignoring Husserl’s fundamental concern
with the philosophy of logic and mathematics. One of the primary
factors contributing to the mystification of the radically critical rela-
tionship which exists between Husserl and his perceived followers
is the nature of his exchange with his most famous student, Martin
Heidegger. Heidegger famously dedicated his Being and Time, i.e. his
most radical critique of Husserlian phenomenology, to his teacher
Husserl; Husserl mistook this for a sign of Heidegger’s continuation
of his work, failing to see the performative aspect of the dedication
as a hidden betrayal. Heidegger does not explicitly criticise Husserl
throughout the work, and the critical dialogue between Heidegger’s
and Husserl’s thought remains highly disputable to this day.57
Thus, the issue of ‘grandfathering’ becomes even more complicated:
Husserl may be said to have been closer to the views of some of the
philosophers who are said to belong to the ‘analytic’ tradition58 than
to those who followed Heidegger and his quiet revolution against
Husserl.59 It is clear by now that Frege and Husserl have more in
common than, for example, Frege and Heidegger. Husserl’s exchange
with Moritz Schlick, though brief and quasi-polemical (both accused
the other of misunderstanding), instigated a dialogue in which one
Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy 29

may find at least the potential for some further honest philosoph-
ical exchange between phenomenology and the Vienna Circle – an
exchange which unfortunately never took place beyond the few and
scattered critical comments directed against Husserl by Schlick.60
Not only were Husserl’s views generally more compatible with those
of figures in early ‘analytic’ philosophy than with those of some of his
disciples, but also his influence can also be traced within both ‘move-
ments’. Thus, among those philosophers influenced by Husserl,61 one
may count Rudolf Carnap,62 Gilbert Ryle,63 John Searle,64 as well as
numerous others (for example, Kazimierz Jerzy Skrzypna-Twardowski,
founder of the Lwów-Warsaw School of logic,65 Felix Kaufmann,
member of the Vienna Circle and Husserlian phenomenologist,66 and
the famous mathematician Kurt Gödel, also a member of the Vienna
What may have led to the mistaken assumption that Husserl
founded a continental tradition of philosophy that would contrast to
an analytic one is the limited influence of Husserl’s thought outside
the continent during his lifetime, as well as the slanted reception of
his thought in Britain afterwards.68 Husserl presented four lectures
at University College London in 1922 (Phenomenological Method and
Phenomenological Philosophy),69 yet despite these lectures (or perhaps
even possibly because of these, particularly since these were the first
lectures presented by a German-speaking philosopher in Britain
following the First World War), his phenomenology did not appear
to find fertile ground in the British philosophical circles of the time.70
Thus, the establishment of geographical areas of influence on their
contemporaries may have been the cause of their representation as
founders of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (or, as Dummett puts it, ‘Anglo-Austrian’)
and ‘continental’ traditions.
Yet, the geographical conception of a split between ‘Anglo-Saxon’
and ‘continental’ philosophies is highly problematic (especially
given what Dummett points out, i.e. Husserl and Frege’s proximity of
thought in relation to their Germanophone context). Thus, the work
that has been done on the Frege-Husserl relation will need to recon-
sider an assumption which has lain at the root of some of its claims,
namely the portrayal of Husserl as the archetypal philosophical hero
of a distinctively continental phenomenological movement. Such a
view is, in any case, insufficient insofar as Husserl was also involved
in the formation of various other movements. This means that the
30 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

problems of the phenomenological tradition are not the exclusive

consequences of Husserl’s thought, but only one stream of a river
which flows from it. Moreover, this view is not necessary insofar
as it ignores the radical divergence between the views of phenom-
enologists following Husserl from the views which Husserl himself
propounded. The relation between Husserl and Heidegger, mystified
by Heidegger’s lack of reference to Husserl, is one example of such
divergence (and for many of the ‘continental’ phenomenologists,
Heidegger’s interpretation of Husserl is the one which is assumed to
be the correct one).
Despite the seemingly convenient taxonomic image which emerges
with the picture of Frege and Husserl lying at the origins of two respec-
tive philosophical traditions, such clear-cut lines of influence are, in
final analysis, implausible. Nevertheless, the encounter between Frege
and Husserl does provide us with an interesting background for the
polemical appearance of the various encounters between their grand-
children. Primarily, this background is the historic one of fin de siècle
Germanophone philosophy, coupled with the meta-philosophical
issue of overcoming the crisis which the emergence of the discipline
of psychology presented for philosophy. Meta-philosophy here goes
hand in hand with the history of philosophy: one story would be
incomplete without the other.71
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar
Germany: Carnap, Heidegger,

1. Disputation at Davos

Between 17 March and 6 April 1929, a workgroup (Arbeitsgemeinschaft)

consisting of a number of French and German philosophers was to
meet for a series of lectures and seminars on the Swiss Alps at Davos,
the highest (in altitude) city in Europe. The stated purpose of this
‘International University Course’ was to bring together intellectuals
from these two countries which had been separated in the Great War,1
to form what was seen as a ‘Locarno for intellectuals’.2 The seminar
series revolved around a central theme, which was the question of
approaching a definition of human nature, on which a number of
philosophers presented their views and opinions.
The series of seminars culminated in a disputation between Martin
Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer. Although the pretext for this disputa-
tion was given by the more general question of human nature, the
specific matter under discussion was the interpretation of the philos-
ophy of Immanuel Kant, to which the two philosophers took two
very different approaches. Behind the dispute over Kant lay the clash
of two philosophical giants, and perhaps a gigantomachy that was
not about or of the essence (peri tis ousias),3 but rather a matter of
winning over appearances.4 Heidegger appeared to have emerged
from the dispute in victory. The ‘rumour of a hidden king’ (Arendt,
1978, pp. 293–294) was soon to become undisclosed: that same year,
Heidegger assumed the chair of philosophy at Freiburg previously
held by Edmund Husserl, and in 1933 he assumed the Rectorship of
Freiburg under the Nazi regime. In the turbulent years that followed,

32 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

the tradition of Neo-Kantianism that Cassirer had stood for was to

fade out of prominence. It would appear as if its defeat had taken
place at Davos.5
One of the causes of the great impact of this encounter was the
concentrated presence at Davos of various eminent and influen-
tial philosophers: Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice de Gandillac, Jean
Cavaillès, Léon Brunschvicg, Eugen Fink, Joachim Ritter, Otto
Friedrich Bollnow, and, most importantly for our discussion, the
young logical positivist Rudolf Carnap. The last, in the aftermath of
the dispute, published ‘Überwindung der Metaphysik durch Logische
Analyse der Sprache’ in Erkenntnis6 in December 1931.7 To those who,
with Carnap, thought that metaphysics was to be eliminated by the
advances of empirical science and particularly through the latest revo-
lutionary discoveries in the field of logic, Carnap gave good reason
to disregard a whole range of approaches to philosophy, somehow
epitomised by the linguistic confusion exemplified by Heidegger’s
prose. Through the encounter at Davos, Heidegger and his approach
to philosophy would, on the one hand, gradually come to the fore-
front of Germanophone philosophy (in lieu of Neo-Kantianism) and,
on the other hand, become alienated from those such as Carnap
who sought to align philosophy to a scientific world-conception
The story to be told is twofold. One aspect regards the dispute
between Heidegger and Cassirer, and consequently what one is to
make of this overcoming of an ‘established’ tradition in philosophy
through such a public disputation. The other aspect regards the treat-
ment of Heidegger by Carnap as a metaphysician. I shall concentrate
my study on the latter part of the story, attempting to make sense of
it in view of the former.

2. Neo-Kantianism and the interpretation of Kant

The main issue at hand in the Cassirer-Heidegger dispute appears

to be the interpretation of Kant. This conflict, prima facie, lies
between a school which Heidegger designates as ‘Neo-Kantianism’
and Heidegger’s own interpretation of Kant. Heidegger’s delineation
of a specific, ‘traditional interpretation of Neo-Kantianism’ (1997,
p. 191) seems to place Cassirer in line with an established tradition
within German philosophy,8 and in turn sets up Heidegger’s position
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 33

as that of the young dissident. Cassirer opens the dispute by ques-

tioning Heidegger’s definition of ‘Neo-Kantianism’, to which ques-
tion Heidegger responds by providing a list of names rather than a
characteristic response to Kant of some sort.
Cassirer’s opening question brings up a valid issue which Heidegger
does not adequately address. Neo-Kantianism may be divided into
two predominant ‘schools’,9 the Marburg school (which Cassirer was
to an extent representing in the dispute) and the Southwest or Baden
school (with which Heidegger was associated10 primarily through
Heinrich Rickert, who had, in part, supervised his Habilitationsschrift
on Duns Scotus).11 The former counted among its members Hermann
Cohen, Paul Natorp, and Nicolai Hartmann, in addition to Cassirer;
the latter included Heinrich Rickert, Emil Lask, and Wilhelm
Both schools were called Neo-Kantian insofar as they were broadly
concerned with re-interpreting Kant’s doctrines in the light of the
advances of science, positive and humanistic, during the late nine-
teenth and early twentieth centuries.12 To a large extent, this meant
overcoming the German Idealists’ interpretation of Kant.13 Whereas
German Idealism had approached Kant as a metaphysician, the
Neo-Kantians had focused on the consequences of Kant’s thought for
epistemology (Erkenntniskritik).14 This meant that they took a view
of philosophy as a second-order discipline. Neo-Kantian philosophy
would deal with the conditions of the possibility of knowledge, i.e.
with epistemology, with that which the sciences presume prior to
their knowledge claims.15 In response to the meta-philosophical crisis
caused by the advance of the sciences during the nineteenth century,
the Neo-Kantians posited the necessity of philosophy as epistemology,
rejecting philosophy’s claim to any special form of knowledge.16
The return ‘back to Kant’ (‘Zurück zu Kant’),17 in its focus on this
re-alignment of Kantian transcendental philosophy to the sciences,
had as its consequence the shift away from the emphasis that had
been placed by Kant on the mediating function of the pure forms of
sensible intuition, space and time. For the Neo-Kantians (as also for
their post-Kantian predecessors), Kant’s dualism between pure under-
standing and pure sensibility required revision. Thus, Neo-Kantianism
endorsed a kind of ‘logical idealism’: it maintained that the a priori
conditions for the possibility of knowledge are to be derived from a
unified source in both form and content. This implied the redundancy
34 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

of the dualism that Kant had introduced between the purely formal
dimension of logical forms and their meaningfulness only in rela-
tion to a sensory content. The variation of directions taken up within
Neo-Kantianism can be seen as approaches to this common problem
with regard to the mediation between intellect and sensibility.
Throughout the Psychologismus-Streit, the various Neo-Kantian
schools developed and defended their own attempt at purifying
philosophy. Part of this effort involved, to a great extent, the rejec-
tion of the ‘psychologism’ inherent in the Kantian position regarding
the pure forms of sensible intuition, as we have seen above. For the
Neo-Kantians, the realm of philosophy pertained to the logical faculty
of pure understanding. This formal realm was largely understood in
anti-psychologistic terms, as being irreducible to the subjective.
Thus the Neo-Kantians were to develop their vision of pure philos-
ophy as an epistemological inquiry – on the one hand, for the Marburg
Neo-Kantians, primarily into mathematics and the exact sciences,
on the other hand, for the Southwest school, primarily into culture
and values.18 Despite the unifying element of looking back to Kant
through the prism of science, the two schools generally remained
separate in their research projects. Marburg Neo-Kantians were gener-
ally oriented towards the explication of the relation of philosophy
to the exact sciences, and thus their approach was directed towards
the study of logic and epistemology. The Southwest school gener-
ally sought to clarify the relation of philosophy to the humanities
and social sciences, and thus as focusing on questions of value and
There were also other Neo-Kantians who did not subscribe to these
schools; to take one example from Heidegger’s list, the Austrian Alois
Riehl cannot be adequately categorised as a member of either school.
Another example is that of Hans Vaihinger, whose followers formed
the ‘as if’ school.20 Various philosophers were closely associated
with varieties of Neo-Kantianism despite having been considered as
members of opposing ‘schools’, e.g. Frege21 and Husserl,22 or various
figures associated with the ‘Empiriocriticism’ that developed into
logical positivism, such as Ernst Mach, Richard Avenarius, or Moritz
Note must be taken of the dynamic tensions at play within
Neo-Kantianism, a movement which spanned from around the
eighteen-sixties to around the nineteen-thirties. Its long span covers
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 35

different eras and changing views within this tradition. Although it is

beyond the scope of this chapter to give a comprehensive outline of
Neo-Kantianism or argue over the consistency of this term, one of the
important clues regarding our enquiry lies in the relation between
Neo-Kantianism and Lebensphilosophie.
Neo-Kantianism, with its focus on epistemology, had been more
or less the orthodoxy in German academic philosophy by the begin-
ning of the twentieth century.24 During the Psychologismus-Streit,
Neo-Kantians of both schools had been among the fiercest polemi-
cists against the alleged psychologism of their colleagues.25 This
dispute was epitomised by the struggle over the opening of a profes-
sorial chair at Marburg, first in 1908 and later when the Neo-Kantian
Herman Cohen retired in 1912. The Marburg Neo-Kantians had
sought to elect Ernst Cassirer to the chair, whereas the competing
claims came from two experimental psychologists, G. F. Lipps and E.
Jaensch. It was in protest to Jaensch’s taking over Cohen’s chair that
philosophers organised themselves to sign the petition against the
employment of experimental psychologists in philosophy depart-
ments.26 Cassirer was eventually elected professor at the University of
Hamburg in 1919. Yet, by that time, the Neo-Kantian establishment
had already begun its collapse, due to the deaths and retirement of
most of its leading members,27 with Cassirer and Rickert remaining
the last two philosophers who were, to an extent, committed to the
Neo-Kantian epistemological project.
In any case, Germanophone perceptions of this project had been
radically altered during the First World War, at which time the leading
Neo-Kantians had come to defend German militarism. The end of the
war saw the rise to prominence Lebensphilosophie, which was to pose
a challenge to Neo-Kantianism. Lebensphilosophie, drawing from a
vague assortment of diverse philosophers such as Nietzsche, Bergson,
Dilthey, and Eucken, was primarily developed by literary figures
outside academia.28 It developed as a kind of anti-intellectualist,
anti-rationalist world view which opposed the Neo-Kantian
Schulphilosophie.29 This contest was not merely a philosophical one
but had wider cultural implications.30 Some of the Neo-Kantians had,
by the nineteen-twenties, become political allies of the newly formed
Weimar Republic.31 Ernst Cassirer had, with the establishment of the
Weimar Republic in 1919, assumed a professorship at Hamburg (after
remaining for a long time Privatdozent in the University of Berlin) and
36 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

subsequently became one of the first Jewish philosophers to serve as

Rector at a German University during 1929 and 1930. This had been
preceded by a lecture defending the Weimar Republic on the occa-
sion of its tenth anniversary in 1928.32 By contrast, Lebensphilosophie
criticised the enlightenment tradition which Neo-Kantianism repre-
sented.33 The leading figure in this development, Oswald Spengler
(1918), sought to challenge the professorial culture dominating
philosophy by viewing it as a sign of the greater decline of Western
civilisation.34 This anti-intellectualist tendency may have expressed a
more general climate of unrest within European culture, particularly
within the intellectual context of post-war Germany and its economic
hardships.35 At the same time, it seemed to have posed an external
threat towards the academic philosophical establishment, to which a
response was deemed necessary.
A range of responses to Lebensphilosophie by more mainstream
academic philosophy can be ascertained.36 On the one hand, for the
proponents of the Neo-Kantian epistemological approach, as is exem-
plified in the work of Heinrich Rickert, Lebensphilosophie became a new
target for philosophical arguments, with the hope that this new trend
could replace the previous target, psychologism.37 A different,38 more
politicised manner of responding to Lebensphilosophie is given in Otto
Neurath’s ‘Anti-Spengler’ (1921), written while Neurath was in prison
in 1919, waiting to be tried for his participation in the Bavarian Soviet
Republic. Here, we find Neurath developing the idea (still found ten
years later in the Vienna Circle Manifesto) that metaphysical world-
views such as those developed by Spenglerian Lebensphilosophie, once
divorced from some fundamental ‘world-feeling’, ‘stand beyond
true and false’ (1973, p. 203).39 An altogether different response to
Lebensphilosophie might be found in the attempt to appropriate the
impetus of this young approach to philosophy towards one’s own
goals. This may be seen, for example, in the case of Max Scheller,
the disciple of Husserl who presented phenomenology as an ally of
The contest between Lebensphilosophie and mainstream academic
philosophy may be understood as the process through which the initial
threat posed by the irrationalism represented by Lebensphilosophie
was gradually assimilated into academic discourse. It is particularly
important to note that Cassirer and Heidegger, as well as Carnap,41
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 37

had attempted to synthesise elements of Lebensphilosophie into their

approach to philosophy.

3. The ‘end’ of Neo-Kantianism during the

Heidegger-Cassirer dispute

So far, we have seen that defining Neo-Kantianism is not as simple

as giving a list of names, in the way that Heidegger does.42 Nor does
it suffice to say, as Heidegger does, that it answers the crisis that the
advances of science had brought upon philosophy by positing philos-
ophy as ‘just knowledge of science, not of beings’ (1997, p. 193), i.e.
epistemology and not ontology. The reduction of the Neo-Kantian
schools to a single meta-philosophical position, though interesting,
is severely problematic.43 The differences between the two schools
of Neo-Kantianism are simply omitted by Heidegger, who attempts
to refute Neo-Kantianism as one research project wholesale, as if it
were reducible to a single meta-philosophical thesis, together with its
specific consequences for the interpretation of Kant.
In defining Neo-Kantianism in terms of a dogmatic system,
Heidegger fails to answer Cassirer’s question. Cassirer, in stressing
the difficulty of attributing to some ‘school of thought’ a particular
set of positions, claims that Neo-Kantianism is irreducible to some
substance, and thus should rather be defined functionally, in terms
of ‘a direction taken in question posing’ (Heidegger, 1997, p. 193).
According to Cassirer, one then finds, surprisingly, a Neo-Kantian
in Heidegger.44 In other words, Cassirer claims, already at the begin-
ning of the dispute, that Heidegger’s approach towards the interpre-
tation of Kant, his method of selecting questions, is Neo-Kantian.
Sadly for us, Cassirer does not further explicate or qualify this
claim, and Heidegger does not address it except by giving a list of
names for the Neo-Kantians which does not include his own name.
Neo-Kantianism is uncharitably reduced by Heidegger to the names
of a number of professors of epistemology. Thus, the definition of
Neo-Kantianism remains undisputedly different for both Heidegger
and Cassirer, with Heidegger being content in presenting himself as
a rival to Neo-Kantianism, despite the fact that his rivalry is directed
towards a thesis which his (Neo-Kantian) opponent does not take to
be Neo-Kantian.
38 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Even in his uncharitable reduction of Neo-Kantianism to a

doctrinal position, Heidegger insists on using Heideggerian jargon
in describing the position he sets up as opposed to his own. Is one
to take this as accidental, or is there something about the position
Heidegger is rejecting that is, in fact, constitutive of his own posi-
tion? Michael Friedman (2000) points out the common origins of the
thought of all three of our protagonists to their Neo-Kantian philo-
sophical education.45 In looking for a shared point of departure for
the three, Friedman focuses his analysis on the common Neo-Kantian
background, and in Heidegger’s case this is seen as derived from his
relation to the Southwestern school and particularly to Rickert, who
had supervised his Habilitationsschrift. Rickert did not, though, see
Heidegger’s thought as compatible with his own interests and left
its evaluation to a substitute, Engelbert Krebs.46 Heidegger’s inter-
ests lay primarily in medieval scholasticism, phenomenology, and
Lebensphilosophie, and were not necessarily on a par with the research
interests of the Neo-Kantians.47 I shall leave the question here unde-
cided, since it does not bear direct influence on the outcome of our
discussion. Though Neo-Kantian thought certainly did influence
him, Heidegger was, to a great extent, instrumental in its demise, and
perhaps its demise was instrumental to the dissemination of his own
Nevertheless Heidegger’s position is relevant to the disagreement
between Neo-Kantianism and Lebensphilosophie. His proposal of
an interpretation of Kant as laying the ground for metaphysics, i.e.
as undertaking a task that is primarily a question of ontology, is
immediately a position which negates the Neo-Kantians’ epistemo-
logical interpretation of Kant. For Cassirer, as is explicitly stated in
the dispute, Heidegger attempts to place ‘his own phenomenological
critique in place of the Neo-Kantian one’ (Heidegger, 1997, p. 193).
Heidegger’s position obviously differs from Lebensphilosophie in a
multitude of ways that overstep the bounds of this enquiry. But his
criticism of Neo-Kantianism is, in a way, undertaken from the same
general direction that was stressed by Lebensphilosophie – the objec-
tion against the epistemological turn which the call ‘back to Kant’
inaugurated. Most importantly, Heidegger realises his attack from
within the Neo-Kantians’ own territory: within the field of the inter-
pretation of Kant.
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 39

4. Further remarks on the historic

background to the disputation

Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant should have seemed at its time to

be quite radical.48 Heidegger’s Kant is made, mysteriously, to conform
to the general Heideggerian project of ontology. He is even made to
speak in the same terms: Dasein, Sein – Seiendes, Grund (terms which
one already finds in Kant). The dynamics of his interpretation come
to the fore once it is placed in the context of Heidegger’s project of
the ‘Destruktion of metaphysics’, the overcoming of Western thought’s
forgetfulness of being. Under this pretext, Heidegger seems at times to
interpret Kant as if Kant had in fact been influenced by Heidegger – as
if he had been responding to this Heideggerian notion of the forgetful-
ness of Being.49 For example, as Cassirer points out two years after the
dispute in a review of Heidegger’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics,
Heidegger reads Kant in view of the temporality of Dasein, i.e.
without reference to the temporal difference between noumena and
phenomena – a distinction which marks a corner-stone of the Kantian
project. For Heidegger, according to Cassirer, ‘all being now belongs
to the dimension of time and thus of finitude’ (Cassirer, 1931, p. 147);
in other words, Heidegger’s ontology is founded on the fundamental
principle of the impossibility of a noumenal world that is atemporal
and infinite. Heidegger’s basic claim in his book on Kant is that Kant
had discovered this impossibility (on which Heidegger’s philosophy
is based) and then was somehow not brave enough to follow the
consequences of his discovery. Kant opted for an epistemology that is
centred on the faculty of reason, shrinking back from his discovery of
a pre-rational ontology.50 Interpreting Kant in an ontological manner,
as laying the ground for metaphysics, is a bold task involving little of
what had been hitherto traditionally understood as ontology.
The question then arises: How could Heidegger’s idiosyncratic inter-
pretation of Kant bring him to emerge from Davos in apparent victory
against Neo-Kantianism? To a certain extent, the answer is found in
Heidegger’s engagement with different tendencies within his contem-
porary Germanophone philosophy. Heidegger’s thought was directed
towards a metaphysical interpretation of Kant which challenged the
Neo-Kantians in an unprecedented manner. It was critically informed
by Lebensphilosophie, utilising its popular impetus without thus losing
40 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

academic respectability; it combined this with a more general project

of a thorough critique of Husserlian phenomenology.51 It can be seen
as a kind of syncretistic approach to its contemporary philosophical
scene. Heidegger’s syncretism would appear as a novel alternative
to what had been perceived as a staleness within the Neo-Kantian
philosophical establishment – Hannah Arendt would (in defence
of Heidegger) come to describe this as philosophy being ‘drowned
in a sea of boredom’ (1978, p. 294). Combined with Heidegger’s
renown rhetorical skills – what Carnap in his notebooks mentions
as the attractive personal character of Heidegger, in contrast to the
‘pastoral’ (quoted in Friedman, 2000, p. 7) nature of Cassirer’s way of
speaking, that same ‘legendary personality’ (2003, p. 165) that Mrs.
Cassirer was intent on studying – the novelty of Heidegger’s approach
could, perhaps, have swayed the crowds of philosophers at Davos. It
is more likely, though, that the attraction towards Heidegger’s philos-
ophy was caused by repulsion against the establishment that Cassirer
had stood for.52 It is perhaps the decline of Neo-Kantianism that had
paved the way for the wave of ‘existential’ philosophy (and also of
Logical Positivism) that remained to come.
To a great extent, both thinkers had each brought to the dispute a
technical vocabulary which reflected their philosophical views and
alliances. Though Cassirer’s technical vocabulary, consistent with the
Marburg school tradition, would have been more or less familiar to
the audience, Heidegger had come to Davos armed with the radically
new use of the German language in his Sein und Zeit (1927). Although
both sides attempted to reconcile their vocabularies, their attempt
might resist being described as fruitful. It is obvious, for example, that
Heidegger had already entirely subsumed Kant under the Heideggerese
of Being and Time and assumed this as a background to the dispute.
It is also obvious that Cassirer was not ready to employ Heideggerian
concepts in a way which would be agreeable to Heidegger. Given the
recent publication of Sein und Zeit (one of the most misunderstood
books in twentieth century philosophy) two years earlier, it is under-
standable that Cassirer had only begun to familiarise himself with it
for the dispute. Further light is shed on this in Mrs. Cassirer’s writ-
ings, in which she notes that Heidegger’s

‘abstruse’ terminology was uncongenial to him; but he soon

learned the new language and, even though he had to reject it in
principle, he had esteem for Heidegger’s work. (2003, p. 165)53
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 41

The fact that his magnum opus was greatly misunderstood in

Germany at the time had been a cause of distress and anger for
Heidegger. This was to be added to ‘his contempt for the convention-
alities of polite societies’ (Cassirer, 2003, p. 165), i.e. the fact that he
was often plainly rude to others, as well as his generally rustic and
eccentric behaviour (e.g. at Davos he apparently attended lectures in a
skiing uniform).54 Eye-witnesses to the dispute seem to disagree about
whether Heidegger took up Cassirer’s offer to shake hands after their
long argument. Hendrik Pos claimed that ‘the magnanimous man
offered his hand to his opponent: but it was not accepted’ (1949, p.
69). This is confirmed by Mrs. Cassirer. It is contradicted by Maurice de
Gandillac, who remembers (almost two decades later) that Heidegger
‘at the time did not hesitate to shake the hand of Cassirer, who was
Jewish’ (1946, p. 714).55 At times during the dispute, Heidegger would
simply talk over Cassirer. He was already rumoured to have been an
anti-Semite, a rumour which was possibly untrue, but which Cassirer
seems to have believed.56
One must note here a fact that is ignored by many of the commen-
tators on the dispute and one which almost directly answers our
question regarding the appearance of victory on Heidegger’s behalf.
It is possible that the philosophical audience at Davos were, to a large
extent, already Heideggerians.57 Heidegger possibly did not need to
sway any crowds or strive too hard in order to win over appearances,
since his audience consisted of ‘post-Kantians’ already hostile to
Neo-Kantianism. Although it would be false to say of them, as Hamburg
does, that they all were ‘pre-pro-Nazis’ (Hamburg, 1964, p. 208),58
perhaps few of the participants of the Hochschule thought favourably
of Neo-Kantianism. Thus, it is no surprise that Neo-Kantianism was
‘defeated’ at Davos: strictly speaking, there were no Neo-Kantians
there – even Cassirer himself cannot, strictly speaking, be subsumed
under such a category. What happened at Davos is so far exposed as
merely the appearance of an event standing for a shift in philosoph-
ical thinking that had already been played out,59 and for a sequence
of events in politics and culture that still, at that time, lay in the

5. Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant

Is there nevertheless some merit in the particulars of Heidegger’s

interpretation of Kant, which would prove to play a decisive role in
42 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

the apparent defeat of Cassirer’s defence of the Neo-Kantian inter-

pretation? After all, the issue at hand was the highly specific and
technical matter of interpreting Kant’s account of the Schemata in
his Critique of Pure Reason.
Kant’s chapter on ‘The Schematism of the Pure Concepts of
Understanding’ contains some of the most difficult and highly
disputed pages of the first Critique – Kant himself apologised for this.60
According to Kant, the transcendental schema ‘must be pure, that is,
void of all empirical content, and yet at the same time, while it must
in one respect be intellectual, it must in another be sensible’ (1929, p.
181). In other words, what is sought for in the exposition of transcen-
dental schematism is the relation between the heterogeneous facul-
ties of understanding and sensibility. The transcendental schematism
is thus an attempt to approach the problem of ‘the subsumption of
intuitions to pure concepts’,61 which Kant equates to ‘the application
of a category to appearances’ (p. 180). This issue is crucial to Kant’s
philosophy precisely insofar as it problematises the heterogeneity of
pure concepts and intuitions, intellect and sensibility.
Kant clarifies this subsumption through the discovery of ‘a third
thing, which is homogeneous on the one hand with the category,
and on the other hand with the appearance, and which makes the
application of the former to the latter possible’ (1929, p. 181), which
is what he means by schema. Each category is related to sensibility
through its own schema, which turns out to be produced only through
the application of the categories to time. Kant therefore proceeds to
expose the four ways of thinking of time that correspond to the four
divisions of the categories, each with its three subdivisions, as illus-
trated in the following figure:
Thus number becomes the appearance of quantity, sensation the
appearance of reality, constant and perdurable things the appear-
ance of substance, and eternity the appearance of necessity.62 This
account develops an exposition of the pure categories in terms of
their temporal structure, their apprehension in time. According to
Kant, without this introduction of a sensible determination, the cate-
gories in themselves are meaningless, since they are without content;
without Kant’s presentation of the schemata, the categories ‘are
merely functions of the understanding for concepts; and represent
no object’ (1929, p. 187).
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 43

I. Time-series (Quantity):

i) Moment (Unity)
ii) Series (Plurality)
iii) Unity of series (Totality)

II. Time-content III. Time-order (Relation):

i) Permanence of the real in
i) Fullness of time time (Inherence and
(Reality) Subsistence)
ii) Emptiness of time ii) Succession of the manifold
(Negation) (Causality and Dependence)
iii) Intensive magnitudes iii) Co-existence (Community)
of time (Limitation)

IV. Scope of time


i) The representation of a thing

at some time or other
ii) Existence at some
determinate time (Actuality)
iii) Existence at all times

Figure 2.1: Kant’s Categories as apprehended in time

In Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik (1929a), put together in the
weeks following the Davos seminar, Heidegger insists on a particular
reading of the chapter on schematism that places it at the centre of
Kant’s work. For Heidegger, Kant’s elaboration of schematism is to
be read in terms of the more general project of laying the ground
for metaphysics, as ‘the freeing-up of the essential ground for onto-
logical knowledge as finite, pure intuition’ (1997, p. 63). According to
Heidegger’s interpretation, Kant’s exposition of schematism unveils
‘the grounds for the possibility of the essence of ontological knowl-
edge’ (p. 192) by identifying this ground, from which a priori synthetic
knowledge is made possible, as the transcendental imagination. In
other words, he identifies Kant’s ‘third thing’, the schematism which
is homogeneous with the two heterogeneous faculties (understanding
44 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

and sensibility), as being more than just a confused element intro-

duced by Kant in his effort to import mediation into the seemingly
unbridgeable dichotomy that he had constructed. Rather, Heidegger
attempts to find in the schematism the common root from which
the ‘two stems’ (1997, p. 97) of understanding and sensibility arise.
Heidegger’s interpretation links the schematism with the transcen-
dental imagination, which he understands as that primordial tempo-
rality from which the two faculties are made possible. Heidegger thus
proposes a reading of schematism according to which the transcen-
dental determination of time, qua mediation between intellect and
sensibility, plays a constitutive role in grounding metaphysics.
Furthermore, Heidegger interprets the basic purpose of schemata
as ‘making-sensible’ and thus as procuring ‘an image for the concept’
(1997, p. 72); thus, schematism is fundamentally situated in the tran-
scendental power of the imagination (die Einbildungskraft). In order to
understand this, we must look to Heidegger’s definition of Kant’s use
of ‘image’ (das Bild). According to Heidegger, an image for Kant has
three senses, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive or distinct
from one another: (a) the ‘immediate look (Abbild) of a being’ (1997,
p. 65) or in other words the sense-datum of something ready-to-hand,
the ‘object of experience’ (Kant 1929, §A141/§B180) (b) ‘the look
which takes a likeness to something at-hand’ (abbildender Anblick eines
Vorhandenen) (Heidegger, pp. 65 & 226), which means the image of a
thing that is no longer present-at-hand or that remains to-come, and
(c) ‘the look of something in general’ (p. 65), or, as Heidegger clari-
fies later, the possibility of intuiting multiple images of a particular
thing. Thus, the image procured for a concept is neither (a) an utterly
empirical datum nor (c) an already formed generality but rather lies
in (b) by virtue of its temporal dimension. Image, in the sense of (b),
is immediately immersed in temporality. Temporality is the source
of its regulating function (or ‘the “listing” of a rule governing the
providing of the image’ (p. 68), the ability to represent that rule),
which Heidegger identifies with the schema.
Schema, the Greek word for shape or figure, on the one hand
produces imagery and on the other is not reducible to it – the image
of the schema is never adequate to the schema itself. The schema is,
in a sense, the origin of an image. In Heidegger’s terms, it produces a
schema-image (Schema-Bild) which is an image of a concept. This is
not to be thought of in terms of correspondence or likeness; rather,
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 45

the schema-image ‘springs forth from out of the possible presentation

represented in its regulation; thus, as it were, bringing the rule into
the sphere of possible intuitability’ (1997, p. 70). Consequently, the
transcendental imagination, the power of procuring images, consti-
tutes the condition for the appearance of images.
As we have already seen, the schema-image derives its regulating
function from its temporal structure – it allows for the formation
of rules in its likeness to a past or future presence. Time in turn is,
in this sense, the ‘pure image’ and the ‘pure possibility of having
a certain look’ (1997, pp. 73–74) that constitutes the origin of the
image-making function of schematism. That is to say, time itself is at
the root of the power of imagination, which in turn is the condition
for the possibility of the appearance of schemata.
Heidegger’s line of argument attempts to establish a link between
the notion of ‘primordial’ time, developed in his previous work (espe-
cially in his Sein und Zeit) with intuition and the power of the imagi-
nation as constituting the ground from which sense and thought,
sensibility and intellect are made possible. The fundamental goal
of this endeavour is to establish the finitude (Endlichkeit) inherent
in these faculties, i.e. to insist on the finitude of human knowing.63
In other words, if temporal intuition is the ontological ground for
the epistemological split between intellect and sensibility, it follows
that these are essentially finite. It is this insistence on finitude which
brings Heidegger to the conclusion that the transcendental schema-
tism establishes the attainment of Kant’s goal to lay ‘the ground for
the inner possibility of ontological synthesis’ (1997, p. 80). For it is
precisely the interpretation of Kant as holding all our knowing to be
finite that Heidegger attempts to establish and from which Heidegger
derives the necessity of the schematism.
The radical shift from the accepted view in Heidegger’s interpreta-
tion, as he would have it, is a move from the constitutive primacy
of reason in Kant’s account to the emphasis of schematism and the
transcendental power of the imagination. By finding the ‘common
root’ (rather than a mere mediating function) of sense and thought
through the transcendental power of imagination, ‘reason has thus
been broken asunder’ (1997, p. 192), it has been eliminated as the
starting point of the Critique. This move culminates in Heidegger’s
project of the Destruktion of the Western metaphysics of Geist, logos
or Vernunft, i.e.
46 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

a radical, renewed unveiling of the grounds for the possibility of

metaphysics as natural disposition of human beings, i.e., a meta-
physics of Dasein directed at the possibility of metaphysics as such,
which must pose the question concerning the essence of human
beings in a way which is prior to all philosophical anthropology
and cultural philosophy. (1997, p. 192)

Note here an important detail in Heidegger’s discussion of the role

of subsumption for schematism in his book on Kant: according to
Heidegger, the use of the term ‘subsumption’ in Kant, with refer-
ence in particular to the subsumption of objects under concepts, is
not reducible to the traditional syllogistic notion of subsumption.
Rather, schematism ‘is from the first a matter of ontological concepts,
and also a matter of a peculiar, i.e., an ontological, “subsumption”’
(Heidegger, 1997, p. 77). This ‘ontological subsumption’ amounts to
the grounding of both a priori categories and a priori intuitions in
the ‘common root’ within the transcendental imagination. In other
words, Heidegger is here pointing to a primordial ontological presup-
position for a logical term, precisely since reason, logos, is seen by
Heidegger as derivative of this original ontological dimension which
he here identifies with the transcendental imagination.64

6. Carnap’s encounter with Heidegger

The above glance at the proceedings at Davos is significant for

setting the background to Carnap’s criticism of Heidegger, which
I proceed to consider. As already mentioned, Carnap had been
present at Davos and had met Heidegger there. Though others
present at the Arbeitsgemeinschaft had found Heidegger’s behaviour
troubling (for example, Hendrik Pos talks of his emotional character
as distressing), Carnap found Heidegger’s personality ‘attractive’.65
Carnap was acquainted with Heidegger and engaged in some discus-
sion with him (though it is possible that they had already met years
before Davos).66 In the brief notes Carnap kept in his diary, Carnap
mentions Heidegger’s positions against idealism and the concession
Heidegger made to him regarding ‘the possibility of the expression
of everything, even questions of purpose and meaning, in physical
terms’ (quoted in Friedman, 2000, p. 7). This encounter remains
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 47

unmentioned in Carnap’s autobiography (1963a) and had thus, for

a long time, remained unknown. Carnap, as his diary shows, had
gone on to study Heidegger’s philosophy (and particularly Sein und
Zeit) in depth after Davos.67 During the summer of 1930, he had
participated in a discussion group on Heidegger, led by Heinrich
Gomperz and Karl Bühler and including Vienna Circle members
Hans Hahn and Viktor Kraft. Carnap reported his experiences
at Davos to the group, who were surprised at Carnap’s ability to
interpret Heidegger.68 Friedman concludes from this that ‘Carnap’s
interest in and knowledge of Heidegger was serious indeed’ (2000,
pp. 8–9). Nevertheless, the group did not include Heidegger scholars,
and it might have been difficult to interpret Sein und Zeit three years
after its publication.
Friedman’s discovery is significant in doing away with a misun-
derstanding which has shaped debate on the subject ever since the
publication of Carnap’s ‘Überwindung der Metaphysik durch logische
Analyse der Sprache’ in 1931. The misunderstanding consisted of the
claim that Carnap did not know much about Heidegger’s philosophy
and that his example is taken from Heidegger simply as a kind of arbi-
trary gesture of abuse, or even picked on purpose to stigmatise one of
his foes (who was soon to become the first Nazi rector at Freiburg).69
Friedman shows us that Carnap knew his enemy, and by this gesture
the myth of absolute misunderstanding is dispelled. This necessitates
a reconsideration of the ‘attack’ that Carnap unleashes on meta-
physics in general using Heidegger.
I shall attempt here, in my analysis of Carnap’s treatment of
Heidegger, to overcome previous interpretations of Carnap which
had assumed his unfamiliarity with Heidegger’s philosophy. It is only
through the disposal of this assumption, I shall argue, that Carnap’s
proposed ‘overcoming’ (Überwindung) of metaphysics can be brought
to light. The proximity of Carnap’s ‘Überwindung’ to Heidegger’s
proposed approach to the Destruktion of metaphysics, as presented
at Davos, is to be examined closely, in search of the harmonies and
dissonances between the two positions. I thus aim to challenge
the assumed enmity towards a certain set of positions designated
by the term ‘metaphysics’ which has been, following Carnap’s
proposed Überwindung, integrated into the discourse of ‘analytical’
48 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

7. Carnap’s ‘metaphysics’

Carnap’s paper on the Überwindung of metaphysics was, as previously

mentioned, first published in 1931 – almost three years after Davos.70
At that time, the term ‘metaphysics’ could have been used to designate
a narrower area of discourse than any of Carnap’s non-Germanophone
readers might have imagined. The term could have been used to refer
to a certain number of philosophical systems, mostly within the line
of influence of post-Kantian German Idealism from Fichte onwards.
Carnap notes this in his 1957 remarks on the paper:

This term is used in this paper, as usually in Europe, for the field
of alleged knowledge of the essence of things which transcends
the realm of empirically founded, inductive science. Metaphysics
in this sense includes systems like that of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel,
Bergson, Heidegger. But it does not include endeavors towards a
synthesis and generalisation of the results of the various sciences.
(1959, p. 80)

When Carnap uses the term ‘metaphysics’, he does not refer to the
meaning of the word in currency today but more probably to a
specific, post-Enlightenment trend in philosophy which, devoted to
system-building, is removed from the empirical method employed
by natural science. Thus, for example, the subsequent approaches to
metaphysics in ‘analytical’ philosophy (e.g. Strawson’s descriptive
metaphysics, or Quine’s naturalistic ontology) are not touched by
Carnap’s Überwindung. Similarly, it is not precisely clear whether the
metaphysical speculation of ancient Greek thought, medieval scho-
lasticism or early modern rationalism should be counted as meta-
physics in Carnap’s account, where these generalise from the results
of their contemporary science.71 It is also not clear whether there are
also aspects of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, or Bergson which are not to
be considered as ‘metaphysical’ in that they might include generali-
sation or synthesis of the results of the various sciences. (For example,
Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre might be understood as such an ‘endeavor
towards a synthesis and generalisation’.)
Carnap does not take ‘metaphysics’ to mean ‘all reasoning regarding
ontology’; what the term ‘metaphysics’ refers to is to be found in its
usual use in (Germanophone) Europe at the time. In other words,
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 49

Carnap does not seek to negate the possibility of meaningfulness for

all and any metaphysical thought. At least this is something which
becomes evident in his 1957 remarks on his 1931 paper. By then,
Carnap could have watered down an original desire to challenge
the meaningfulness of all metaphysics. Nonetheless, his definition
of metaphysics in the original publication still revolves along similar
lines, although it ranges over a wider historical period. In his text,
he aligns himself not only with ‘the empiricists of the nineteenth
century’ (1959, p. 60) but also with the ancient sceptics.72
Carnap’s use of the term ‘metaphysics’ may be understood in parallel
with the Neo-Kantian tradition’s use of the term ‘epistemology’.73 In
distinguishing their epistemological approach to Kant’s philosophy
from their idealist predecessors, Neo-Kantian philosophers had paved
the path for Carnap.74 In other words, Carnap’s overcoming of meta-
physics, stemming in 1931 still from his own focus on epistemology
(which was soon to be revised),75 is not without predecessors but
can be seen as falling within a Neo-Kantian lineage.76 Carnap may
have been particularly influenced by the Davos disputation, where
Heidegger appeared to revive a metaphysical reading of Kant which
the Neo-Kantians thought they had surpassed in their attempts to
relate philosophy to the advances of science. Nevertheless, Carnap’s
approach differs fundamentally from Neo-Kantianism in its scope
and outlook; his attempt is toward an absolute elimination of
non-empirical, metaphysical thought, its reduction to nonsense.77
In this sense, Carnap’s Überwindung is a modernistic reaction against
a past that is to be superseded with the aid of the developments of
scientific reasoning. It is particularly through the dramatic advance
of modern logic that ‘a new and sharper answer to the question of the
validity and justification of metaphysics’ (Carnap, 1959, p. 60) had
been made possible. This past is itself, to a great extent, an attempt at
modernisation. The list of metaphysicians that Carnap offers consists
of post-Kantian thinkers, who are responding to Kant’s critique of
traditional metaphysics. From Fichte to Heidegger, the metaphysi-
cians that Carnap is attacking belong to a tradition which responds
to Kant in a certain way: through developing metaphysical systems
by overcoming the limitations and boundaries set up for rational
discourse in Kant’s critical philosophy, offering answers to ontolog-
ical problems in a manner fundamentally different from ‘traditional’
50 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

8. Is Heidegger a metaphysician?

Carnap notoriously selected as a target of his attack on metaphysics a

few sentences from ‘Was ist Metaphysik?’ (1929b), Heidegger’s inau-
gural lecture at the University of Freiburg. Heidegger, and particularly
this lecture, exemplify the misuse of language within metaphysics or,
in Carnap’s words, ‘the violation of logical syntax’ despite such meta-
physical language being in accordance ‘with historical grammatical
syntax’ (1959, p. 69). In a footnote, we are informed that the choice
of Heidegger could have been substituted by ‘passages from any other
of the numerous metaphysicians of the present or of the past’ and
that ‘the selected passages seem to us to illustrate our thesis espe-
cially well’ (Carnap, 1959, p. 69). Carnap also notes in his text how
Heidegger’s ‘school’ of metaphysics is one which ‘at present exerts
the strongest influence in Germany’ (1959, p. 69).
Carnap’s choice of Heidegger as a metaphysician, or the founder
of a school of metaphysics, is puzzling precisely due to the ques-
tionable eligibility of Heidegger for such a position.79 Heidegger’s
elusive philosophical musings do concern themselves with questions
of ‘fundamental ontology’, i.e. with the most basic form of meta-
physical thought. In this sense, Heidegger concerns himself with,
and talks about, metaphysics. But it is not prima facie clear that what
Heidegger does with this concern could be called metaphysics, or at
least that it can be taken as a characteristic exercise in metaphysics
in the tradition which Carnap designates.80 If Carnap were to choose
a thinker whose work exemplifies metaphysical thought, then his
choice of Heidegger is simply wrong – Heidegger’s oeuvre simply does
not constitute an exemplary exercise in metaphysics.
Carnap, thus, was not picking out Heidegger from that list of
proper names which he identifies with the modern tradition of
metaphysics which he aimed to attack, qua metaphysician; i.e.
it is not clear that he is concerned with exposing the pitfalls of
metaphysical thought within Heidegger’s work in a systematic way.
Carnap’s choice of Heidegger does not designate him as a meta-
physical thinker but rather implicates a number of selected passages
in Carnap’s method of linguistic analysis in order to demonstrate
the confusion of particular uses of language related to particular
questions of metaphysics.81 Heidegger’s obscure word-play seems to
offer Carnap what he perceives as a straightforward illustration of
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 51

the confusion of metaphysical language. Are we, then, to under-

stand Carnap as seizing the opportunity of a seeming metaphysi-
cian’s obscure use of language in order to ground his own position
of the elimination of metaphysics, or is there something missing in
this picture?

9. Heidegger’s nothing

It was in the presence of Carnap that Heidegger had announced his

project of the Destruktion of metaphysics at Davos. In a way, that
presented itself as the foundation of a new German philosophical
orthodoxy, Heidegger’s project of the Destruktion of metaphysics
entailed an understanding of metaphysics as ‘a natural disposition of
human beings’, and not as founded in ‘spirit, logos, reason’ (1997, p.
192), as being prior to any specific understanding of human nature.
Perhaps we should add to this (and there is in ‘What is Metaphysics?’
clear evidence that Heidegger would have agreed to this addition)
that this Destruktion of metaphysics precedes logic or any specific
scientific discipline.
Heidegger’s ‘What is Metaphysics?’ approaches what has been said
regarding the Destruktion of metaphysics through a particular meta-
physical question: Why is there something rather than nothing? This
particular question ‘encompasses the whole range of metaphysical
problems’ (1998a, p. 82) (as all metaphysical questions do, according
to Heidegger).82 Heidegger intriguingly begins to approach his ques-
tion by offering a description of science which encompasses the triad
of ways in which the scientific attitude of man towards ‘beings’ in
the world is established: (a) impartiality of human beings towards the
world of beings, (b) the objective ‘stance towards beings themselves’
and (c) the ‘irruption by one being called “the human being” into the
whole of beings’ (1998a, p. 83). Heidegger proceeds to point to the
triad’s original supplement, that which is omitted by it:

That to which the relation to the world refers are beings them-
selves – and nothing besides.
That from which every stance takes its guidance are beings
themselves – and nothing further.
That with which the scientific confrontation in the irruption
occurs are beings themselves – and beyond that, nothing.
52 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

But what is remarkable is that, precisely in this way scientific man

secures to himself what is most properly his, he speaks whether
explicitly or not, of something different. What should be exam-
ined are beings only, and besides that – nothing; beings alone, and
further – nothing; solely beings and beyond that – nothing.
What about this nothing? Is it an accident that we talk this way
so automatically? Is it only a matter of speaking, and nothing
besides? (1998a, p. 84)

Heidegger posits this nothing as the ‘other’ of our scientific knowl-

edge – i.e. as something which is necessary in order to know some-
thing as other than nothing, as something about which science
‘wants to know nothing’ (1998a, p. 84). The opposition of beings
to nothing is not one which science takes up – rather, it limits its
knowledge to the realm of beings; but if so, then how is this knowl-
edge of beings possible? What is this nothing which makes our science
of beings possible? To ask this question is confusing, as Heidegger
admits, because it requires of us to think of this nothing as some-
thing. It demands of us to think of nothing scientifically, to achieve
knowledge of it as a being.
Thinking of nothing as a being amounts to thinking of nothing
as the logical operation of negation. It is precisely in the logic which
constitutes a guide for the sciences that we encounter negation as a
kind of nothing that is, a being that is nothing:

Is the nothing given only because the ‘not,’ i.e. negation, is given?
Or is it the other way around? Are negations and the ‘not’ given
only because the nothing is given? That has not been decided; it
has not even been raised expressly as a question. We assert that
the nothing is more original than the ‘not’ and negation. (1998a,
p. 86)

According to Heidegger, then, the nothing is presupposed by the

logical operation of negation. Negation is always the negation of
something. One can only assert that, for example, not-p, applying
the operation of negation to a subject or predicate. One might say
that negation is only applicable to what Heidegger calls beings, it only
appears once there is something there to be negated. The nothing is
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 53

not merely a not-something, as it is also not simply the negation of

everything (the not-all). It is not expressible as either

(1) ¬ p
(2) p (¬ p)
or something as inexpressible as
(3) ¬

It is not reducible to a logical operation.83 This is precisely because

logic is a science of beings and, like all sciences, knows nothing of the
nothing.84 The nothing is in this way prior to logic and, according to
Heidegger, presupposed by it. Negation is derived from nothingness.

10. Heidegger’s logic

Heidegger seems to be unable to explain well or give a good reason

why one should accept his claim that negations are derived from
the nothing within the confines of his 1929 presentation. One is
required here to reconstruct Heidegger’s claim in accordance with his
more general outlook, as we shall proceed to do here. Heidegger has
been seen as attempting, in ‘What is Metaphysics?’, to denigrate the
role of logic in philosophical thought – and this is primarily due to
Carnap’s critique (an effect which, as we shall see later on, is caused
by a misreading of Carnap’s text in addition to the misinterpretation
of Heidegger attributed to Carnap). This is not clearly the case in
Heidegger’s overall obscure text, for reasons that are not necessarily
obvious to a present-day reader.
What is perhaps most misunderstood about Heidegger’s seeming
rejection of the value of logic for philosophy is precisely the meaning
which the term ‘logic’ holds for Heidegger. By the time Heidegger was
presenting his lecture, the ‘new’ logic developed by Frege (as well as
Russell and Whitehead) was not yet widely accepted as pertaining to
philosophical logic (but rather to mathematical Logistik);85 ‘logic’ was
still, in the Germanophone context, associated with philosophical
questions regarding the nature (not content) of logic.86 Heidegger had
been aware of the advances in Logistik put forth by both Frege and
54 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Russell, commenting favourably on the usefulness of the concern for

meaning in Frege’s logic for the doctrine of judgements.87 But he could
only have comprehended these within the wider spectrum of philo-
sophical logic with which he had been engaged. In fact, Heidegger’s
early career was dominated by an investigation into the ‘philo-
sophical logic’ of the time, with his first publication being a critical
review of his contemporary debate on logic, his doctoral dissertation
being a critique of psychologism, and his Habilitationsschrift being,
to a great extent, an exercise in applying the logical investigations of
Husserl, Lask, and Rickert.88 It is hard to underestimate the influence
of Heidegger’s engagement with the logical investigations of his time
on the development of his thought, principally the various investiga-
tions of the doctrine of judgements and the meaning of the proposi-
tional copula ‘is’.89
Heidegger inherits from Husserl an entirely new method of
thinking about the nature of logic, the method of phenomenology.
Husserl had already attempted to demonstrate the way in which
the phenomenological method could give rise to logic as a science
of science through analysis of the structures of consciousness. This
meant, as Husserl demonstrates in his Logical Investigations, that
the fundamental concepts in philosophical logic can be analysed
phenomenologically (which means being reduced to their essential
grounds in lived experience).90 Heidegger could find in Husserlian
phenomenology a way of approaching the problems of logic anew by
reinventing phenomenological analysis.91 Through his criticisms of
Husserl’s phenomenological method, Heidegger thus develops a new
way of thinking about this relation of logic to lived experience in his
so-called ‘analytic of Dasein’.92
For Heidegger, there are three fundamental assumptions of
Husserlian phenomenology that need to be superseded. The first is
the assumed separation of the subject from a ‘world’, the suspen-
sion of judgement regarding the existence of external objects which
is required in the phenomenological and eidetic reductions. This
constitutes the basis of Heidegger’s critique of the Cartesian tradi-
tion (and its culmination in Husserlian phenomenology). According
to Heidegger, it is fundamentally mistaken to assume the existence
of a subject that is not already ‘thrown’ (geworfen) in the world.
Secondly, Heidegger resists the idea that the relation of the subject to
the objects that appear in its consciousness is primarily theoretical.
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 55

According to Heidegger, the relationship of Dasein to beings is, first

and foremost, a pre-theoretical relation – Dasein is related to other
entities primarily in terms of particular tasks at hand with which it
is required to cope. Thirdly, Heidegger rejects the centrality of the
present time for phenomenology. Husserl stresses the ahistoric nature
of phenomenology, which seeks for the essences of the structures
it studies – essences which must persist through time. Heidegger’s
critique consists of pointing out the temporality which constitutes
Dasein. Dasein is that being which can question the being of beings,
insofar as it realises its temporal nature.

11. Logic, praxis, and ontology

These three objections correspond to a three-part distinction which

Heidegger introduces in Being and Time. According to Heidegger,
beings in the world can be understood within two dimensions. They
are primarily ready-to-hand (zuhanden). This means they exist in a
pre-theoretical sphere in which they are not yet presented to Dasein
as objects. Their appearance as present-at-hand (vorhanden) is only
derivative of their being-ready-to-hand (zuhandensein).93 For example,
a hammer is ready-to-hand for as long as it is, say, an extension of my
hand – it allows me to cope with a particular task at hand, namely
that of nailing nails. It does not yet constitute an object which can
be construed as separate from an array of properties or from my self
qua subject. It immediately refers to the nails, which then relate to
that which is nailed, which ultimately bears reference to a totality
of equipment (Zeug), from which it is not yet distinct.94 That same
hammer may begin to appear as present-at-hand once its function
is somehow disturbed, for example, if it has broken.95 Once I need
to fix the hammer, I begin to require a specific, present-at-hand
knowledge of it, for example, by conceptualising it as an object with
particular properties, such as having a head and having a handle.
The being-present-at-hand of the hammer is thus contingent upon its
being-ready-to-hand – the hammer emerges as ready-to-hand if and
only if it was already present-at-hand. Thus, the Cartesian-Husserlian
possibility of imagining a subject apart from the world (and then
suspending judgement regarding the world’s existence) assumes the
possibility of presence-at-hand prior to and without readiness-to-
hand.96 The assumption of a theoretical relation to the world without
56 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

the presupposition of a pre-theoretical one amounts to the same

What is most important here, though, is Heidegger’s third objec-
tion, which constitutes perhaps his most innovative contribution
to philosophy. The introduction of temporality goes hand in hand
with the introduction of a sphere which is constitutive of the ontic
spheres of readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand. Dasein, according
to Heidegger, is ‘thrown’ (1996, p. 127) into a world of ready-to-
hand entities, with which it is related through particular tasks to be
fulfilled. Dasein’s coping with these tasks is a process which unfolds
in time and is perpetually directed towards the future. The care (Sorge)
of Dasein for beings that are ready-to-hand is an involvement with
the future.97 But this dimension of futurity is always a finite one, and
this finitude, which lies in the future, is indeterminable.98 Dasein is,
in other words, a ‘being-toward-death’, it is perpetually threatened by
the limited horizon of its future.99
Thus, Dasein is that being which must encounter its own finitude.
Dasein’s engagement with its own finitude entails that Dasein is that
being whose being consists in engaging with the question of being.
The utmost task set before Dasein is that of carrying out a certain
questioning of Dasein’s finitude, a questioning which leads us directly
to Heidegger’s account of ontology and thus to his musings on the
question of ‘the nothing’ (Das Nichts). The engagement with its own
finitude is taken up by Dasein through its opening to a condition
of anxiety or Angst.100 Angst is a state of objectless feeling, a kind of
despair that is directed towards no particular entity in Dasein’s world.
Angst contrasts with fear precisely by the fact that it is not directed
towards a determinate object.101 Rather, through an examination of
Angst, Dasein comes to realise precisely that it is in this way related
to no particular ready-to-hand being. Angst turns out to be directed
toward the nothing besides beings.102
In this way, Angst relates Dasein to an ontological sphere that is
more originary than the ontic sphere of being-ready-to-hand and
its derivative being-present-at-hand. The nothing that is revealed in
Angst is neither a being nor an object. Angst is, as Heidegger claims, an
‘attunement’ towards that which is neither ready-to-hand equipment
nor a present-at-hand object, neither the negation of some object nor
‘the annihilation of the whole of beings themselves’ (1998a, p. 90).
What Angst discovers in its attunement to nothingness is this: ‘The
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 57

nothing itself nihilates’ (Das Nichts selbst nichtet) (p. 90). In other
words, the nothing is neither negation of objects nor annihilation of
beings, but a condition for the possibility of the existence of either.
In order to approach this claim, one must place it within the
context of the tri-part hierarchy which we have already exposed
and the relations which hold within it. The sphere of ready-to-hand
entities constitutes a condition for the possibility of present-at-hand
objects. Similarly, the ontological sphere is more originary than either
ready-to-hand entities or present-at-hand objects (and this originary
sphere is the ‘open region’ for every possible experience of objects).
Although the former relation might be in some way intuitive, the
latter seems hard to grasp. It is through an elaboration of Heidegger’s
account of authenticity that the hierarchical relation of the onto-
logical sphere toward the ontic sphere becomes clear. According to
Heidegger, the revelation of nothingness through Angst brings about
a certain existential dilemma. As we have already mentioned, Dasein
is, on the one hand, oriented towards coping with particular tasks
at hand and, on the other, essentially finite, a being-towards-death
which could at any moment perish, ending Dasein’s engagement
with the world. Angst brings about the revelation of Dasein’s fini-
tude and thus the realisation of the fundamental contingency of all
task-fulfilling engagement with the world. Whereas the ready-to-
hand engagement with particular practical endeavours appears as if
necessary in itself, the ontological sphere reveals practical engage-
ment as one possibility among others. It is only through this recogni-
tion that Dasein realises its power to choose an authentic engagement
with its projects, whereas Heidegger holds that without a realisation
of the contingency of its endeavours (i.e. without a response to
being-towards-death), Dasein’s existence remains inauthentic.
What really takes place, though, in the realisation of Dasein’s power
to live in an authentic manner is precisely the contingency of the
appearance of entities as ready-to-hand, their determination by a
more originary, ontological dimension.103 The sphere of ontology
becomes a condition for the possibility of authentically caring for
some task at hand. What is revealed in anxiety is the Being (or world)
of ready-to-hand entities, their originary ontological dimension. The
‘Being of beings’ is itself not an entity, it cannot be construed as some
particular being or object, it is not a thing. This is what Heidegger
implies when he talks of the nothing beside beings. The Being of
58 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

beings is no thing, it is not some being or the negation of some being,

but rather nothing. Yet, this nothing is necessary if there is to be
some thing: all beings (die Seienden) refer to that by virtue of which
they are (i.e. being, Sein), which is to say, nothing.
The logical expression of this nothing is not possible.104 Rather, if
we follow Heidegger, it is the metaphysical condition for the existence
of what we call logic. We have already seen that Heidegger differenti-
ates among the ontological level,105 the ready-to-hand ontic level,
and the present-at-hand objective level. We could rephrase this, in
reference to logic, as there being the ontological, the pre-predicative
and the predicative realms. If logic is to be understood as Aristotelian
syllogistic, consisting of subject–predicate relations, then logic must
be capable of describing objects only as present-at-hand.106 In other
words, it is only once entities have emerged as present-at-hand
objects in a theoretically describable manner that logic is applicable
to them.
As we have seen, Heidegger inherits Husserl’s project, as it is
expounded in the Logical Investigations, of explaining fundamen-
tally logical issues (e.g. quality, number, and quantity) through their
reduction to phenomenological issues, i.e. through their exposition
as essential structures of consciousness. Having critically reformed
Husserlian phenomenology, Heidegger undertakes this same project
from a different perspective. Whereas Husserl’s phenomenology
sought out the essential structures of consciousness, Heidegger’s
project involves an exposition of the structures of existence. This
different perspective on Husserl’s phenomenology is precisely what
Heidegger explicates in a passage describing the new ‘analytic of
Dasein’ he proposes in Being and Time:

All explications arising from an analytic of Da-sein are gained

with a view toward its structure of existence. Because these expli-
cations are defined in terms of existentiality, we shall call the char-
acteristics of being of Da-sein existentials. They are to be sharply
delimited from the determinations of being of those beings unlike
Dasein which we call categories. ... Existentials and categories are
the two fundamental possibilities of the characteristics of being.
The being which corresponds to them requires different ways of
primary interrogation. Beings are a who (existence) or else a what
(objective presence in the broadest sense). It is only in terms of
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 59

the clarified horizon of the question of being that we can treat

the connection between the two modes of characteristics of being.
(1996, p. 42)

Here, Heidegger reveals the task of his ‘analytic of Dasein’ as that

of exposing the fundamental structures of existence, which are
inextricably connected to the categorial structures. Their difference
lies in the fact that whereas the categories are relevant to kinds of
objects (external and posterior to existence), the ‘existentials’ which
the analytic of Dasein elucidates are not. Rather, they constitute
a kind of structure that is internal to existence, that is proper to
Dasein. The relation that holds between the two is that which holds
between katēgoreisthai (to be accused/categorised) and katēgoriai
(categories),107 the former being a practice, and the latter being an
object (that comes about as a result of that practice). In other words,
to a great extent, what is developed in Heidegger’s Being and Time is
a method and an exposition of the way in which logical principles
are hermeneutically-phenomenologically grounded in ‘existential’
The primary problem with this approach lies with the question
of its distinctness, qua philosophy, from a merely psychological
method.108 We have already noted the fact that Heidegger’s doctoral
thesis (and perhaps, through that, one of the fundamental concerns
that guided the early Heidegger towards the development of Being and
Time) was a critique of psychologism in the philosophy of logic. At
Davos, Heidegger’s attack against Cassirer was motivated by a rejec-
tion of the Neo-Kantian philosophical anthropology that Cassirer
had developed – it is within this context that the disputation over the
interpretation of Kant was undertaken. In Being and Time, Heidegger’s
exposition of the ‘analytic of Dasein’ and his designation of ‘exis-
tentials’ as its analysans is followed by a clear statement of how the
analytic of Dasein is to be distinguished from philosophical anthro-
pology, psychology, and biology. He argues that (following his defini-
tion) Dasein is not a subject, not a Cartesian ego. Thus, the analysis of
Dasein cannot be the study of a particular being, it cannot become a
special science – to attempt this would be to fall into anthropologism,
psychologism, or biologism. Rather, Dasein constitutes a condition
for the possibility of any of the special sciences, which necessarily
presuppose it, since they are ‘rooted in the ontology of Dasein’
60 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

(1996, p. 46). The existence of theoretical knowledge relies on a more

primordial pre-theoretical sphere of activity towards which Dasein is
Thus, Heidegger insists that his account is a metaphysical one,
which for him means that it is necessarily irreducible to a specific
special science. Nevertheless, the task of metaphysics in Heidegger’s
project seems to require a fall back from rational enquiry, examining
the legein of its logos. What is studied by it is not the object of some
mental faculty but rather the product of some ‘pre-ontological’ recep-
tion of the world through moods (Stimmungen) (e.g. Angst). Although
this comes close to seeming like turning metaphysics into a kind of
psychology, the special meaning attributed by Heidegger to the term
‘mood’ (Stimmung) enables him to posit moods as a way of allowing
ontological ‘truth’ to be disclosed. Moods are not mere feelings, affects
or pathoi, in that they are not subjective or psychical, and neither are
they objective. Rather, they are impersonal ways in which Dasein and
the world are related.
Although the details of the justification Heidegger gives to his expo-
sition of moods are too lengthy and technical to be relevant here,
what is most important for us is the fact that Heidegger’s account of
metaphysics is far from a traditional one. Heidegger does not seek,
for example, to deduce an ontology from a priori logical principles
but rather seeks to ground logic in an ontology through the ‘existen-
tial’ structure of Dasein. Whereas metaphysics prior to Heidegger had
been largely a rationalistic endeavour, with Heidegger the attempt is
to overcome the metaphysics of the logos.

12. Learning to express one’s feelings

without metaphysics

In Carnap’s Überwindung, none of the above discussion of Heidegger

appears, at first glance, to matter at all. As already noted, Carnap’s
claim is that he is only using Heidegger’s sentences as an example
of those elementary linguistic mistakes characteristic of metaphysics.
Before examining Heidegger’s relation to Carnap, it is important to
first explain this seeming irrelevance. It emerges through Carnap’s
primary concern in his paper, which seems to be that of establishing
a linguistic approach to metaphysics by clarifying the distinction
between legitimate, meaningful use of language and nonsense.
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 61

According to Carnap, there are two levels on which metaphysics

produces, unbeknownst to it, nonsense. On the one hand, metaphysics
may produce pseudo-concepts. This occurs when words in a language
do not have a meaning, i.e. do not refer to something or other. Carnap
explains that, though almost all words in a language have some orig-
inal meaning (i.e. some empirical content), they also have an evolu-
tion in history, through which their meaning may change. In certain
instances, the meaning of some word may be altered in such a way as
to lose ‘its old sense without acquiring a new one’ (Carnap, 1959, p.
62), giving rise to a pseudo-concept. Carnap proceeds to examine the
condition under which a word may be meaningfully employed in a
sentence S. Sentence S may be shown to be meaningful by answering
a question (that can be formulated accordingly) regarding either its
syntax, logical form, epistemological verification, or philosophical
meaning (which Carnap calls ‘phenomenology’).109 Thus, he claims
that a word is meaningful if either: (i) there are empirical criteria for
its application (i.e. one is able to specify empirically when its elemen-
tary statement is true), (ii) it can be deduced from certain ‘protocol
sentences’ (1959, p. 64), (iii) it has fixed truth-conditions, or (iv) it is
verifiable by a given method.
Carnap brings in an example to illustrate his point. First, he
considers the invention of a new word, ‘teavy’. Carnap imagines a
person who claims that ‘teavy’ applies to some things and not others,
while giving no empirical criterion as to how this application takes
place, since ‘there are no empirical signs of teavyness’ (1959, p. 64).
This person may, in fact, associate ‘some kind of images and feelings
with the word’ (Carnap, 1959, p. 64), but this does not satisfy the
conditions given above for a word to be meaningful. Carnap thus
claims that ‘teavy’ is meaningless, despite any claim that ‘there are
things which are teavy and there are things which are not teavy, only
it remains for the weak, finite intellect of man an eternal secret which
things are teavy and which are not’ (1959, p. 64).
In this example, Carnap clearly lays out his demarcation between
what in his later remarks on the paper in 1957 he refers to as
‘cognitive (designative, referential) meaning on the one hand, and
non-cognitive (expressive) meaning components, e.g. emotive
and motivative, on the other’ (1959, p. 80). According to Carnap,
although metaphysics cannot make meaningful cognitive assertions,
it is unavoidably expressive, which is an ‘obvious psychological fact’
62 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

(1959, p. 80). In other words, although Carnap denies the cognitive

meaningfulness of some emotive and motivative expression which
remains ‘an eternal secret’ to the ‘weak, finite intellect of man’ (1959,
p. 80), he does not deny that such states are unavoidably human.
In fact, Carnap himself asserts this necessity already in the original
1931 paper. According to Carnap, metaphysics, despite the mean-
inglessness due to which it need be overcome, is nonetheless to
be understood as an expression of a certain life-feeling, an attitude
towards life.110

metaphysics does indeed have a content; only it is not theo-

retical content. The (pseudo)statements of metaphysics do not
serve for the description of states of affairs, neither existing ones (in
that case they would be true statements) nor non-existing ones
(in that case they would be at least false statements). They serve
for the expression of the general attitude of a person towards life
(‘Lebenseinstellung, Lebensgefühl’). (1959, p. 78)

What is to be overcome in metaphysics, thus, is not the Lebensgefühl

which metaphysicians express, nor is it clear that this either may or
should be overcome. Rather, metaphysical theories are to be overcome
precisely because they attempt the theoretical expression of some-
thing inexpressible in theory. Carnap is here attacking the poverty of
theory, and particularly of metaphysics, as a medium for the neces-
sary expression of an attitude towards life. According to Carnap, what
is expressed in metaphysics is much more potently expressed in a
realm within which truth and falsity (i.e. the central concern of theo-
retical endeavours) are precisely not that which is at stake. Rather,
Lebensgefühl is suited to a medium in which the expression itself is
the telos sought after.111
As an example of the above, Carnap compares the metaphysi-
cian to the lyrical poet; both metaphysicians and lyrical poets select
‘language as the medium of expression and declarative sentences as
the form of expression’ (1959, p. 79). The result for the latter is more
successful than for the former. Metaphysicians attempt to support
their attitude towards life through argument and polemics with other
metaphysicians, proceeding thus due to their delusion that there
is something designative that is either true or false in their use of
language. Lyric poets, on the other hand, are successful in their use
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 63

of language precisely by virtue of their poetry involving no assertion

of facts that is to be argued over – there is no argument between poets
regarding the truth or falsity of such and such sentence in this or that
Carnap finds that the ultimate expression of Lebensgefühl is given
in music, because of the total absence of even the semblance of cogni-
tive linguistic content, since music is not referential.

The harmonious feeling or attitude, which the metaphysician tries

to express in a monistic system, is more clearly expressed in the
music of Mozart. And when a metaphysician gives verbal expres-
sion to his dualistic-heroic attitude towards life in a dualistic
system, is it not perhaps because he lacks the ability of a Beethoven
to express this attitude in an adequate medium? (Carnap, 1959,
p. 80)

In other words, it is, to a great extent, the inadequacy of language

for pure expression, one that does not at the same time introduce
an element (even if only a semblance) of referential meaning, that
plagues metaphysics. Carnap sees metaphysicians as ‘musicians
without musical ability’ (1959, p. 80), fusing and thus confusing a
fundamental human attitude towards expression with the theo-
retical drive to knowledge. For Carnap, genuine theoretical knowl-
edge is impossible in metaphysics, while Lebensgefühl is inadequately
expressed by the declarative sentences thereby produced, since such
expression is hindered by the theoretical medium metaphysics is
undertaken in.
The issue that Carnap raises here regarding the relation of the theo-
retical exercise of metaphysics to the expressive attitude exemplified
by the arts was a concern for the tradition he is criticising. Several
examples may be given, from Hegel’s (or at least presumably his)
‘Oldest System Program’ of 1796/97113 to Schopenhauer’s designation
of music as the ultimate presentation of will and even to Hamann and
Kierkegaard’s pseudepigraphic literary techniques or Lange (an early
Neo-Kantian) and his notion of conceptual poetry (Begriffsdichtung).114
Carnap gives one such example, that of Nietzsche who, according to
Carnap, avoided the confusion of the expressive with the theoretical
by writing, on the one hand, completely empirical ‘historical analyses
of specific artistic phenomena, or an historical-psychological analysis
64 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

of morals’ (1959, p. 80), and on the other hand, purely poetic expres-
sions of metaphysical and ethical attitudes such those as found in his
Thus Spake Zarathustra.115
Thus Carnap’s Überwindung of metaphysics is at least to some
extent a response to particular problems within the tradition Carnap
designates by the term,116 and perhaps even partly motivated by an
attempt to answer the question that had developed among that tradi-
tion regarding the status of expression in relation to theory. This
motivation pertains only to the overall reasoning behind Carnap’s
choice of a proposed Überwindung rather than constituting a justifica-
tion for it. The justification Carnap offers for his Überwindung comes
through his method of proving the meaninglessness of metaphysical
language, i.e. through linguistic analysis. Thus, although Carnap is
in fact responding to a question within metaphysics, he is not under-
taking that task in a metaphysical way but rather deems the question
resolvable only through a particular, non-metaphysical point of view,
which amounts to the analysis of language using the newly devel-
oped instruments of modern logic.

13. Music lessons for metaphysicians

How does Carnap justify his claim that metaphysics must be over-
come? Carnap’s effort, as discussed above, is aimed at proving that
metaphysical statements are neither true nor false but nonsensical.
If metaphysics produces no truth or falsity, but mere nonsense,
then it cannot provide us with knowledge regarding its objects. The
proof for this is found through the logical analysis of metaphysical
As we saw earlier, Carnap provides a list of ways in which the
meaningfulness of a word may be judged. This constitutes one of two
methods of demonstrating the meaninglessness of metaphysics. The
second way regards a more subtle point pertaining to the difference
between ‘logical syntax’ and ‘historical-grammatical syntax’ (Carnap,
1959, p. 69). According to Carnap, a sequence of words may produce
a sentence that is well-formed according to ‘historical-grammatical
syntax’, but which is meaningless (according to ‘logical syntax’).
Thus, illusively meaningful-sounding pseudo-sentences are formed.
Carnap gives the example of the sentence (4) ‘Caesar is a prime
number’.117 Although a sentence like (5) ‘Caesar is and’ is obviously
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 65

counter-syntactical, (4) is not; the sequence of words in sentence (4)

is perfectly acceptable in terms of grammatical syntax. The problem
with (4) is that it maps a predicate, such as ‘is a prime number’, which
can be meaningfully attributed to subjects that belong to the class
of numbers, onto a subject that is a person, which in turn cannot
(without more ado) be thus predicated in a meaningful manner.
Carnap claims that when ‘prime number’ is used as the predicate of
a person, this can yield neither truth nor falsity; it is thus meaning-
less. The conditions under which ‘x is a prime number’ can be seen
as false cannot be given when x means Caesar. It is not just that (5) is
false but that there is no criterion according to which it is decidable
whether (5) is true or false, since the criterion for truth or falsehood
regarding ‘x is a prime number’, i.e. the divisibility of x by a natural
number other than a or 1, is only applicable to numbers; a cannot be
a person.118

14. Overcoming first principles

Carnap’s attack on metaphysics is founded on two facts regarding

linguistic meaning: the possibility, within the discourse of ordinary
language, of the production of pseudo-concepts on the one hand, and
pseudo-sentences on the other. Both mistakes are found in metaphys-
ical uses of language, and Carnap illustrates both by testing partic-
ular examples of types of pseudo-concepts and pseudo-sentences. As
examples of pseudo-concepts, he takes the terms ‘principle’ and ‘God’.
His pseudo-sentences, as already noted, are selected from Heidegger’s
‘What is Metaphysics?’
In examining the use of the term ‘principle’ in metaphysical specula-
tion, Carnap claims that ‘metaphysicians offer an answer to the ques-
tion which is the (highest) “principle of the world” (or of “things”,
of “existence”, of “being”), e.g. water, number, form, motion, life,
the spirit, the idea, the unconscious, activity, the good, and so forth’
(1959, p. 65). Carnap demonstrates the fundamental ambiguity in the
use of the word ‘principle’ to indicate a special kind of causal connec-
tion that is not empirical and cannot be empirically tested. This is
shown by the metaphysical use of the Greek word archē, from which
principium (and thereby ‘principle’) is derived in translation. Archē
was originally, according to Carnap, used to indicate ‘beginning’
(and thus the prime cause of a chain of causes and effects).119 With
66 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

its use in metaphysical discourse, the meaning of archē shifted away

from that of ‘beginning’ as indicating temporal priority, towards indi-
cating a special kind of priority that is no longer (merely) temporal.
Although the kinds of images and feelings originally expressed by the
word are transferred into the new context created for it, the word’s
empirically testable reference has disappeared.
Carnap’s commentary on the meaninglessness of archē or principle
is brief and only undertaken as an example of how pseudo-concepts
operate in metaphysics. The briefness of this mention disguises an
implicit confrontation with Heidegger. Of course, the question of
the archē or ‘principle of the world’ is at the centre of the history of
metaphysics and is a question that, Heidegger would say, predates the
history of metaphysics as ontotheology, going back to the Pre-Socratics
(i.e. is a question that at the time predated the scope of Heidegger’s
Destruktion of the metaphysics of the logos).120 Despite the general
importance, though, of archē throughout the history of philosophy,
it could be speculated that Carnap has here in mind, in attacking the
general concept of archē, a specific use of that word in Heidegger’s
We have already seen the concept of archē at work in Heidegger’s
oeuvre whenever he has established that x is more originary than y.
As Carnap knew quite well, Husserl’s phenomenology is, in Husserl’s
own words, a method for revealing the archai of the special sciences,121
ascending from ‘their beginnings and grounds to the primal grounds,
the primal beginnings, the true archai’ (Husserl, 1956, p. 169, transla-
tion quoted in Stone, 2006, p. 220). Heidegger inherited from Husserl
the phenomenological method precisely as the method of disclosing
archai. In Being and Time, his fundamental innovation is to place
Being at the origin of beings. In his interpretation of Kant, he asserts
that the archē of the faculty of reason lies in the schematism that
lays the ground for metaphysics. In his dispute with Cassirer, he is
effectively trying to establish the archē of anthropology in Dasein. In
his account of logic, he illustrates the origin of logic as being onto-
logical. Later on, he becomes obsessed with the Pre-Socratics, whose
philosophical physika revolve around the concept of the archē, in a
search for an original expression of philosophy before its ‘forgetful-
ness of being’.122 In fact, Heidegger may be seen, from Being and Time
onwards, as having become involved in an infinite regress of archai,
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 67

in which he keeps looking back at what is more and more originary,

unable to locate the one archē. Many of Heidegger’s philosophical
followers focused precisely on this point in their critical readings of
his philosophy.123
Perhaps most importantly, the originary (archē) for Heidegger
is metaphysical in Carnap’s sense: it is not reducible to a starting
point in a temporal sequence but rather is there as something prior.
Carnap is reaching for an ambiguity and possibly a contradiction in
Heidegger’s attempt to understand time as that which has remained
unthought in the Western tradition of metaphysical thought. Perhaps
the most important aspect of Heidegger’s project in Being and Time is
to re-instate into Western philosophy an ontology which does not
reify Being as an eternal, timeless entity, but one that rather thinks
of Being in terms of ontological difference, as in some sense prior to,
or more originary than (i.e. as an archē for), all entities. In order to
do so, if we are to unfold Carnap’s criticism, Heidegger needs to take
the notion of origin which in its originary meaning refers to tempo-
rality and transform it into the atemporal relation of priority. It is
only through this non-temporal account of an ontological hierarchy,
according to which throughout time being is prior to all beings,
that Heidegger may then state that the temporality of being remains
unthought once it is construed as an atemporal entity.
Such an objection remains unstated in Carnap, and not without
good reason. Carnap only requires that we are shown how, in the
transformation of the linguistic meaning of archē as ‘beginning’ into
a stipulated metaphysical, non-temporal expression, the expres-
sion archē (qua metaphysical) is deprived of any meaningfulness. To
enter into direct dialogue with Heidegger regarding the metaphys-
ical dimension of archē would be to indulge in the meaninglessness
which he is attributing to his use of the term. Carnap merely wants
to demonstrate this linguistic meaninglessness and may only hint at
any metaphysical dimension of such a demonstration, which his own
doctrine has precluded him from directly and explicitly commenting
As already noted, Heidegger is not explicitly the subject of Carnap’s
paper, and it is only implicitly that Carnap is undertaking an exchange
with Heidegger’s thought in general, as opposed to mere examples of
metaphysical nonsense taken from his work.124 It thus remains the
68 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

task of his interpreters to detect the possible dialogue at hand here, as

has been partly accomplished above.

15. What does ‘nothing’ mean?

As an example of metaphysical pseudo-statements, Carnap cites

a selection of sentences from Heidegger’s ‘What is Metaphysics?’
This exercise is meant to demonstrate how Heidegger’s peculiar
and playful employment of certain linguistic expressions, although
well-formed according to ‘historical-grammatical syntax’, is in breach
of the rules of logical syntax. In other words, Carnap is claiming here
that Heidegger’s sentences function in the same way that his earlier
example, ‘Caesar is a prime number’ does, i.e. they act as meaningless
linguistic formations, which are neither true nor false. To this end,
Carnap puts together this array of Heideggerese:

What is to be investigated is being only and – nothing else; being

alone and further – nothing; solely being and beyond being – nothing.
What about this Nothing? ... Does the Nothing exist only because the
Not, i.e. the Negation, exists? Or is it the other way around? Does
Negation and the Not exist only because the Nothing exists? ... We
assert: the Nothing is prior to the Not and the Negation. ... Where do
we seek the Nothing? How do we find the Nothing. ... We know
the Nothing. ... Anxiety reveals the Nothing. ... That for which and
because of which we were anxious, was ‘really’ – nothing. Indeed:
the Nothing itself – as such – was present. ... What about this
nothing? – The Nothing itself nothings. (1959, p. 69)

Carnap proceeds to demonstrate that Heidegger’s sentences mean

nothing. He begins with his distinction between meaningful, logi-
cally syntactical sentences on the one hand, and meaningless
sentences which are nevertheless formulated in accordance with
‘historical-grammatical syntax’ on the other hand. The latter are
meaningless in a manner that makes it hard to perceive at first glance:
their structure is identical to that of meaningful, logically syntactical
sentences. Carnap shows this by examining their ‘transition from
sense to nonsense in ordinary language’ (1959, p. 70) and attempting
to translate them into ‘logically correct language’ (p. 70) where this is
possible. Thus, for example, the question ‘What is outside?’ (Carnap,
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 69

1959, p. 70), which Carnap translates as ‘Ou(?)’ (p. 70), might be

answered by both ‘Rain is outside’ (p. 70), which has the form ‘Ou(r)’,
and ‘Nothing is outside’ (p. 70), which has the form Ou(no).
The problem with the latter sentence is the same as that with
‘Caesar is a prime number’ – although the structure is identical to that
of the former, meaningful, correctly logically formed sentences, they
are nevertheless meaningless. Some pseudo-sentences can be trans-
lated into correct logical terms and can thus potentially be rendered
meaningful by virtue of this translatability. The sentence ‘Nothing
is outside’ (p. 70) is, according to Carnap, not logically correct, but
nonetheless it is meaningful once it is translated correctly into logical
terms as ‘There is nothing (does not exist anything) which is outside’
(p. 70). The logical structure for this sentence is now not ‘Ou(no)’
(p. 70), but rather ‘~(x)Ou(x)’ (p. 70).125
The kind of sentence exemplified by ‘Nothing is outside’
(p. 70), which illustrates the confusing (because logically incorrect)
nature of historical-grammatical syntax, is ‘undesirable’ according
to Carnap because it may lead to other formulations which are
completely meaningless and cannot be ‘corrected’ in the way this
sentence can. So, for example, though one may ask, ‘What about
this rain? (i.e. What does the rain do? or: What else can be said about
this rain?) ?(r)’ (p. 70), which is meaningful and logically syntactical,
one may not meaningfully ask, ‘“What about this nothing” ?(no)’,
which Heidegger troublingly asks. Further trouble is met when
one moves from meaningful sentences such as ‘We know the rain’
(p. 70) (K(r)) to Heidegger’s claims that ‘“We seek the nothing”, “We
find the nothing”, “We know the nothing”’ (p. 70) (K(no)). And the
ultimate confusion, for Carnap, comes when ‘The rain rains R(r)’
(p. 70) becomes, in Heidegger’s words, ‘“The nothing nothings”
N(n)’ (p. 70).
Carnap attributes the meaninglessness of a sentence like ‘“What
about this nothing”’ (p. 70) to its use of ‘nothing’ as a noun. As is
shown in Carnap’s translation of ‘Nothing is outside’ into ‘~(x)
Ou(x)’, though in the historico-grammatical syntax ‘nothing’ is a
name, in a logically correct sentence ‘nothing’ is not a name, but
a function within the logical form of a sentence (i.e. negation).
Furthermore, in a sentence like ‘“The nothing nothings”’, nothing
is introduced, in a Heideggerese neologism, as a verb: to nothing.
According to Carnap, ‘the nothing nothings’ (p. 70) combines the
70 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

transformation by metaphysics of originally meaningful concepts

into pseudo-concepts that has already been demonstrated with the
invention of a pseudo-concept which did not even have an original
meaning. To add to this, Carnap points out that Heidegger ends up
uttering sentences like ‘“The Nothing exists only because ... ” Ex(no)’
(p. 70). Even had this sentence not been meaningless, it asserts
that the nothing exists, and therefore it simply would have been a
Carnap proceeds to examine the possibility that there might have
been some special meaning attributed to ‘nothing’ by Heidegger
in this passage, some meaning that is ‘entirely different from the
customary one’ (1959, p. 71).126 This would have to be a meaning
that escapes Carnap’s conditions regarding what constitutes meta-
physical pseudo-concepts, i.e. it would have to be an empirically
testable meaning. Carnap wonders whether ‘nothing’ designates
some emotional state (since, of course, Heidegger himself talks
of its revelation through anxiety), ‘perhaps of a religious sort, or
something or other that underlies such emotions’ (1959, p. 71). As
we have seen, Heidegger allows for no such psychologistic reduc-
tion of his metaphysical thought – he rather emphatically objects
to psychologism throughout his career. Carnap is clearly aware of
the inadmissibility of such an alternative for Heidegger and points
to the fact that it is, according to Heidegger himself, incompat-
ible with any interpretation of his text. The meaningfulness of
Heidegger’s ‘nothing’ would be salvaged if and only if Heidegger
allowed for the designation of what he had thought of as the meta-
physical investigation of fundamental ontology as reducible to a
species of psychology.
It is important to note that we need not accept here what many
of Carnap’s interpreters have seen as an entirely uncharitable reduc-
tion of Heidegger’s position by Carnap (which is assumed to derive
from his ignorance of Heidegger).127 Rather, Carnap is referring to a
problem which was addressed by Heidegger in various ways and even
constituted a theme of his inaugural address, namely the question
of the relation of his philosophy to the special sciences, and partic-
ularly the question of the demarcation of philosophy from empir-
ical psychology which lay at the centre of the Psychologismus-Streit.
Of course, Carnap could not accept the metaphysically derived
meta-philosophical position Heidegger advances – according to what
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 71

has already been stated in the Überwindung, its foundation is mean-

ingless. Thus Carnap is trying to push Heidegger (through the few
sentences he is analysing) into the choice between metaphysics (and
thus the problem of its meaninglessness) and a psychologistic posi-
tion he has already rejected. Heidegger has already, though, chosen
the former. The cost of his choice remains severe.128

16. Contradictions

The cause of the confusion in Carnap’s interpreters lies in the para-

graph following the one in which the above dilemma is formu-
lated. Here, Carnap’s hostility towards Heidegger becomes apparent.
Carnap appears here to attribute to Heidegger a number of absurd
positions, culminating in the claim that he rejects the principle of
non-contradiction. This attack is performed through quoting three
passages from Heidegger’s text in which he seems to be attacking the
utility of logic for the examination of ‘the nothing’. According to
Heidegger, in the passage quoted by Carnap, both questioning the
nothing and answering this question is absurd, precisely because (as
Carnap has already shown) to question the nothing is to posit some-
thing that ‘is’ the nothing. To posit that the nothing ‘is’ is absurd;
such a position breaks with the fundamental rule of logic, the prin-
ciple of non-contradiction.
Here, it is obvious that Carnap and Heidegger are in agreement.129
Both Carnap and Heidegger see the contradiction inherent in
positing a ‘nothing’ that is something, i.e. that, as Carnap shows, is
(i) either used as a noun or a verb, and (ii) said to exist. This amounts
to what Heidegger sees as thinking of nothing within the bounds
of (scientific) thought and thus attempting the impossible task of
making nothing into an object. Heidegger says that the nothing can
be defined and posed as a problem only by intellect, but becomes
thus an ourovoros ophis, devouring itself. Intellect, which is the only
way of interrogating nothing, cannot grasp nothing in a non-circular,
non-absurd fashion.
Heidegger has to face Carnap’s dilemma. He must either set up the
nothing as something which designates merely an emotional state,
limiting himself to some form of psychology and thus explaining
away the contradiction (while stepping down to the psycholo-
gistic position which he sought to avoid), or he must insist that the
72 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

nothing is somehow intellectual despite its breach of the principle

of non-contradiction. Carnap points out that Heidegger clearly
chooses the latter, and thus justifies Carnap’s choosing to interpret
Heidegger’s ‘nothing’ as meaningless (i.e. as not being a special use
of the word which simply indicates an emotional state or a situation
that underlies it). In making such a choice, Heidegger moves towards
claiming to abolish the sovereignty of logic over philosophy. This
ultimately must lead him to conclude, as Carnap points out, that
science must ‘condone the whirl of counter-logical questioning’
(1959, p. 72).
The reasons that Heidegger gives for the primacy of (absurd) meta-
physical speculation over logic do not concern Carnap, who appears
to assume that simply asserting such a primacy is self-ridiculing in
all contexts. In order to give his genetic account of logic, Heidegger
seeks to set its non-psychologistic foundations on absurd principles,
to ground it in an archē that is not itself logical. Carnap sees no reason
to give credence to such shaky foundations.

17. Confrontation

Here, where even some of Carnap’s charitable readers have seen

implications of irreconcilable division,130 Carnap is still dangerously
close to Heidegger’s position.131 Their divergent positions emerge
from the common root of their agreement on the absurdity of meta-
physical questioning. They both assert that metaphysical questioning
is, nevertheless, despite its absurdity, in some sense a necessity. For
Heidegger at Davos, metaphysics becomes a ‘natural disposition
of human beings’ (1997, p. 192), with which position Carnap is,
to an extent, in agreement when he states that metaphysics is the
expression of Lebensgefühl, i.e. of a (personal) fundamental attitude
towards life. For both, this designates a certain break with some prior
metaphysical tradition and the inauguration of a new approach to
thinking about metaphysics. For Heidegger, in 1929, this implies
the Destruktion of metaphysics.132 For Carnap, in 1931, it brings
about its Überwindung. For Heidegger, Destruktion is something that
follows from, and responds to, the acknowledgment of the absurdity
of metaphysical claims. For Carnap, Überwindung is the response to
the discovery of the meaninglessness caused by the confused use of
language in metaphysics.
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 73

Heidegger claims that the absurdity involved in thought’s

encounter with the nothing is somehow justified by being constitu-
tive of the rules according to which one may judge one thing to be
meaningful and another absurd. The ontological dimension of noth-
ingness is more originary than the logical operation of negation. It
is the archē that governs it. The realm of logic is one that pertains
to our present-at-hand theoretical knowledge, which is only possible
through the more originary modes of pre-theoretical being-in-
the-world and its ontological archē. Through this categorisation of
modes, logic falls within a hierarchy, in which ontology has primacy.
Ontology is the encounter with being, with that archē from which
any specific knowledge of beings is made possible.
Carnap’s project is similar to Heidegger’s in that it deals with the
absurdity of metaphysics and its simultaneous necessity to human
beings. But Carnap does not allow for this absurdity to become a
theoretical issue. Rather, the meaningless nature of metaphysics
must serve as proof of the need to banish it from theory altogether.
For Carnap, first of all, it makes no sense to talk of something as a
principle, as ‘more originary’ than something else – this would be to
mistake our empirical concept of causation for some pseudo-concept
of causation somehow deprived of its empirical nature. If metaphysics
is to be understood as prōtē philosophia (first philosophy) (which is
only one of the senses in which Aristotle discusses it),133 i.e. as an
investigation into the ‘principles of being’, then it is meaningless,
since it is not clear what the ‘first principles’ which such a discipline
would discuss are (insofar as they are special, non-empirically testable
causes). The project of grounding logic in some general ‘principle of
being’ is, by implication, meaningless.
What is left for philosophy, once proof has been given of the mean-
inglessness of metaphysics, is, according to Carnap, the project of
logical analysis of empirical, factual scientific statements. The goal
of this project remains ‘to lay logical foundations for factual science
and for mathematics’ (1959, p. 77) through clarifying the meaning
of concepts and propositions. This project requires no grounding
in a ‘more originary’ ontology. Rather, it is based on a metalogic,
consisting of ‘pure metalogic (e.g. “a sentence consisting of the
existence-symbol and a noun, is not a sentence”)’ and ‘descriptive
metalogic (e.g. “the word sequence at such and such a place in such
and such a book is meaningless”)’ (Carnap, 1959, p. 78). Carnap
74 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

claims that the discipline of metalogic is able to speak about the

sentences of any given language it has as its object by using that
very language. Thus, grounding logic in metaphysics becomes a poor
alternative to Carnap’s own metalogic in that metaphysics has first to
answer Carnap’s objections in order to justify its existence. If meta-
physics is absurd, metalogic cannot be absurd, since it is formed in
that same (logical) language about which it speaks.
The difference between Carnap and Heidegger fundamentally
concerns a difference in emphasis regarding the discovery of the
absurdity of metaphysics. On the one hand, Carnap emphasises the
fact of its meaninglessness and thus bases his attack on the standards
of logic which are still left to us, once we have overcome metaphysics.
Thus, remaining true to these standards would mean simply the
abandonment of metaphysics, its elimination from our theoretical
discourse, and the exile of whatever (necessary) task it had performed
beyond the realm of theory. On the other hand, Heidegger empha-
sises the necessity of metaphysics. To remain true to this defining
commitment, Heidegger abandons the primacy of logic, attempting
instead to derive it from the absurd ground of metaphysics. The
fundamental question to be asked, according to Heidegger, remains
this: Why is there something rather than nothing? Despite the fact
that it is absurd to talk of the nothing as if it were something, one
must nevertheless strive towards thinking it.
The devices to be employed in this strife do not necessarily
conform to logic. Heidegger’s language, already in Being and Time, was
becoming less and less attuned to the theoretical conventions which
Carnap associates with metaphysics, and more and more attuned
to the kind of poetic disposition which Carnap had found more
appropriate to the expression of Lebensgefühl. Heidegger employs the
German language innovatively, drawing out creative (though often
unfounded)134 etymological links between words, manufacturing
neologisms and re-interpreting words outside their traditional use
(which, in turn, made his texts increasingly difficult). In Being and
Time, he provides a meta-philosophical vision regarding the nature
of language that is already in dialogue with the stance of logical posi-
tivism which Carnap represents. He writes:

Still, in the end it is the business of philosophy to protect the

power of the most elemental words in which Da-sein expresses itself
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 75

from being flattened by the common understanding to the point

of unintelligibility, which in turn functions as a source of illusory
problems.135 (Heidegger, 1996, p. 202)

From this passage, we can surmise that Heidegger insists on aligning

philosophy with the expressive capacity of particular words, words
that have been central to a certain philosophical tradition (such as
alētheia, which is discussed by Heidegger before the quoted passage
(1996, p. 202)) but whose real ‘power’ lies in allowing Dasein to
express itself (as such). This importance of words is also expressed in
‘What is Metaphysics?’, when Heidegger says:

Whatever we may make of it, we are acquainted with the nothing,

if only as a word we rattle off every day. For this common nothing
that glides so inconspicuously through our chatter, blanched
with the anemic pallor of the obvious, we can without hesitation
furnish even a ‘definition’. (1998a, p. 86)

It is, then, precisely because of the power of particular words, because

of a prior acquaintance with the nothing, that despite its apparent
meaninglessness, despite the unintelligibility which the ‘common
understanding’ purports to flatten it to, this philosophical investiga-
tion needs to be undertaken. The necessity of metaphysics, far from
being a rational one, is one that we are thrown into, in the way in
which we are thrown into acquaintance with particular words. Such
words are capable of some expressive force despite the difficulty they
pose to the intellect when it attempts to grasp them. In its herme-
neutic engagement with the expressive force of metaphysical words,
Heideggerian metaphysics in fact turns away from theory and moves
towards poetry and art, in which Heidegger will later find the ulti-
mate expression of his philosophical thought.
This fact is precisely what makes Heidegger a strangely suitable
target for Carnap’s attack on metaphysics. Heidegger, in the peculiar
entanglement of his thought with the use of language, has already
given up a metaphysics that dwells purely in the realm of theory. His
claims to rigour without exactness seem eccentric when this rigour
entails the abandonment of fundamental logical principles in favour
of a prior, more originary engagement with what founds them, what
constitutes their archē. By rejecting traditional metaphysics, Heidegger
76 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

is in alliance with Carnap. By indulging in a quasi-poetical metaphys-

ical engagement with the expressive force of words, he paves the way
for Carnap’s reduction of metaphysics to pure expression.
The disagreement with Carnap lies in the degree of purity of expres-
sion with regard to metaphysics. In most of his work, Heidegger
simply allows the poetic and expressive to slowly slip into the theo-
retical, allowing for no sharp distinction to be made between the
two.136 Carnap considers such an exercise a good reason to banish
something from the field of theory altogether. Philosophy for Carnap
has little to do with linguistic expression. It is a matter of clearing
away linguistic confusion rather than indulging in it.
But can such a disagreement take place within the scope of philos-
ophy? The rationale behind the disagreement no longer seems to
reflect a much broader spectrum of culture. Heidegger’s concern is one
that is akin to the methods and problems encountered by the human-
ities (Geisteswissenschaften) – it turns metaphysics into a hermeneutic
exercise on which the logic of all sciences is to be founded. Carnap’s
outlook is motivated by a strong belief in the power of a more general
scientific world view (Weltauffassung) centred on the development of
the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften). It is in this context that
the meaninglessness of metaphysics is to be deemed unscientific.
It would, of course, be wrong to over-emphasise the above distinc-
tion. For both thinkers, their encounter with the Überwindung or
Destruktion of metaphysics is one which is to inform and relate to all
the sciences. It is especially true of Heidegger, despite the fact that
his work was largely appropriated by the Geisteswissenschaften, that
he was not limited in his outlook to the humanities. Furthermore,
the abovementioned polarisation, to the extent that it is reflected in
Heidegger and Carnap’s positions, is one which might be traced back
to the division of interests between their Neo-Kantian predecessors
(the Marburg and Southwest schools).137
The struggle between Heidegger and Carnap is, to a great extent, a
struggle for the inheritance of the dominance which the recently fallen
Neo-Kantianism had held within German philosophy. Both thinkers
are discontent regarding the adequacy of the Neo-Kantian approach
with regard to the philosophical problems they are addressing. For
Heidegger, as has been made clear in our discussion of his interpre-
tation of Kant, the epistemological focus of Neo-Kantianism blurs
our view of the fundamentally metaphysical nature of philosophy.
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 77

Carnap’s thought, guided by the advances in logic made by his teacher

Frege, contains an attempt to replace the traditional discussions of the
philosophy of logic within Neo-Kantianism with the project of logical
analysis, informed by the new advances in Logistik. Both retain the
split between the Geisteswissenschaften and the Naturwissenschaften
which their Neo-Kantian education had provided. But whereas that
division for either school had really been a subtle differentiation in
their focus and was to be eventually redeemed in an ultimate unity,
in Heidegger and Carnap the division becomes a methodological one.
Whereas Heidegger chooses to incorporate elements of philology,
hermeneutics, and history into metaphysics (albeit without the
specialism implied by the above), Carnap’s concerns revolve around
value-free logic and meta-mathematics.138 It would, of course, be the
repetition of a false stereotype to think of either Carnap or Heidegger
as belonging to either side of such a cultural divide. Rather, they are
indicative of the ways in which the formation of such a divide slowly
began to polarise philosophical thought, leaving it up to subsequent
generations to allow for the formation of such a stereotype (by dealing
with existentialism and phenomenology in reference to the humani-
ties only, or ignoring the wider social and cultural outlook of logical

18. Carnap and Heidegger’s shared background

Here, we seem to have reached a stalemate, an impasse with regard to

the principles which might guide any possible exchange between the
two thinkers. From this impasse, it might appear that one is forced to
side either with Heidegger and his metaphysical anti-psychologism
or with Carnap and his anti-philosophical logicism, leaving things
more or less as they were at our point of departure. But there may still
be hope of breaking away the stalemate. Such a solution may come
through the introduction of a common source for both thinkers.
Two regions of influence on Carnap and Heidegger have been
prevalent so far: Neo-Kantianism139 and its gradual decline through
opposition with Lebensphilosophie.140 These two lines of influence
point back to the phenomenon of the Psychologismus-Streit as a source
of both Carnap and Heidegger’s positions: Heidegger and Carnap’s
views may be put together in the wider context of the attempt to
provide a solution to the ‘crisis’ which Germanophone philosophy
78 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

had gone through during the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Psychologismus-Streit, suddenly cut short by the First World War,
helped establish crisis-rhetoric as the norm for Germanophone intel-
lectual life (including philosophy) during the nineteen-twenties.141
Both Heidegger’s and Carnap’s views on metaphysics can be seen,
ultimately, as products of ‘crisis’-rhetoric and its consequent attempts
to radically revise philosophy’s self-conception.
Though establishing this shared background is indeed useful
in contributing to an understanding of the aporia that is formed
between Carnap and Heidegger, it is perhaps too vague to point to
a path through which a possible form of dialogue between their
two positions might be formed. There is, nevertheless, a much
more concrete source of influence for both Carnap and Heidegger
that has not yet been included in discussions of their relation. This
common source for Heidegger and Carnap is Edmund Husserl.
Though Heidegger’s status as a student of Husserl is commonly
assumed (together with Heidegger’s betrayal of his Jewish mentor),
the fact that Carnap had also been a student of Husserl is usually
overlooked. Though one (following Dummett’s picture of the
Rhine and the Danube) may prefer to view Heidegger and Carnap
as the students of the two grandfathers of continental and analytic
philosophy, i.e. Husserl and Frege, it is clear that Carnap was at
least as much a student of Husserl as of Frege.142 Undoubtedly,
Husserl was immensely influential on Carnap’s early philosophical
writings.143 Carnap discusses Husserl’s theory of space at length in
his doctoral dissertation Der Raum (1922).144 Furthermore, Carnap’s
1928 Der logische Aufbau Der Welt is deeply influenced by Husserlian
phenomenology.145 Husserl’s influence becomes less visible with
Carnap’s shift away from his early epistemological approach to
questions of value during the nineteen-twenties,146 to his radical
divorcing of philosophy from such questions which begins in the
nineteen-thirties;147 nevertheless, Carnap also cites Husserl’s work
in some of his later publications.148 Carnap had taken Husserl’s
seminar at Freiburg in 1924 and 1925 (while he was writing his
Aufbau).149 It is also possible that Carnap had previously followed
Husserl’s seminar in 1920. If he did, then he might have already
met Heidegger there, nine years prior to Davos.150 That Carnap had
attended Husserl’s seminars meant that he had been in contact with
Husserl personally (as well as his students). In contrast, Carnap
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 79

took Frege’s lectures, during which he did not even get a chance to
ask Frege any questions.151
Despite the Husserl’s influence looming over Carnap’s work,
Carnap (after his Aufbau) fails to refer to some substantially signifi-
cant aspects of Husserl’s thought which he develops. One particular
absence of reference which is pertinent to our discussion regards the
relation between Husserl and Carnap’s shared views on nonsense.
Carnap does not mention any particular sources for his account
of nonsense and his conception of logical syntax. The whole of
Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is mentioned as a source
for Carnap’s verificationist theory of meaning – but in the Tractatus,
one may not find a specific enough theoretical development of a
definition of nonsense which can be adequately linked to Carnap’s
account of nonsense as its unique source.152 Wittgenstein’s thought
was unquestionably influential on Carnap’s notion of nonsense (and
thus his attack against Heidegger), but the manner of influence, the
divergence between what the two mean by nonsense and the degree
to which Carnap’s positivistic interpretation of Wittgenstein captures
what Wittgenstein intended is disputed among various schools
of interpreting Wittgenstein.153 Carnap may also have been influ-
enced by his discussions with Wittgenstein between 1927 and early
1929.154 During this time Wittgenstein also discussed the particular
views developed by Heidegger which Carnap also comments on –
but Wittgenstein’s comments are famously sympathetic towards
According to Carnap’s autobiography, Wittgenstein’s view that
various sentences of traditional philosophy are pseudo-sentences
was one Carnap ‘had previously developed under the influence
of anti-metaphysical scientists and philosophers’ (1963a, p. 24).
One obvious candidate here is Frege, with Carnap being his most
famous student.156 Nevertheless, it is clear that Frege and Carnap
held very different views on metaphysics, and a description of Frege
as an anti-metaphysical philosopher would be, to say the least,

19. Husserl’s influence on Carnap

Carnap’s conception of nonsense is derived from Husserl’s theory of

meaning.158 Husserl is one of the most significant Germanophone
80 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

authors to introduce a theory of meaning (Sinn) which accords a

substantial role to the demarcation between sense (Sinn) and nonsense
(Unsinn).159 Husserl’s demarcation follows a distinction between types
of senselessness (Sinnlosigkeit): ‘one must not confound the sense-
less (or nonsensical) [Unsinn] with the absurd (or “counter-sensical”)
[Widersinn]’ (Husserl, 2001, p. 192). In the first and, more importantly,
the fourth Investigations of the Logische Untersuchungen, Husserl is
very much concerned with providing an account of this distinction
between two kinds of senselessness (Sinnlosigkeit).

The combination ‘a round square’ really yields a unified meaning,

having its mode of ‘existence’ or being in the realm of ideal mean-
ings, but it is apodictically evident that no existent object can
correspond to such an existent meaning. But if we say ‘a round
or’, ‘a man and is’ etc., there exist no meanings which correspond
to such verbal combinations as their expressed sense. The coor-
dinated words give us the indirect idea of some unitary meaning
they express, but it is apodictically clear that no such meaning can
exist (2001, p. 192)

To distinguish between the two forms of senselessness (Sinnlosigkeit),160

one must first distinguish between two kinds of grammatical laws
governing the combination of meanings:

If we ask why our language allows certain verbal combinations

and disallows others, we are to a large extent referred to contin-
gent linguistic habits, to matters of mere fact concerning language,
which develop in one way in one speech-community and another
way in another. In part, however, we encounter the essential differ-
ence of independent and non-independent meanings and, closely
involved therewith, the a priori laws of the combination and trans-
formation of meanings, laws which must be more or less revealed
in every developed language, both in its grammar of forms and in
the related class of grammatical incompatibilities. (Husserl, 2001,
p. 193)

Thus on the one hand, there are those grammatical laws which are
contingent and which therefore vary historically between different
languages. These laws apply only a posteriori to particular combinations
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 81

of meanings and are dependent upon the ‘linguistic habits’ (Husserl,

2001, p. 193) of a community. Such laws allow for the formation of
both nonsensical and absurd expressions.
On the other hand, there are certain a priori and necessary gram-
matical laws which are, according to Husserl, universal and apply to
the combination of meanings within any ‘developed’ [sic] language.161
To break these a priori laws would result in nonsense, such as in an
expression like (6) ‘a round if’ or as in Carnap’s example of (5) ‘Caesar
is and’. According to Husserl, although these types of nonsensical
expressions ‘give us the indirect idea of some unitary meaning they
express’ (2001, p. 192), they correspond to no meaning, they express
no sense at all, since

the possibility of a unitary meaning itself excludes the possible

coexistence of certain partial meanings in itself. We have then
only an indirect idea, directed upon the synthesis of such partial
meanings in a single meaning, and at the same time see that no
object can ever correspond to such an idea, i.e. that a meaning of
the intended sort cannot exist. (Husserl, 2001, p. 193)

By contrast, formally absurd (Widersinn) expressions (e.g. (7) ‘All

A’s are B’s, including some that are not B’s’ (Husserl, 1969, p. 71))162
express some meaning, but, according to Husserl, there is no object to
which that meaning may correspond:163

The judgement of incompatibility is in one case [i.e. Unsinn]

connected with presentations, in another [i.e. Widersinn] with
objects; presentations of presentations enter the former unity of
judgement, whereas plain presentations enter the latter. (Husserl,
2001, p. 193)

Thus absurdity, though it does not break with any of the a posteriori
rules of grammar (but rather, as Husserl points out, with ‘the laws
of pure logic’ (2001, p. 183)), is nonetheless brought to light due
to the incompatibility of objects such as ‘round’ and ‘not-round’.164
Nonsense, on the other hand, is somehow less evident in its viola-
tion of the a priori (and not the a posteriori) rules of grammar, since
this allows for the formation of what Husserl calls the ‘indirect idea’
of meaning.
82 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Husserl’s conception of nonsense is evidently quite close to

Carnap’s. Both thinkers propose a distinction between two types
of laws which govern meaning, one which is necessary and
another which is contingent.165 Husserl talks of a priori universal
grammar as opposed to contingent linguistic habits dependent on
matters of fact regarding the habits of a speech-community, while
Carnap talks of a kind of universal logical metalanguage which he
opposes to a kind of syntax dependent on history and grammar.
For both thinkers, nonsense is produced by the difference between
two types of rules which govern the combinations of parts of
meaningful sentences (i.e. syntactic rules). The difference is that
for Husserl, the two types of laws (a priori and contingent) are,
in both cases, divisions of logical grammar, whereas for Carnap
there is a distinction to be made between logical and grammat-
ical syntaxes. Astonishingly, it is according to both Husserl and
Carnap that nonsense is a product of the breach of elementary and
necessary logical laws, and this breach involves a kind of decep-
tion which does not allow for it to be immediately obvious in
ordinary language. Thus, for Husserl, an ‘idea of unitary meaning’
is present in sentences which breach the universal a priori laws
regarding the combinations of meaning, and it is only through
an act of apodeixis that the breach is diagnosed. Similarly for
Carnap, historico-grammatical syntax allows for the formation of
nonsense, which is only detected through the logical analysis of
language. Though the method of detection of nonsense may vary
between Carnap and Husserl (given, for example, the significance
of modern Logistik for Carnap’s account on the one hand, and its
absence from Husserl’s account on the other), the underlying idea
is the same: ordinary language is governed by historically contin-
gent laws of grammatical syntax which allow for it to form deceiv-
ingly nonsensical expressions.
Carnap, writing three decades after Husserl, is informed by the
development of modern logic and by the advances made by Russell
and Wittgenstein in its application to philosophy. Thus he takes
Husserl’s idea one step further by showing that the technique (or even,
to use Husserl’s term, technology) of logical analysis provides us with
a method of detecting nonsense. More importantly, Carnap makes it
explicit that this deceptive aspect of nonsense can lead to elementary
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 83

logical mistakes in theoretical writing, and most importantly in the

practice of philosophy (as Russell and Wittgenstein had shown).
Carnap puts together Russell and Wittgenstein’s insistence that there
are aspects of philosophy that are nonsensical with the Husserlian
account of nonsense. As a consequence, he introduces the idea of
nonsense as a kind of philosophical error, bringing logical analysis
up to date with modern logic and thus sharpening its elenchtic func-
tion in philosophical argumentation. The idea that there is a funda-
mental logical flaw in all previous metaphysical claims is a technical
innovation through which the scope of philosophy may radically be
The Husserlian link establishes a new perspective on Carnap’s criti-
cism of Heidegger, which is very particular and quite concrete in rela-
tion to the general perspective of their relation to Neo-Kantianism,
Lebensphilosophie, and the Psychologismus-Streit. Heidegger’s critique
of Husserl’s phenomenology is criticised by Carnap through a theory
of nonsense which he derives from Husserl’s thought – not, as has
been generally assumed, from some completely abstract theoretical
position foreign to Heidegger’s thought (and certainly not due to his
misunderstanding of Heidegger). Here we reach a kind of vicious circle:
on the one hand, Heidegger is (elsewhere) criticising Husserl, while
on the other hand, Carnap is using Husserl to criticise Heidegger.
Heidegger’s statement that ‘the Nothing itself nothings’ is the culmi-
nation of an elaborate critique of Husserlian phenomenology, in
which (briefly put) pre-cognitive concerns precede and undermine
the phenomenological project of reducing all phenomena to cogni-
tion. If one were to concede that Heidegger’s criticisms hold water, it
is not clear whether it follows that one must reject Husserl’s theory of
meaning (and its distinction between absurdity and nonsense).166 It is
not clear whether Carnap’s Husserlian critique of Heidegger may (or
should) be transformed into a defence of Husserl against Heidegger.
Heidegger’s sentences are deemed, by both Husserl and Carnap, to be
meaningless, and it is not clear (though it is possible) that Heidegger’s
criticism of Husserl undercuts the theory according to which his own
sentences are deemed meaningless.167
One issue which is raised here is that of evaluating Heidegger’s
critique of Husserlian phenomenology in light of the Husserlian
theory of meaning. I shall not here attempt to resolve this problem,
84 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

but only to indicate that once Carnap’s position is seen in this way,
it is transposed from the absolute polemical stance which has so
far been assumed in its interpretation, or even the aporia between
Heidegger and Carnap’s thesis which it is supposed to form. The
matter of disentangling the Heidegger-Carnap-Husserl triangle
becomes a concrete philosophical task at hand, capable of producing
honest dialogical exchange. A path here is opened which leads away
from the impasse.
Nevertheless, Carnap and Heidegger’s positions, once put together
as variations on Husserlian themes, appear to be taking two diver-
gent paths which follow from Husserl’s own philosophy. On the
one hand, Carnap takes Husserl to contribute towards a view of
modern logic as providing a new scientifically-minded task for
philosophy which cannot be undertaken by empirical science.
The early Husserl saw, as did Carnap, that metaphysics should not
partake in this new alignment of philosophy with science; thus, in
the Logische Untersuchungen, phenomenology was developed as a
metaphysically neutral theory of science.168 The period during which
Husserl adopted this anti-metaphysical stance coincides with what
Heidegger, at Davos, considers his alliance with Neo-Kantianism;
that he would later come to develop views on metaphysics might be
one of the causes (though, of course, not justification) for Carnap’s
lack of reference to him in 1931. On the other hand, Heidegger takes
Husserl to be proposing a new phenomenological philosophy which,
once divorced from its Cartesian origins (i.e. once it ceases to be
phenomenological and becomes existential and hermeneutical), may
provide a way of asserting the priority of philosophy over empirical
enquiry. A new understanding of the role of metaphysics is neces-
sary in either case, and in fact both Carnap and Heidegger agree on
a quasi-anthropologistic view according to which metaphysics is
unavoidably human. Their fundamental philosophical difference
regards the proper method of conduct for this unavoidable research

20. Metaphysics and politics

Beginning with the assumption that Carnap and Heidegger hold

irreconcilable philosophical views, we have seen the distance between
Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany 85

the two gradually decrease. What remains is the stark opposition

of their political allegiances.169 It is hard to comprehend Carnap’s
Überwindung without reference to Carnap’s wider political and social
outlook – Carnap not only subscribed to a socialist agenda but also
saw the Überwindung as an ally of such an agenda (he even saw it as
compatible with Marxism)170 directed against certain political forces
at work in the cultural context of his writing.171 For example, in July
1932, a few days before the Nazis had won the Reichstag election
of 31 July, Carnap presented a version of his paper at Berlin, at the
end of which he expressed his belief that other meaningful struggles
(i.e. the political struggle against the extreme right-wing) are more
important than the fight against metaphysics, as well as his hope
that ‘there will come a time when one no longer needs to present
lectures against metaphysics’ (quoted in Friedman, 2000, p. 19).172 Of
course, Carnap had no knowledge of Heidegger’s involvement with
Nazism in 1932, in the same way that most of Heidegger’s colleagues
and friends did not. It was a disturbing surprise, for many, to see
him joining the Nazi Party and a few weeks later becoming Freiburg’s
rector in 1933.173
Perhaps, most importantly, the attitudes of both thinkers towards
metaphysics are accurate reflections of their attitudes towards moder-
nity. Both for Heidegger and for Carnap, metaphysics becomes
symbolic of something that their contemporary cultural situation,
the moment in history from which they are writing, has rendered
inherently problematic. ‘Metaphysics’ is a word that stands for some-
thing traditional within philosophy which modernity has somehow
rendered suspect, something which, in their contemporary reality,
illegitimately governs human knowledge and praxis. For both philos-
ophers, it is fundamentally reduced to a series of words (e.g. archē,
principium, Prinzip) that have been passed on from generation to
generation. For both thinkers, it is necessary to change the effect of
these words.
In Carnap’s view, this change consists in proving that these
words should not be passed on to the future, for they are in fact
pseudo-concepts, meaningless. In Heidegger’s view, the context in
which these words have been given should be twisted in order to
accommodate their absurd origin. In the assumptions of both, we
find a kind of modernism, which amounts to this: that something
86 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

fundamental has changed in our culture, and we have to live up to

this change.174 Their responses to the challenge of modernism are
paradoxically intimate in their diversity. One gives a philosophy for
a post-metaphysical future, the other gives an encounter with an
ancient and forgotten past. One runs the risk of robbing from theory
its ability to engage with a kind of wisdom. The other might danger-
ously worship an arbitrary and irrational past.
Was There a Sun before Men
Existed?: Ayer, Sartre, Bataille,
and Merleau-Ponty

1. A pornographer, a phenomenologist,
and a logical positivist walk into a bar

‘Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Alfred Jules Ayer

walk into a bar.’ This may at first appear to be the opening line of
a joke. But Georges Bataille records in his lecture ‘Les conséquences
du non-savoir’ (delivered on the day following the event in ques-
tion) that a meeting between these three philosophers took place on
11 January, 1951, in a Parisian bar. This was preceded by a (hitherto
unpublished) lecture presented by Ayer titled ‘The Idea of Truth and
Contemporary Logic’. Among the audience of the lecture were Bataille
himself, Merleau-Ponty, as well as the physicist Georges Ambrosino
and the philosopher Jean Wahl.1 Bataille reports having met Ayer,
presumably at the bar while having a drink following the lecture,
and having sustained, through ‘reciprocal interest’ (1986, p. 80), a
conversation that continued until three o’ clock in the morning.
According to Bataille, Merleau-Ponty and Ambrosino had also taken
part in the conversation.
Bataille’s record of the event differs somewhat from Ayer’s account
of their meeting. Ayer (1977) seems to recall, in his autobiography,
his first meeting with Bataille to have taken place in 1945 rather
than 1951. While serving in the British Army’s Special Operations
Executive (SOE) during the Second World War, Ayer had been
involved in organising French resistance movements and, with the
liberation of France, was sent over to the intelligence section of the
British Embassy in Paris. During his stay in Paris, Ayer had become

88 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

acquainted with numerous Parisian literary and intellectual figures,2

including most importantly Merleau-Ponty3 and Bataille. Ayer had
met Bataille through Isabel Delmer4 (who had also been Bataille’s
lover);5 Delmer was involved with Ayer during the last month of his
stay in Paris.6 Ayer recounts this in his autobiography:

Isabel had many friends in Paris and introduced me to them. It

was through her that I met the writer Georges Bataille, whom I
vainly tried to persuade that time was not merely a human inven-
tion. (1977, p. 288)

From this, we can surmise that Ayer had been acquainted with Bataille
since 1945, and had already engaged in philosophical discussion with
him. It is quite peculiar and interesting that the topic of the conversa-
tion mentioned in Ayer’s autobiography, i.e. the question of whether
time was a human invention or not, seems to resemble closely the
topic of the long conversation they had in 1951 (which we will be
discussing in detail later on). Nick Trakakis concludes from this that
Ayer must have mistakenly confused the dates of his meeting with
Bataille.7 Given that Ayer recounts his relationship with Delmer as
having taken place during the last months of his stay in Paris, and
also given that Delmer was indeed acquainted with Bataille, Trakakis’
explanation is most likely flawed. Ayer did, in fact, encounter Bataille
prior to 1951, and this encounter involved a debate on a similar topic
to the one they discussed in 1951. What is also confirmed by Ayer’s
account is the fact that the encounter between the two men was not,
as Bataille’s account would imply, undertaken within the confines of
an academic setting. Rather, the two met socially through a common
friend and lover.
Their encounter outside the conventions of professional academic
practice makes their philosophical engagement unique in a multitude
of ways. It is a singular record of a quasi-private, non-formal dialogue
between philosophers whose backgrounds are both quite diverse and
at the same time related to some or other of the various forms of
modernism that flourished in their contemporary cultural life. It is in
this context that Bataille gives us the first recorded observation of a
split between ‘Continental’ and English philosophical cultures in the
twentieth century.
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 89

2. Ayer’s criticism of Heidegger’s ‘Das Nichts’

and the British reception of Logical Positivism

The various military intelligence posts Ayer had held during the
Second World War would allow him to enjoy a sufficient amount of
leisure time. Thus he had been able to pursue an array of intellectual
interests. For example, during his stay in America, Ayer had produced
some work in film criticism, reviewing films for the popular press.8
His stay in Paris following its liberation coincided with a certain
enthusiastically thriving cultural and intellectual climate, in which
Ayer was actively involved. The sudden rise to prominence of the
then fashionable existentialism, contemporary with the liberation
of Paris, was not foreign to Ayer, who was, during its emergence,
already acquainted with several of the prominent figures associated
with it. Ayer had produced a number of articles for Horizon magazine,
reviewing this new trend and its major intellectual figures: Jean-Paul
Sartre and Albert Camus.9
Ayer’s opinion of existentialism, and particularly of Sartre, had
already been shaped by events in his life before the war, when he
had been involved in a different sort of intelligence mission. Between
November 1932 and the spring of 1933,10 Ayer was dispatched
to Vienna as a kind of British philosophical spy (posing as a
honeymooner)11 sent out by Gilbert Ryle in order to report on the
latest trends in the development of Austrian philosophical ideas.12
Once he was dispatched to Vienna, Ayer sat in with the circle (being
one of only two non-Germans, along with W. V. O. Quine, to have
ever participated in the Circle’s meetings) and, having taken in their
doctrines and discussions, produced Language, Truth, and Logic as a
book that would introduce Logical Positivism to a British audience.
Most of the book consisted of a restatement, in English, of the
core doctrines of the Vienna Circle, with alleged attempts by Ayer
to fortify these doctrines in their restatement. As part of his attempt
at importing Viennese philosophy into Britain, Ayer repeated the
Vienna Circle’s strict anti-metaphysical stance. In doing so, he
developed a criticism of Heidegger that already had been formed by
Rudolf Carnap. Although Ayer does not clearly specify the extent to
which his source is Carnap,13 he nevertheless reformulates Carnap’s
argument regarding Heidegger’s use of the word ‘nothing’. We have
90 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

previously observed that Carnap treats the use of the word ‘nothing’
by Heidegger as an example of the meaninglessness of metaphys-
ical language. ‘Nothing’, according to Carnap, is meaningless when
occurring in particular statements, within the confines of which it
can be rendered neither true nor false.
As demonstrated in Chapter 2, Carnap’s criticism of Heidegger
should be read as being derived from an argument with Heidegger
over issues that had developed within the German philosophical
traditions of the early twentieth century (i.e. Neo-Kantianism,
Lebensphilosophie, Phenomenology). Although Carnap’s commen-
tary is obviously polemical, it can also be seen as the product of at
least some engagement with Heidegger’s thought. The relation of
Heidegger and Carnap to their German philosophical predecessors
(and their very specialised discussions of the philosophy of logic) is
one which could not, at the time, have been readily obvious to a
British outsider such as Ayer.14
Thus, Ayer’s repetition of Carnap’s criticism of Heidegger simply
strips the original of any hint of subtlety. In attempting to summa-
rise Carnap’s argument, Ayer’s exposition created a kind of overstated
hostility towards Heidegger in particular, as well as towards the
‘metaphysical’ philosophy that Heidegger was mistakenly thought to
represent. Such philosophical hostility is not as straightforward in
Carnap’s view, from which Ayer had derived it. The over-statement of
Carnap’s criticism in Ayer’s 1936 Language, Truth, and Logic was forti-
fied its publication date (and subsequent popularity).15 By contrast,
Carnap’s article was only translated in 1959, by which time Ayer’s
hostility towards Heidegger as a metaphysician had become part and
parcel of the overall Anglophone reception of the Vienna Circle’s
Ayer only mentions Heidegger in passing in his chapter on ‘The
Elimination of Metaphysics’. The chapter title itself already shows
the ambitiousness of Ayer’s project in relation to the outlook of the
Vienna Circle; Ayer used the term ‘elimination’ where Carnap had
talked of Überwindung, which is more aptly translated as ‘overcoming’
(with all its intended Nietzschean connotations (1959, p. 80)). Ayer
mentions Heidegger in discussing non-existent entities (a theme
already familiar to his English audience through Russell’s discussion
of Meinong in his ‘On Denoting’).16 According to Ayer,
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 91

the postulation of non-existent entities results from the supersti-

tion ... that, to every word or phrase that can be the grammatical
subject of a sentence, there must somewhere be a real entity corre-
sponding. For as there is no place in the empirical world for so
many of these ‘entities’, a special non-empirical world is invoked
to house them. To this error must be attributed, not only the utter-
ances of a Heidegger, who bases his metaphysics on the assump-
tion that ‘Nothing’ is a name which is used to denote something
peculiarly mysterious, but also the prevalence of such problems as
those concerning the reality of propositions and universals whose
senselessness, though less obvious, is no less complete. (1936, pp.

Contrasted to Carnap’s use of Heidegger as an example, which

has allowed at least some of its readers to see it as closely related
to Heidegger’s own critique of metaphysics,17 Ayer’s restatement of
Carnap is brief and polemical. Whereas Carnap is careful in limiting
his comments on Heidegger’s sentences, and from there generalising
to some of Heidegger’s results, Ayer all too quickly and mistakenly
interprets Heidegger’s work as a metaphysical system founded on a
nonsensical view of nothingness.18 Furthermore, whereas in Carnap
the distinction between traditional and post-Kantian metaphysics
is crucial (though vague) as a response to the Davos disputation, in
Ayer’s commentary we find these bundled together. Thus, even if
the method Ayer is using to criticise Heidegger, i.e. the accusation of
being nonsensical, were to be interpreted as identical to that devel-
oped by Carnap, the view that is being attacked as nonsensical meta-
physics seems to be different in either case.

3. Ayer’s criticism of Sartre’s le néant

Ayer’s encounter with the Parisian intellectual fashion of existen-

tialism was thus marked by his prior visit to Vienna and his involve-
ment with the Vienna Circle. The influence of Heidegger’s thought
on this new vogue allowed Ayer to apply, in 1945, the critique of
metaphysics, which he had already developed in 1936, to the yet
unchartered thought of existentialist thinkers, particularly to the
newly published philosophical writings of Jean-Paul Sartre.19
92 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

With the liberation of Paris, existentialism was on its way towards

becoming the intellectual expression of a greater cultural upheaval
that came as a result of the end of the occupation. Existentialism
was part and parcel of the cultural climate of Parisian cafés, of jazz,
of youthful revolt, of all things associated with the expression of a
newly found freedom. Its basic tenets were largely determined by
the need for an intellectual formulation of this wider cultural expres-
sion. Although initially a French fad, existentialism soon came to be
disseminated globally, finding different expressions in various locales.
For example, in the English-speaking world it predominantly influ-
enced literary and artistic culture rather than philosophy, to a great
extent due to Ayer’s criticism and other similar approaches, which
denigrated its status as philosophy without rejecting its relevance to
other fields.20
The philosophical, literary, artistic and wider cultural modernism
which it would form and participate in can be seen as parallel to
the modernistic climate which gave rise to, and was supported by,
Logical Positivism. Where Logical Positivism was the predominant
philosophical attempt towards modernism prior to the Second World
War (and was gradually to become less adamant in its modernistic
tendencies in its subsequent evolution following the war), existen-
tialism came to be a contending modernistic alternative to Logical
Sartre was the major proponent of existentialism and a major
Parisian intellectual. Already in 1945, with the liberation of Paris,
his lectures were carried out in overcrowded large theatres.22 His
1943 L’Etre et le néant achieved instant success (even greater than that
which Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic was gradually gaining at the
time). Its central position was seen as an ethical one, which further-
more expressed its contemporary Zeitgeist. For most of its audience
at the time, Sartre’s writings proposed an ethical theory according
to which freedom is inherent to humans. Humans are free to make
decisions, to determine the course of their lives, to act according to
their will. Humans are fundamentally free to reject any will imposed
upon them, to make their own choices, to be responsible for them-
selves. In the absence of God, freedom becomes the most difficult
task for humans – a task one has to decide for oneself, in the absence
of externally imposed moral imperatives, without the necessity of
any moral law.
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 93

Ayer found in this approach to ethics something compelling, even

perhaps something which resonated with his own work on ethics.23
In a later article on Sartre, he commented:

It is one of Sartre’s merits that he sees no system of values can be

binding on anyone unless he chooses to make it so. I may indeed
look to some authority to tell me what I ought to do, but then my
decision consists in acknowledging that authority. The authority
has the characteristics that it has; if they were different perhaps I
should not give it my allegiance; but the possession of these char-
acteristics does not in itself constitute it an authority either for
me or for anyone else. Whatever my motives, and they may be
various, it becomes an authority for me only through my accept-
ance of it. (1950, p. 634)

In this expression of the Zeitgeist of the newly liberated Paris, Ayer

found no fault. Sartre’s fundamental ethical insight is not incompat-
ible with the radical social programme of a large part of the Vienna
Circle, who had nevertheless aimed to liberate ethics from any meta-
physical constraints it had traditionally been bound by. At the foun-
dations of Sartre’s ethical insights, Ayer saw a grand metaphysical
edifice, which was for him, on the one hand, a meaningless philo-
sophical construct, and on the other hand not necessary for deriving
the particular ethical insight for which Sartre deserved praise.24

[Sartre’s] metaphysical pessimism, which is well in the existentialist

tradition, is no doubt appropriate for our time, but I do not think
it is logically well founded. In particular, Sartre’s reasoning on the
subject of le néant [his belief that every state of consciousness is
necessarily separated from itself by ‘nothing’] seems to me exactly
on a par with that of the King in ‘Alice through the looking glass’.
‘I see nobody on the road,’ said Alice. ‘I only wish that I had such
eyes,’ remarked the King. ‘To be able to see Nobody! And at that
distance too!’ And again, if I remember rightly: ‘Nobody passed
me on the road’. ‘He cannot have done that, or he would have
been here first.’ In these cases the fallacy is easy enough to detect,
but although Sartre’s reasoning is less engagingly naïve, I do not
think that it is any better. The point is that words like ‘nothing’
and ‘nobody’ are not used as names of something insubstantial
94 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

and mysterious; they are not used to name anything at all. To say
that two objects are separated by nothing is to say that they are
not separated; and that is all that it amounts to. What Sartre does,
however, is to say that, being separated by Nothing, the objects
are both united and divided. There is a thread between them;
only, it is a very peculiar thread, both invisible and intangible.
But it is a trick that should not deceive anyone. The confusion
is then still further increased by the attempt to endow Nothing
with an activity, the fruit of which is found in such statements as
Heidegger’s ‘das Nichts nichtet’ and Sartre’s ‘le Néant est néantisé’.
For whatever may be the affective value of these statements, I
cannot but think that they are literally nonsensical. (Ayer, 1945,
pp. 18–19)25

Here, we see that Ayer’s criticism of Sartre’s existentialism26 is almost

identical to that which he inherited from Carnap, and which was
directed against Heidegger’s ‘metaphysics’.27 The strategy behind
both approaches is to point out a certain misuse of language, which
in turn is shown to be the source of the confusion that causes grand
metaphysical speculation regarding concepts which are eventually
shown to be meaningless. The prime example of such a case is the
word ‘nothing’. Ayer’s objection relies on pointing out that Sartre’s
use of the concept of ‘nothingness’, the nothing (le néant),28 presup-
poses that ‘nothing’ can be treated as a meaningful expression, which
Ayer thinks is impossible in the particular case.
In the above quoted passage, Ayer seems to confuse two possible
methods of approaching the particular issue. One would have been to
say, as Ayer seems to be saying, that ‘nothing’ is treated in metaphys-
ical language as if it were a thing, something. This would, in turn,
amount to saying that the treatment of the term ‘nothing’ by meta-
physicians constitutes a contradiction (and not nonsense), i.e. that
in the use of the term nothing what is really meant is also simultane-
ously not nothing, which would constitute a breach of the funda-
mental law of logic. This is what seems to be demonstrated by Lewis
Carroll’s tale, when the king takes Alice’s use of the term ‘nothing’
to imply that nothing is something, and thus something which he
cannot see.29 Of course, this contradiction is one that both Sartre
(particularly, as we shall see, in his response to Bataille) and Heidegger
take seriously into account. For both, the fact that ‘nothing’ cannot,
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 95

without absurdity, be treated as if it were some thing, the fact that

‘nothing’ is radically different from all objects or things encountered
in experience, is very important in their accounts of nothingness.30
It would have been a case of serious misreading, thus, if one were to
attribute to either the fault of having fallen into contradiction.
Rather, what Ayer meant is what we have already encountered
in Carnap’s critique of Heidegger, namely that claims regarding
‘nothing’ are nonsensical rather than merely absurd or contradictory.
Such metaphysical expressions are pseudo-statements, neither true
nor false. Metaphysical sentences about ‘nothing’ are neither true nor
false and thus are meaningless. This is part of what we can assume
Ayer intended when he cited the example of Lewis Carroll’s king. The
king, rather than being seen as assuming that ‘nothing’ is something,
should be understood to be making the claim, which is also made by
metaphysicians, that ‘nothing’ holds some degree of reality in some
supra-sensory realm. What Ayer is trying to point to here is what
he purported to demonstrate in Language, Truth, and Logic, where
he saw Heidegger as treating ‘nothing’ as ‘a name which is used to
denote something peculiarly mysterious’ (1936, p. 36). But to talk,
like Carroll’s king does, of ‘nothing’ as a term that denotes anything
is, according to Ayer, senseless.
Here, still, Ayer’s objection to Sartre looks as if it came from a very
superficial encounter with his thought (in contrast to Carnap’s reading
of Heidegger). But it is clear from Ayer’s various texts on Sartre that,
on the contrary, he had been willing to come face-to-face with the
thought of one of the intellectual giants of his time. Ayer’s commit-
ment to the ‘elimination’ of metaphysics, itself partly a product of
Ayer’s over-eagerness to demonstrate the applicability of the Logical
Positivist elimination of metaphysics to all and any doctrine that may
be named ‘metaphysical’, prevented him from taking philosophical
statements regarding the meaning of the term ‘nothing’ seriously.
The effect of Ayer’s critique can be seen in its dissemination and
acceptance within the English-speaking world.31 For example, Iris
Murdoch and Mary Warnock, though they have both produced work
that was to a great degree indebted to the existentialist tradition in
philosophy, both follow Ayer in embracing the various consequences
of existentialism (e.g. ethical, aesthetic) while at the same time
rejecting existentialism as (‘metaphysical’) philosophy.32 It is perhaps
partly due to Ayer that existentialism was to be seen as culturally
96 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

important but somehow philosophically flawed, a view which would,

in turn, influence the wide dissemination of existentialism within
literary circles and discourage its spread among philosophers.

4. Ayer encounters Merleau-Ponty

Ayer’s criticism of Sartre’s work had as its effect the growth of Sartre’s
personal dislike of him. When a meeting was to be arranged between
the two figures, Sartre refused the invitation, remarking that ‘Ayer est
un con’ (Rogers, 2002, p. 193). Perhaps Sartre disliked the potential
for the applicability of the principle of verification to his concept
of nothingness, or perhaps he disliked separating his philosophical
differences from his personal relations.
The opposite of the latter is true of the relation between Ayer and
Merleau-Ponty. As already noted, the two had met during Ayer’s stay
in Paris. According to Ayer’s autobiography, they had made a decision
to sustain a friendship despite their seemingly unbridgeable philo-
sophical differences.

Though it is often conducted in terms of which it is difficult to

make much sense, the investigation of concepts by Husserl and
his followers bears some affinity to the sort of conceptual analysis
that G. E. Moore engaged in,33 and it might therefore have been
expected that Merleau-Ponty and I should find some common
ground for philosophical discussion. We did indeed attempt it
on several occasions, but we never got very far before we began
to wrangle over some point of principle, on which neither of us
would yield. Since these arguments tended to be acrimonious,
we tacitly agreed to drop them and meet on a purely social level,
which still left us quite enough to talk about. (1977, p. 285)

The acrimonious arguments between Merleau-Ponty and Ayer are not

given in Ayer’s biography, although having seen Ayer’s stance towards
Sartre, one might suppose that the nature of their arguments might
have been similar.34 If there is some particular ‘point of principle’
which we can pinpoint as causing the impossibility of a sustained
dialogue between the two philosophers, our prime suspect should
be Ayer’s stance toward metaphysics, and particularly his criticism of
Heidegger and Sartre’s use of the term ‘nothing’.
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 97

In order to reject both Heidegger and Sartre’s use of the term

‘nothing’, Ayer has to assume that it is somehow, in its meaningless-
ness, equivocal. In other words, Ayer has classified all metaphysical
speculation about the nature of nothingness as meaningless, which
consequently disables him from meaningfully distinguishing between
different types of metaphysical discourse about nothingness. This, in
turn, meant that the disagreement between Heidegger and Sartre over
the question of humanism was one that was largely inaccessible to
Ayer.35 (Admittedly, his Horizon piece on Sartre was published in 1945,
prior to Heidegger’s ‘Letter on Humanism’;36 but Ayer did continue
writing on Sartre up to the late sixties, having possibly become aware
of the Heidegger-Sartre exchange by that time.)
The question of the relation between existentialism and humanism
is intimately connected with the examination of the concept of noth-
ingness. For Sartre, following his misunderstanding of Heidegger
(which is the subject of the Heidegger-Sartre exchange mentioned
above), nothingness is something characteristic of, and exclusive to,
human existence. Sartre claims that what is particular to humans is
the fact that they allow for nothingness to enter their world: in order
to be human, one must be able to think of nothingness besides Being.
Sartre extends this metaphysical doctrine to his ethics, by attempting
to show how freedom is possible only through the potential of noth-
ingness: the essence of freedom is negativity.37
A large part of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical efforts were directed
towards a demonstration of the problems arising from Sartrean
existentialist humanism. Merleau-Ponty developed what he calls a
phenomenology of perception partly in opposition to Sartre’s focus on
consciousness in his account of existentialist phenomenology. Sartre
utilises a Hegelian differentiation between consciousness-in-itself
(en-soi) and consciousness-for-itself (pour-soi), identified on the one
hand with human subjectivity and on the other hand with a kind of
objectivity of Being. Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty after him, go on to
discuss how mediation between this dichotomy is possible. Whereas
Sartre’s focus on consciousness leads him towards a discussion of
freedom, Merleau-Ponty’s answer through his examination of percep-
tion involves, as we shall see, the question of meaning.
Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological methodology leads him towards
rejecting the above Hegelian dichotomy. According to Merleau-Ponty,
phenomenology ‘is a matter of describing, not of explaining or
98 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

analyzing’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2002, p. ix), it is a method of ‘returning to

the things themselves’.38 What this effectively implies is that phenom-
enology is a method which consists of the double rejection of the
philosophical position of realism (which Merleau-Ponty associates
with scientific explanation)39 and that of idealism40 (which is bound to
analytic reflection).41 Merleau-Ponty launches a similar attack against
both, which we may call here a critique of ‘objective thought’.42
Briefly put, Merleau-Ponty’s attack on both ‘scientific’ realism and
idealistic analysis (what Merleau-Ponty often refers to as ‘intellectu-
alism’) consists in pointing out how both polar opposites fail to give
an explanation for a crucial element which they both presuppose,
namely a conception of what ‘objective’ means. Realism assumes
that it is possible to give scientific explanations ‘external’, empiri-
cally discernible objective reality, this reality’s existence being inde-
pendent of and not alterable by its otherwise meaning-bestowing
explanations. Idealism, with its insistence on analytic reflection,
similarly posits a subject which constructs the meaning of a world
that is assumed to be originally deprived of any meaning.43 Both
idealist subjectivism and realist objectivism share the presupposi-
tions of a subjectless world and a worldless subject, interchanging the
explanatory priorities between these two poles: the former thinks of
the objective world as constituted by consciousness, while the latter
considers the objective world to be the cause of perception.
But, according to Merleau-Ponty, there is a pre-scientific realm
(which phenomenology examines) in which meanings are already
manifested. Merleau-Ponty draws on the insights of Gestalt
psychology in order to assert that the fundamental building blocks
of perception consist of figures against a ground, which means that
perception at its most basic is not perception of an undifferentiated
flux but is imbued with some form of intentionality – it is the percep-
tion of some ‘figure’ against the ‘ground’ of its world. Perception is
undertaken by a subject that is thrown in a world, a world in which
meaning is always ‘already there’.44

5. And they ask the barman, ‘Was there a

sun before men existed?’

Having set the wider intellectual scene, we can now return to Bataille’s
1951 lecture and pose, with him, that very strange question which
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 99

Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, and Ayer discussed one night in a bar. In the

next day’s lecture, Bataille, presumably tired by the proceedings of
the previous night, does not go into great detail in the description he
gives of the discussion. He only offers us these few words:

We finally fell to discussing the following very strange question.

Ayer had uttered the very simple proposition: there was a sun before
men existed. And he saw no reason to doubt it. Merleau-Ponty,
Ambrosino, and I disagreed with this proposition, and Ambrosino
said that the sun had certainly not existed before the world. I, for
my part, do not see how one can say so. (1986, p. 80)

According to Bataille, these four thinkers could not come to an agree-

ment regarding the existence of the sun prior to the evolution of the
species homo sapiens. The conversation might sound like a parody
of what philosophers do when they drink too much (and come up
with versions of ‘If a tree falls in a forest’). Such discussion seems
almost only possible outside the academic context, ‘socially’, among
But despite the circumstances and the bizarre nature of the question,
there appears to be a degree of severity and even a hint of academic
rigor in the undertaking of the above discussion. There are histori-
cally sound grounds on which one may trace an outline of the signifi-
cance of this question for the thinkers involved in its discussion. Its
formulation may be sought out in the work of Merleau-Ponty, where
he explicitly takes up a view opposed to Ayer’s proposition regarding
the existence of the sun before men. In his discussion of temporality
in the Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty upholds the seem-
ingly idealist position that ‘there is no world without a being in the
world’ (2002, p. 502).45 In this passage, an imagined interlocutor
criticises Merleau-Ponty’s theory of temporality by asserting that
‘the world preceded man, that the earth, to all appearances, is the
only inhabited planet, and that philosophical views are thus shown
to be incompatible with the most established facts’ (2002, p. 502).46
Merleau-Ponty proceeds to rebuke his own fictional criticism of his
work by explaining what it means to say that the world did not exist
without man.
In order to understand Merleau-Ponty’s explanation, we must
here first attempt to understand its relation to his double criticism
100 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

of idealism and realism. It might prima facie seem paradoxical that,

although what Merleau-Ponty is asserting looks like an idealistic
position, it is derived from his own critique of idealism. Of course,
his critique of idealism and his critique of realism are inextricably
connected, and in this peculiar way, his critique of realism, which
leads him to a seemingly idealist position, is simultaneously a critique
of idealism. Thus, one may not misinterpret Merleau-Ponty’s asser-
tion as an idealist one at all.
Rather, Merleau-Ponty is here proposing a radical challenge to his
position that there is a pre-scientific realm of meaning which scien-
tific explanation must assume (whether or not it accepts its exist-
ence or not). If there is such a ‘lived world’ which is imbued with
meaning, it is one which is shared by humans only and thus can only
be brought into existence along with the existence of humans.47

For what precisely is meant by saying that the world existed before
any human consciousness? An example of what is meant is that
the earth originally issued from a primitive nebula from which the
combination of conditions necessary to life was absent. But every
one of these words, like every equation in physics, presupposes
our pre-scientific experience of the world, and this reference to
the world in which we live goes to make up the proposition’s valid
meaning. ... Laplace’s nebula is not behind us, at our remote begin-
nings, but in front of us in the cultural world. What in fact do we
mean when we say that there is no world without a being in the
world? Not indeed that the world is constituted by consciousness,
but on the contrary that consciousness always finds itself already
at work in the world. (Merleau-Ponty, 2002, p. 502)

Around 30 years later, Ayer takes up the discussion from the Parisian
bar again in an article on Merleau-Ponty, by quoting the above passage.
Ayer seems puzzled by the fact that Merleau-Ponty accepts the seem-
ingly idealist position they had argued over years ago48 – although
he acknowledges that ‘it is not exactly a return to either absolute or
to subjective idealism ... but while solipsism is avoided, the outlook
remains anthropocentric’ (Ayer, 1984, pp. 225–226). Interestingly, he
remarks that a possible way to understand Merleau-Ponty’s assertion
is by showing there to be a surprising conjunction of phenomenology
with pragmatism (Ayer, 1984, p. 226).49
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 101

What is even more surprising about Ayer’s paper on Merleau-Ponty

is that Ayer appears here to deem purported disputes over matters
of principle worthy of philosophical discussion. Leaving aside the
dismissal of the Sartrean dichotomy between for-itself and in-itself,
for which Ayer excuses Merleau-Ponty,50 Ayer treats Merleau-Ponty
in the same seriously critical manner in which he treats all his other
interlocutors in 1984. The ones which are too easily excluded from
fair criticism are perhaps Heidegger and Sartre, both of whom he
dismisses in almost the same superficial manner in which they had
been dismissed in 1936 and 1945.

6. Ayer’s response: the question of empiricism

An earlier response to Merleau-Ponty’s position by Ayer may be

found in his 1959 presentation to the Aristotelian Society, titled
‘Phenomenology and Linguistic Analysis’. Here, Ayer presents a
fairly critical approach to several key concepts in phenomenology,
including the idea of intentionality (which he calls ‘obscurantist’, due
to his view that it puts ‘a number of interesting and difficult prob-
lems on one side’ (Taylor & Ayer, 1959, p. 112),51 though he proceeds
to claim that it may, in fact, be fruitful), the notion of essence, and,
most interestingly, Merleau-Ponty’s theory of perception.
In criticising the latter, Ayer claims that the necessity of the ‘sense
object’ (Taylor & Ayer, 1959, p. 114) appearing in a sense-field (what
Gestalt Psychology calls a figure appearing against a ground) does not
imply a general rejection of an empirical theory of sense-data (i.e.
what Merleau-Ponty elsewhere calls ‘scientific’ realism), but rather
only of a particular atomistic theory (e.g. Locke’s). This is something
Merleau-Ponty also claims: Gestalt Psychology is not inherently
incompatible with empiricism. Yet, if it is accepted by the empiricist,
then according to Merleau-Ponty a dilemma arises:

It may well happen that empiricism abandons this atomistic

manner of expression and begins to talk about pieces of space
or pieces of duration, thus adding an experience of relationships
to that of qualities. ... Either the piece of space is traversed and
inspected by a mind, in which case empiricism is abandoned,
since consciousness is no longer defined in terms of the impres-
sion; or else it is itself given in the manner of an impression, when
102 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

it becomes just as exclusive of any more extensive co-ordination

as the atomistic impression first discussed. (Merleau-Ponty, 2002,
pp. 16–17)

Ayer responds by claiming that ‘even so economical an empiricist as

Hume allowed as much as this’ (Taylor & Ayer, 1959, p. 115), namely
that impressions must come under concepts. The Humean empiri-
cist, according to Ayer, thinks that the subsumption of impressions
under concepts was ultimately explainable as caused by the associa-
tion of ideas. Ayer claims that Hume’s explanation of the subsump-
tion of impressions under concepts led him towards thinking ‘that
forming expectations was just a matter of having images’ (Taylor
& Ayer, 1959, p. 115). Ayer considers the latter thesis to be wrong,
because according to Ayer, images can only give rise to expectations
if they can ‘function as signs’ (Taylor & Ayer, 1959, p. 115). Thus,
Ayer claims, even for a Humean empiricist, perception may be seen
as involving intentionality, and describing the exact role that inten-
tionality plays in perception will depend on one’s understanding of
the nature of signs. Ayer claims that in the attempt to understand
the nature of signs, he finds preferable ‘a behavioural theory, which
would eliminate intentionality’ (Taylor & Ayer, 1959, p. 115).52 He
points out that Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology does not favour the
eliminativist approach, thus insisting on the notion of intentionality
which Ayer thinks disables its proponent from doing work on the
interesting problems which arise from its elimination in favour of
Merleau-Ponty argues that the empiricist needs to turn to
memory in order to explain the association of ideas in question.53
Merleau-Ponty’s claim is, roughly, that there is no pure experience
of sense-data in the present, but rather the association in question
comes through our present experience selectively constituted in refer-
ence to our past experience. Ayer notes that Merleau-Ponty considers
this circular: In order for memory to allow me to organise my expe-
rience, there must be something about the experience itself which
allows me to recognise it as associated with some prior experience. In
other words, my present experience is organised in such a way as to
allow for this association with past experiences. The way to explain
this, according to Merleau-Ponty, would be by rejecting the realist
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 103

version of ‘objective thought’, and recognising that the association

takes place in reference to a horizon of meaning – in other words,
that which explains how I associate my present experience to the past
is already in the world so that memory may recognise it.
Ayer concedes that Merleau-Ponty is right insofar as he claims
that ‘there is never a sensible chaos’ (Taylor & Ayer, 1959, p. 116),
and that it is possible that even the first thing a child experiences
is already somehow organised. Yet, Ayer insists that even if one
acknowledges this claim, this does not imply what Merleau-Ponty
claims; namely, it does not prove that picking out sense-data from
a sense-field is not produced by association, nor does it prove that
the sense-field (or, perhaps, in Merleau-Ponty’s terms, the world) ‘is
in any degree a mental creation’ (Taylor & Ayer, 1959, p. 116), since
even a mindless computer can perform the kind of selective associa-
tion in question.
Here, we have an extended and serious response to Merleau-Ponty,
one which in fact could have opened up an honest exchange
between the two philosophers. The issue discussed in 1951 may
thus be re-contextualised within the greater framework of replying
to Merleau-Ponty’s rejection of the ‘realist’ thesis to which empiri-
cism is reduced. Given the state of French philosophy during the
nineteen-fifties, a criticism of empiricism might most potently have
been answered from outside France. Unfortunately, Merleau-Ponty’s
early death in 1961 meant that no such dialogue was to take

7. The abyss stares back at Bataille

This problematises even further what Bataille may have had in mind
when, in 1951, he pointed out that:

I should say that yesterday’s conversation produced an effect of

shock. There exists between French and English philosophers a
sort of abyss which we do not find between French and German
philosophers. (1986, p. 80)

Bataille’s statement is interesting in that it is the first explicit

announcement, in the twentieth century, of the division between
104 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Anglophone and Continental philosophy.55 Bataille’s diagnosis of

this gap has been taken by various commentators to refer to a general
split between two ways of philosophising, a split which character-
ises the state of academic philosophy during the twentieth century.56
It is clear that it would be a mistake to take Bataille’s statement of
such a split at face value, without examining the context in which
it was made.57 For example, when Bataille is referring to German
philosophers, he is excluding (possibly due to ignorance) an array of
Germanophone academics who had been forced to flee their home-
land during the war and had, by 1951, already widely influenced the
state of the Anglophone academic environment. This would include
not only the obvious example of the Logical Positivists but also a
variety of academics ranging from the so-called Frankfurt school
(with their heavy influence on the ‘New Left’) to Ernst Cassirer.
The affinity between French and German philosophers that Bataille
refers to was partly an outcome of the 1929 encounter between
German and French philosophers at the Davos Arbeitsgemeinschaft.
With hindsight, one might see his statement as a consequence of the
parallel rise to dominance, in both France and Germany, of various
offshoots of phenomenological approaches to philosophy which we
can place under the banner of existentialism (ranging from Heidegger
to Levinas).
If Bataille is referring to the lack of such a parallel philosophical
development in England, his shock should not be diverted towards
a general characterisation of a split between national philosophical
cultures. One may see Bataille as politely trying to indicate the fact
that Ayer’s position on the particular subject was formulated in
such a way as to constitute that shocking chasm. It may be that
Bataille implied that Ayer, being an English philosopher, would
have found it impossible to allow himself to share the under-
standing of a question which French philosophers (or, perhaps, the
particular French philosophers present at the bar during that night)
took to be ultimately metaphysical. Ayer might have thought that
the question had been mistakenly understood as one pertaining to
In any case, Bataille’s text indicates to us, if only indirectly, that
his formulation of such a statement regarding an ‘abyss’ is to be read
with serious caution. This is because Bataille, whether consciously or
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 105

not, goes on to undermine this statement in at least two ways during

his discussion of the previous night. These two ways interconnect
in an interesting manner, which we shall see unfolding as we go
Firstly, in Bataille’s presentation of his own approach to the
matter at hand, we can find an underlying engagement with Ayer,
and perhaps there are also traces of Ayer’s approach to philosophy
in Bataille’s formulation of his argument. Bataille, contrary to Ayer,
Merleau-Ponty, and Ambrosino, held that the proposition ‘there was
a sun before men existed’ was neither true (as Ayer thought), nor false
(as the others thought) but meaningless.

This proposition is such as to indicate the total meaninglessness

that can be taken on by a rational statement. Common meaning
should be totally meaningful in the sense in which any proposi-
tion one utters theoretically implies both subject and object. In
the proposition, there was the sun and there are no men, we have
a subject and no object. (Bataille, 1986, p. 80)

Bataille is here arguing that there is something about the proposition

at hand (i.e. the fact that it contains an object but not an object)
which renders it meaningless, in the sense that it is neither true, as
Ayer thinks, nor false, as Merleau-Ponty thinks. This strange position
adopted by Bataille almost sounds like a bad imitation of some Logical
Positivist doctrine, almost as if Bataille were repeating Ayer’s (and
Carnap’s) argument against Sartre! In this way, Bataille seems partly
infected by Ayer, even if only in taking the minute step of attempting
to imitate Ayer’s approach to philosophy by talking of propositions
and meaninglessness. Bataille’s proposal even seems to resemble the
Logical Positivists’ verification principle, insofar as it appears to set
as a condition for meaningfulness the possibility of verification by a
subject. Thus, Bataille, having made the statement above regarding
the abyss that exists between English and French philosophers, takes
a minor plunge into the abyss in order to contradict his own claim.
Bataille’s failure to imitate Ayer in a philosophically interesting manner
could, for some, demonstrate the existence of that abyss.
On the one hand, Bataille, an unlikely follower of Logical Positivism,
takes on its language, even if only momentarily. Bataille takes on
106 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Ayer’s approach and creatively deploys it against Ayer’s position. On

the other hand, he takes on that language only almost in parody – he
only fails to employ it in an appropriate manner. He fails to object to
Ayer’s proposition from Ayer’s point of view.

8. Unknowing the nothing

Having attempted his parodic attempt at Logical Positivism, Bataille

goes on to dispel the mimetic aspect of his approach by further
exposing his reasons for rejecting the proposition in question.

I am not sure that I have sufficiently clarified the humanly unac-

ceptable character of that proposition according to which there
existed something prior to man. I really believe that so long as we
remain within the discursive, we can always declare that prior to
man there could be no sun. And yet one can also feel troubled, for
here is a proposition which is logically unassailable, but mentally
disturbing, unbalancing-an object independent of any subject.
(Bataille, 1986, pp. 80–81)

Here, Bataille transforms his previous statement, which made it seem

as if the meaninglessness of the proposition is to be derived from
something that has to do with its grammatical syntax. Instead, Bataille
clarifies that the lack of an object does not imply that the statement
is not logically well-formed, but rather that it is ‘mentally disturbing’
and ‘unbalancing’. Bataille’s approach starts, here, to become difficult
and obscure, particularly as he introduces his concept of ‘unknowing’.
The mental disturbance caused by the sun, seen as a subjectless object,
is due to this strange function of ‘unknowing’. Our approach to such a
proposition is one in which any knowledge is feigned.

It is impossible to consider the sun’s existence without men. When

we state this we think we know, but we know nothing. This propo-
sition was not exceptional in this respect. I can talk of any object,
whereas I confront the subject, I am positioned facing the object,
as if confronting a foreign body which represents, somehow,
something scandalous for me, because objects are useful. A given
object enters into me insofar as I become dependent on objects.
One thing that I cannot doubt is that I know myself. Finally, I
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 107

wondered why I blamed that phrase of Ayer’s. There are all sorts of
facts of existence which would not have seemed quite as debatable
to me. Which means that this unknowing, whose consequences
I seek out by talking to you, is to be found everywhere. (Bataille,
1986, p. 81)

Bataille’s concept of ‘unknowing’ is one to which he had devoted

a large part of his writings. A quasi-mystical anti-theological idea
regarding a kind of ‘inner’ experience, it was an aspect of his thought
that Jean-Paul Sartre had focused on in his criticism of Bataille. Sartre’s
criticism of Bataille, and particularly of this concept of ‘unknowing’
which Bataille seeks to relate to Ayer, is quite important here. Sartre
accuses Bataille of being, in summary, a mystic.58 The importance of
Sartre’s charge lies in the fact that the vocabulary employed by Sartre
against Bataille closely resembles that which is used by Ayer against
Sartre. Sartre’s line of argument is remarkably close to that which
Ayer takes against Sartre himself.

Mr. Bataille refuses to see that nonknowing remains immanently

in thinking. Thinking that thinks that it is not knowing remains
thinking.[ ... ]The equivalent would be to make nothing into some-
thing under the pretext of giving it a name. However, our author
goes on to do just that. It is hardly that difficult for him. You
and I, we might write ‘I know nothing’ quite sincerely. But let us
assume, like Mr. Bataille, I write: ‘And above all it is “nothing,” it
is “nothing” that I know.’ Here is a nothing that begins to look
rather odd: it is detached and isolated, not far from having an
existence on its own. For the present it will be enough to call it
the unknown and the result will be attained. Nothing is what does
not exist at all, and the unknown is what does not exist for me
in any way. By naming nothing as the unknown, I turn it into an
existence whose essence is to escape my knowing; and if I add that
I know nothing, that signifies that I communicate with this exist-
ence in some other way than by knowing. (Bataille, 2004, p. 171)

Here, Sartre is objecting to Bataille’s use of the term ‘nothing’

as contradictory. He is claiming that Bataille’s ‘unknowing’ or
‘nonknowing’, as a means of communication with some special kind
of mystical entity called nothingness, is really the transformation
108 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

of some cognitive state about something into its contrary. In other

words, to think about ‘unknowing’ is to think about something, and
consequently it ultimately implies a reification of nothingness.
Sartre had written this in 1943, three years prior to the publica-
tion of Ayer’s criticism of his own work. Although the similarity
of subject-matter to Ayer’s approach to Sartre (and Heidegger) is
striking, Sartre is not making the radical claim that Ayer is making,
namely that the metaphysical use of the term ‘nothing’ is meaning-
less. Sartre is explicitly attacking what he perceives to be a contradic-
tion in Bataille’s text. This, in turn, presupposes that Bataille’s use
of terms such as ‘nothing’ or ‘unknowing’ is meaningful and thus
can be shown to fall into contradiction. Nevertheless, Sartre’s criti-
cism resembles Ayer’s initial formulation of Carnap’s objection to
Heidegger, where he claims that Heidegger ‘bases his metaphysics on
the assumption that “Nothing” is a name which is used to denote
something peculiarly mysterious’, relying on ‘the postulation of
non-existent entities’ (1936, p. 36).
Bataille, having been criticised by Sartre on his concept of
‘unknowing’, is thus in the peculiar position of relating this concept
to an obscure dialogue with Ayer, who in turn had produced a criti-
cism of Sartre which, had it held water, would cancel the validity
of Sartre’s commentary on Bataille. The complexity of this rela-
tion reveals Bataille’s position regarding the ‘abyss’ which separates
English and French philosophers to be troublingly simplified. In this
case, the abyss is not really constituted by a void, but by a complex of
mediations and relations which are strangely interwoven into what
superficially might appear as an abyss.
Bataille informs us that the outcome of the meeting of the previous
night had been a kind of compromise between those present. It is
unclear what kind of compromise could be reached regarding such a
strange hypothesis. Nevertheless, as the above discussion has shown,
even if the encounter among Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, and Ayer
(together with Jean Wahl, and in the gleaming absence of Jean-Paul
Sartre) initially appeared unlikely, there is a kind of logic at work
behind it. What was at first deemed to be the chance encounter of
representatives of absolutely heterogeneous cultural and philosoph-
ical movements has been shown to rely on a complex web of rela-
tions – a web in which the strict dichotomies which had rendered
this encounter bizarre at the outset simply have no place. Ayer’s
Was There a Sun before Men Existed? 109

modernistic development of Viennese emotivism is not far removed

in its outlook from Sartrean existentialist ethics; Merleau-Ponty and
his phenomenology turn out not to be incommunicable to a British
Logical Empiricist such as Ayer; the polemical exchange between
Sartre and Bataille, as it turns out, is not dissimilar to the kind of atti-
tude that Carnap had been perceived by Ayer as having taken against
Heidegger a decade earlier.
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at
Royaumont:Gilbert Ryle’s
Ambivalent Phenomenology

1. The battle of Royaumont

In 1958, a colloquium was held at Royaumont Abbey titled ‘La

Philosophie Analytique’.1 In its attempt to bring French philosophers
face-to-face with a certain Anglo-American trend in philosophy, the
colloquium was analogous to the attempt, thirty years earlier, to
bring together the French and German philosophical establishments
at Davos. But where Davos had succeeded in bringing the disciples
of phenomenology to the forefront of both French and German
academic philosophy, Royaumont has been viewed as an example
of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Its mission had been
to bring together the two national philosophical cultures in ‘une
tentative de dialogue’ (Beck et al., 1962, p. 7). Instead, the colloque
de Royaumont presented an array of resources to those who wished
to keep the philosophers of the two nations in cultural apartheid.2
As Charles Taylor notes in his review of its published proceedings,
Royaumont can be seen as a ‘dialogue de sourds’ (dialogue of the
deaf) (1964, p. 132).3
This failure is not as unquestionable as has been presented. In this
chapter, it is shown that Royaumont was not simply an encounter
between two contesting philosophical factions but rather a battle-
ground of intense complexity, on which the question of what counts
as polemics does not necessarily command an identical answer from
the various (i.e. more than two) sides involved. In a sense, it is not
deafness that characterises the various dialogues that took place, but
rather a tendency to listen to something or other as something other

‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 111

than what was uttered. At times, what appears as an attack on the

doctrines and theses of one side is, in fact, directed elsewhere. Thus,
not surprisingly, it is not clear at first sight exactly what one may
count as a side here, beyond the particulars of the positions upheld
by one or another participant of the colloquium. The question of
how the side of ‘analytic philosophy’ is to be defined (and thus, in
a predominantly negative manner, differentiated from other sides)
is one which emerges, possibly for the first time in the history of
analytic philosophy, at Royaumont.

2. Continental ‘analysts’, Anglo-Saxon ‘continentals’

It would be a mistake to construe Royaumont as a polemic encounter

between two major forces in philosophy, not only because it is hard
to make out a unified analytic side being defended there, but also
because there are few proponents of the opposite side to be found
present at the colloquium. Already in his introduction to the course,
Jean Wahl mentions José Ferrater Mora, who talks of at least three
traditions of philosophers: dialectical materialism, the ‘badly defined’
(Beck et al., 1962, p. 9) continental tradition in all its ‘diverse forms’
(p. 9) including phenomenology and existentialism, and analytic
philosophy (which, Wahl claims, also goes under the name ‘logical
positivism’ or ‘neo-positivism’).
A mere glance at the biographies of the ‘continental’ (i.e. French,
Belgian, Dutch, Polish) philosophers present at Royaumont serves
to prove that the perceived struggle between an ‘analytic’ and a
‘continental’ approach to philosophy at Royaumont is deceiving.
Two ‘continental’ professors presented papers at the conference, Leo
Apostel and Evert Willem Beth.4 They were both logicians and in some
way or another akin to the analytic tradition in philosophy: Apostel
had been a student of Rudolf Carnap and Carl Hempel,5 and Beth
had been a research assistant to Alfred Tarski.6 Among the audience,
one finds Chaïm Perelman, the Polish philosopher, who was deeply
influenced by logical positivism in his studies of the philosophy of
law and the theory of argumentation.7 The Polish philosopher Józef
Maria Bocheński’s work ranged from logic to the critique of Soviet
Marxism.8 Philippe Devaux, the Belgian logician and philosopher,
had studied with Whitehead and had introduced Whitehead and
Russell’s work to France through his translations of their texts.9 Even
112 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Jean Wahl, who is most commonly associated with the French exis-
tentialist tradition, had introduced pragmatism and early analytic
philosophy to France.10
Almost no single philosopher at Royaumont belonged exclusively,
or even predominantly, to any one of the traditions which are associ-
ated with ‘continental philosophy’. Gaston Berger had been associ-
ated with Husserlian phenomenology,11 but his activities had ranged
from the study of possible futures (a field which he named ‘prospec-
tive’) to the reformation of French state-provided education.12 Father
Hermann Leo Van Breda, a Franciscan priest, was the keeper of
the Husserl archives at Leuven – and might be seen as an excellent
Husserl scholar rather than an original ‘continental’ philosopher.13
Jean Brun was a scholar of ancient philosophy who had also written
on Kierkegaard and Christian philosophy in general.14 Ferdinand
Alquié, a philosopher and historian of early modern philosophy
(who also wrote on surrealism), had also been an influence on Gilles
Deleuze’s writings on Spinoza.15 Though all the abovementioned
participants lie close to the mainstream trends in their contemporary
French philosophy (i.e. phenomenology and existentialism), their
main interests lie elsewhere. The most important exception to this
is perhaps Merleau-Ponty, who is generally considered to be in the
mainstream of ‘continental’ philosophy, in whatever way one may
attempt to define this term.
The same phenomenon is observed with many of the Anglo-American
philosophers present at Royaumont. Many of those Anglo-American
philosophers present, such as H.B. Acton,16 or Alan Gewirth,17 are
clearly not practitioners (nor are they clear proponents) of analytic
philosophy. For others, e.g. Bernard Williams, there holds a critical
relationship to analysis which is rather more ambiguous.18
Therefore, it would be mistaken to conceive of Royaumont as the
site of conflict between two predominant approaches to philosophy. If
anything, the research interests of those gathered at Royaumont point
us towards the diverse multiplicity of approaches to the practice of
philosophy employed in different parts of Europe and America. The
mere co-presence of these philosophers at the colloquium demon-
strates the incongruity of any geographical conception of a radical
split in approaches to what philosophy is and how it should be prac-
tised. The association of a geo-political territory called ‘Europe’ with
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 113

‘continental’ philosophy, or of Britain and America with ‘analytic’

philosophy is shown to be clearly wrong.
It would furthermore be problematic to project on any state-
ments made in 1958 regarding ‘continental philosophy’ the signif-
icance which the term purportedly carries today. As Glendinning
points out, in 1958 the terms ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ ‘had yet
to become the everyday currency of English-language metaphi-
losophy’ (2006, p. 70). The bulk of the claims made at Royaumont
that made use of the term ‘continental’ did not explicitly refer to a
type of philosophy, but rather designate geographical and national
boundaries. This is because ‘for Ryle and his fellow Oxford analysts,
Continental philosophy still meant, basically, “philosophical work
on the European Continent”’ (Glendinning, 2006, p. 70), rather than
designating a species of philosophy. The colloquium itself disproves
any geo-political conception of a type of philosophy exclusive to
some or other nation or territory. Instead, it offers consistent desig-
nations of the cross-pollination of ideas among different territories
and of the peculiar effects of the ‘territorialisation’ of philosophy
(for example, the emergence of a particular branch of quasi-Logical
Positivist philosophy of law and science at Belgium,19 the insular
existence of a philosophical school at a single university in Britain,20
the peculiar fate of ‘analytic’ philosophy in Poland,21 or the dialec-
tical relationship between fashionable existentialism and scholarly
academic philosophy in France).
This brings up the following intriguing questions: Why, exactly, in
the face of such a multiplicity of diverse approaches to philosophy,
does a dichotomy between two, and only two, types of philosophy
emerge? Why, in the presence of such a multitude of diverse national
philosophical cultures, does a conception of a split between two, and
only two, geographical territories become formed? Why, in the midst
of all evidence to the contrary, does Royaumont still appear, to this
day, as if it were the battleground, the ‘locus classicus’ (Glendinning,
2006, p. 70) of the confrontation between analytic and continental
In what follows, I sketch an answer to the above question by
examining the ambivalent relation between the work of Gilbert
Ryle and Edmund Husserl. Ryle’s presentation at Royaumont, titled
‘Phenomenology vs. The Concept of Mind’ is the centre around which
114 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

the confrontation revolved. Ryle’s title, with its polemical connota-

tions, depicts only one aspect of the relation between The Concept
of Mind and phenomenology: in his presentation, Ryle suggested
that The Concept of Mind is ‘a sustained essay in phenomenology’!
Further misunderstanding was caused by a mistaken reference, in
the introduction of the published proceedings of the colloquium,
to the discussion which ensued between Ryle and Merleau-Ponty.22
The notorious exchange which has Merleau-Ponty suggesting to Ryle
that the programmes of analytic and continental philosophy are the
same (‘notre programme n’est-il pas le même?’) with Ryle rudely
responding, ‘I hope not!’ (Beck et al., 1962, p. 7) has become a kind
of sign-post on the boundaries of these two types of philosophy. The
myth of the battle of Royaumont was thus born by misquotation.

3. ‘Ryle’s three Austrian rail-stations and

one Chinese game of chance’

The attempt to answer the above question takes us back to 1925,

when Gilbert Ryle, then newly appointed as a don at Christ’s Church,
Oxford, took upon himself the task of learning German, ‘partly by
travel, partly by dictionary-aided reading’ (Ryle, 1970a, p. 8). In his
autobiography, Ryle (1970a, pp. 8–9) explains how this led to his
encounter with a number of German philosophical texts, among
others those of Meinong, Brentano, Bolzano, Frege, and, following
a recommendation by his tutor H.J. Paton, Husserl’s Logische
Untersuchungen. The way in which Ryle recounts his reading of the
above texts suggests that his interest in them was primarily compara-
tive, i.e. that he found in these Germanophone texts something or
other that informed the problems and dialogues that his contempo-
rary Anglophone philosophy was engaged in.
In particular, Ryle describes how he sought in the Germanophone
debates to become acquainted with ‘at first ... the strengths, and
then ... the weaknesses of Platonistic, because anti-psychologistic theo-
ries of Meaning, i.e. of concepts and propositions’ (1970a, p. 8). It is
likely that Ryle’s designation of ‘first’ and ‘then’ is literally temporal,
i.e. that Ryle’s reading of these texts evolved from an initial positive
attempt to understand Platonistic anti-psychologism in the theory
of meaning, towards a later critical approach to Germanophone and
other (e.g. Moore’s or early Russell’s) Platonistic theories of meaning.
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 115

We shall come to see that this two-sided approach of positive influ-

ence followed by critical inspection characterises Ryle’s overall
engagement with Germanophone (and particularly Husserlian) theo-
ries of meaning.
Ryle’s presentation of his relation to these texts consistently
stresses its critical aspect, while downplaying the role they might
have played in his own intellectual development.23 If in other places
he was, perhaps, bound by pragmatic aspects relating to his chosen
medium of presentation (e.g. conference presentations and journal
articles) to stress the critical side of his approach to these texts, it is
perhaps odd that, in his autobiography, he insists on downplaying
the ‘foreign’ influences on his thought. Thus, though he does claim
he was positively influenced by Meinong, Brentano, Bolzano, and
Husserl, he sets up this positive influence as temporally prior to a
critical reproach of something fundamentally flawed about a thesis
they share.24 He considers it more important to emphasise that these
philosophers were important for presenting to him the flaws of
Platonist anti-psychologism regarding meaning, which he describes

I was right in thinking that their Meaning-theories would reflect

some light on and borrow some light from the partly parallel
doctrines of Frege and of Moore and Russell in their early
Edwardian days. Because Mill was wrong, Heaven had to be
stocked with Logical Objects. But could the Angel Gabriel admit
Illogical Objects? or must even Heaven kowtow to what Husserl,
like Wittgenstein after him, called ‘the rules of logical grammar’
or ‘logical syntax?’ When, if ever, is an Ens Rationis qualified to
be an Entity? Of what class of Objects can logic be the science, if
disqualified Objects have to be amongst them?

In this description, Ryle makes it obvious that there is some mutual

ground between the Germanophone philosophers he was reading in
his youth and the early work of important British philosophers. Even
so, he proceeds to offer what is, at best, a caricature of the Platonism
that possessed the types of questions which the Germanophone books
he was reading were asking. Yet, when Ryle offers these caricatures in
his autobiography, he is, in a sense, presenting them as questions
with which he was, at least once upon a time, engaged; these types of
116 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

questions, even if Ryle wishes to present them by rightly attributing

them to others, are at least in part formative of his own thought.
This act of caricature functions as a rhetorical device which renders
more plausible their appearance as misgivings of the past, which have
been overcome, while simultaneously disguising their importance to
this overcoming. This importance is to be read between the lines in
Ryle’s description of his engagement with Husserl, which follows the
passage quoted above:

Although Husserl, unlike Meinong and like Russell, interested

me by taking very seriously the opposition between Sense and
Nonsense, he failed to make very much of it. Unlike Russell, he did
not adduce ensnaring, and so challenging, specimens of breaches
of logical syntax. He did not hit upon the paradox-generators
and therefore did not try to build up any general diagnostic or
preventive theory. I suppose that there was no one around him to
keep him on the qui vive with logicians’ teasers. It was a pity, but
not a very great pity that his Logische Untersuchungen was not, as
projected, reviewed for Mind by Russell. (1970a, pp. 8–9)

Ryle downplays Husserl’s formative role on the development of

subsequent theories of meaning. He underestimates the impor-
tance of Husserl’s writings on the distinction between meaningful
and meaningless statements, and in particular the significance of
Husserl’s view of senselessness (Sinnlosigkeit) as divided into nonsense
(Unsinnlichkeit) and absurdity (Widersinnlichkeit). I have already
pointed out that Husserl explicates this distinction by differenti-
ating between a priori universal grammar and contingent historical
grammar; Husserl’s distinction is related to the subsequent Carnapian
distinction between logical and historico-grammatical syntax.25 Ryle
was right to point out that what Russell (but also Wittgenstein,
Carnap, and even Ryle himself) came to see as a consequence of
applying their views on meaning to the study of the sentences of
philosophy was much greater in scope than Husserl’s project. But Ryle
is wrong to suppose that Husserl did not ‘adduce ensnaring’ exam-
ples of nonsense – Husserl talks of the ‘sensuous similarity’ (2001,
p. 193) of nonsense to meaning, nonsense giving an ‘indirect idea’
(p. 193) of meaning which ‘apodictically’ (p. 193) is shown not to exist.
It is not clear how one may verify whether, as Ryle says, Husserlian
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 117

detection of nonsense is more ‘challenging’ than Russellian. Though

Husserl did not ‘build up any general diagnostic or preventive theory’
of nonsense, he did develop a method of diagnosing category differ-
ences through detecting which combinations of meanings produced
nonsense by breaking the a priori rules of universal grammar (one
which, as we shall see, lies quite close to Ryle’s method of detecting
category mistakes).26 And despite Husserl himself not coming up
with a theory having the grand scope Ryle expected, Carnap’s grand
attempt to overcome metaphysics is, in part, derived from Husserl’s
distinction between a priori and contingent grammar.27
The reasoning Ryle gives for Husserl’s inability to do the work of
Russell et al. is dubious. By the time he wrote his autobiography,
Ryle knew (from Fr. Van Breda) that Husserl was, more than most
people of his time, on the qui vive with the advances of logic. Husserl
was in contact with some of the most important logicians of the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Frege, the
founder of modern logic himself.28 Pointing out the seeming faults
of Husserl’s view of the distinction between sense and nonsense,
particularly that he did not apply it to the kind of critique of philos-
ophy that Russell had instigated, sophistically shifts attention from
the fact that Husserl did produce a theory of nonsense quite remark-
ably similar to those theories of meaning which gave rise to the
‘analytic’ tradition. Furthermore, it is not clear that those theories
of meaning which did historically happen to give rise to the analytic
tradition, and which the work of Ryle and his Oxford colleagues
helped to supersede, do not suffer from misgivings which Husserl’s
philosophy might escape; Ryle, writing an autobiography, simply
does not adequately examine and compare the theories which he
presents as contesting.
Ryle’s various mistakes point to the ahistoric nature of his reading
of Husserl. Ryle says he read his Germanophone predecessors in
search of formulations of abstract concepts relating to the problems
posed in his contemporary British environment. To a great extent, the
circumstances under which these texts were composed were neither
very significant for Ryle nor easily accessible to him. Thus, whereas
his engagement (whether explicit or not) with some of the ideas
which Husserl (and others) posed led to some fruitful rational recon-
struction, his historic assessment of particular elements of Husserl’s
thought are fundamentally flawed.
118 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

4. Ryle’s sympathetic articles on phenomenology

Ryle’s misrepresentation of Husserl in his autobiography stands in

stark opposition to his youthful encounter with phenomenology.
In 1970, he distanced himself from Husserl’s phenomenological
teachings, claiming that he was only interested in his ‘intention-
alist, anti-psychologistic theory of Meaning/Nonsense’ which was
construed as owing ‘nothing to his posterior Phenomenology’ and
having ‘bequeathed too little to it’ (p. 9). But in the nineteen-twenties
and thirties, following his attendance at Husserl’s 1922 London
lectures, he had ‘offered an unwanted course of lectures, entitled
“Logical Objectivism: Bolzano, Brentano, Husserl and Meinong”’
(Ryle, 1970a, p. 8)29 and written a number of articles on phenomenol-
ogy.30 He was responsible for organising a symposium on phenom-
enology held by the Aristotelian Society in 1932.31 He had personally
encountered Husserl, to whom he paid a visit at Freiburg in 1929,
during his retirement.32
Having travelled to Freiburg to visit Husserl, Ryle stayed to study
there with Heidegger.33 In July 1929, following his studies with
Heidegger, he reviewed the newly published Sein und Zeit for Mind.34
Among other praise, Ryle remarked that Heidegger ‘shows himself to
be a thinker of real importance by the immense subtlety and search-
ingness 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’ (1929, p. 213).35 Ryle later comments that he
wrote the review ‘in ignorance of the existence of Kierkegaard, and
with no thought of distinguishing Husserlian Phenomenology from
something to be called “Existentialism”’ (1970a, p. 9).36 Nonetheless,
Ryle’s review does not suffer from any further serious interpretative
flaws regarding Heidegger’s work (Ryle acknowledges that the work
is difficult and requires effort, which he recommends to the reader
to attempt) and is quite insightful given that it was published in the
year following its publication.37
Ryle’s review introduced Heidegger to the English-speaking world
and was, already in 1928, ahead of its time in predicting the mysti-
cism that was looming over Heidegger’s philosophy. This critical
prediction is not stated with the more aggressive tone that may be
perceived in his later writings, but, as Ryle puts it, ‘with humility
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 119

and with reservations’ (1929, p. 214), rightly acknowledging the

depth and difficulty of Heidegger’s text.38 Ryle presents his view that
phenomenology is doomed to mysticism by remarking 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’ (Ryle, 1929, pp. 213–214).39 It may not be fair to describe,
in hindsight, Heidegger’s work after Davos as simply ‘windy mysti-
cism’ (though Heidegger would later even go so far as to comment on
texts by mystics such as Meister Eckhart), or the existentialist trend
which sprang from it as mere ‘Subjectivism’. Nevertheless, Ryle’s
prediction is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, insofar as Ryle’s philo-
sophical colleagues (if not also Ryle himself) would come to apply
his characterisations to subsequent work in the phenomenological

5. Phenomenology and meta-philosophy

Hidden deep behind Ryle’s reasoning regarding his prediction of the

demise of phenomenology, one may find a clue illuminating the
ambivalent attitude that Ryle held towards the phenomenological
tradition. When Ryle sees that phenomenology is now understood
qua First Philosophy, he demonstrates his reservations towards it
and then gradually withdraws from any explicitly active engage-
ment with its practice. It might seem obvious, at a first glance, that
Ryle’s hesitations regarding any theoretical approach that allies itself
with the tasks of a ‘First Philosophy’ are related to a more general
anti-metaphysical stance to be found in his contemporary British
philosophical environment.
Yet, the fact remains that Ryle had been one of those exceptional
philosophers who had devoted his studies to matters which were
not of obvious importance to his immediate academic environment.
As a young don at Oxford, Ryle was more interested in what was
going on at Cambridge than any of his fellow Oxonians at the time.41
Ryle’s interests turned to the work of people like Bertrand Russell and
Ludwig Wittgenstein, who were at the time producing what would
eventually come to be seen as a ‘revolution in philosophy’ (Ayer et al.,
1967). In turn, what Russell or Wittgenstein were doing at Cambridge
in the twenties bore immediate reference to what was simultaneously
taking place in Vienna; as already stated, Ryle’s interest had led to his
120 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

dispatching the young A. J. Ayer to Vienna in 1932, who famously

reported back with his Language, Truth, and Logic.42 Through Ryle, the
philosophical approaches developed in Cambridge and Vienna prior
to the Second World War would gradually achieve a certain critical
importance in Oxford after the war.
What was it that Ryle was looking for outside Oxford, in Cambridge
and Vienna? Is it possible that he was looking for something similar
in Freiburg? As Ryle remarked later:

To elucidate the thoughts of a philosopher we need to find the

answer not only to the question ‘What were his intellectual worries?’
but, before that question and after that question, the answer to the
question ‘What was his overriding worry?’ (1971a, p. ix)

Ryle’s overriding worry was meta-philosophical. The predominant

question behind all of Ryle’s various responses to different problems is
the question What is philosophy?43 How should philosophers go about
practising philosophy? This primary question of meta-philosophy is
a question of great concern for Cambridge, Vienna, and Freiburg; for
Russell, Wittgenstein, and Husserl. It is thus not at all inappropriate to
suppose that what lay behind Ryle’s encounter with all of these cities
(and their philosophers) is a shared concern for meta-philosophy.
For both Cambridge and Freiburg, the question ‘What is philos-
ophy?’ is not simply a question of describing a given state of affairs
called philosophy, but rather an attempt to prescribe what philoso-
phers should do: it is a question that demands an answer. The demand
for such an answer is generated by a number of factors both internal
and external to the practice of that which at the time was named
‘philosophy’. As we have seen, there was a certain philosophical crisis
associated with the turn against psychologism which was effected
in Germany and Austria in the late nineteenth century and which
also influenced British (and American) philosophy in the twentieth
century. This crisis was, as we have also seen, further associated with
the various advances in the contemporary sciences (primarily in
psychology and logic). The result of the turn against psychologism
is the open question: what, if anything, is it that philosophy studies?
What kind of thing is it that philosophy allows us to know?
We have seen that Ryle sees two attitudes in Husserl: (a) one aligned
with a large part of his early career during which Husserl sought to
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 121

work out a quasi-Platonistic44 account of the theory of meaning which

is founded in a reaction against psychologism, and (b) a posterior
doctrine known as phenomenology which carries little over from the
prior anti-psychologistic stance.45 Yet, if one were to look for Husserl’s
answer to the question ‘What is philosophy?’, then one would have
to look beyond (a) and towards (b) in order to find it. Here again, we
encounter Ryle’s ambivalent stance towards Husserl: Husserl, together
with Frege (and various other Neo-Kantian philosophers which are
perhaps little known to Ryle) were the prime critics of psychologism,
and thus the ones who set the wheels in motion for the general
meta-philosophical crisis to which Ryle was in turn responding.46
Thus, Ryle, in a sense, belongs in the history of the aftermath of the
meta-philosophical crisis which followed anti-psychologism. Husserl
is, in this sense, a predecessor for Ryle.47
Nevertheless, Husserl’s answer to that crisis, i.e. his phenom-
enology, is one with which Ryle appears fundamentally to disa-
gree. But Ryle’s disagreement with it does not seem to be expressed
anywhere in clear philosophical terms. In fact, when he approaches
it in his later life, and particularly at Royaumont, his remarks remain
over-dismissive (for example, as we are about to see, Ryle implies that
Husserl’s meta-philosophy leads to a dictatorial role of philosophy
over the sciences).48 It is not clear that Ryle’s dismissal of Husserlian
phenomenology as a philosophical programme necessarily follows
from Ryle’s rejection of what he construes as Husserl’s quasi-Platonist
theory of meaning.49 Such a claim contradicts Ryle’s own assertion
that phenomenology has little to do with Husserl’s theory of meaning.
Perhaps a clue to Ryle’s rejection of phenomenology comes from his
despair at its being transformed, by Heidegger, into metaphysics –
but that statement is directed against the Heideggerian approach to
phenomenology, and does not provide us with any good reason to
link it to Husserlian phenomenology. What are we, then, to make
of this strange polemical attitude which Ryle inexplicably launches
against Husserl?

6. Systematically misleading expressions,

or how to sharpen Ryle’s razor

The truth is that Ryle did not always seem radically to divorce Husserl’s
phenomenology from his theory of meaning in the way that he did
122 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

in his 1970 autobiography. He had published some ‘partly sympa-

thetic’ (Ryle, 1970a, p. 9)50 articles on Husserl’s phenomenology
where both are discussed together under the heading of phenom-
enology; one article in particular stands out, his ‘Phenomenology’
presented at the ‘Phenomenology’ symposium organised by Ryle at
the Aristotelian Society in 1932. This presents us with an interesting
case, since here the parts of Husserl’s work that Ryle directs his most
vehement criticism against are those which deal with his theory of
meaning, whereas the parts which he is mostly sympathetic towards
deal with what Ryle later separates from the theory of meaning by
calling ‘phenomenology’.
One important clue that allows us to comprehend the signifi-
cance of this particular review of ‘phenomenology’ by Ryle is given
by the date of its presentation and publication, 1932. This was also
the year of publication of one of Ryle’s most famous contributions
to philosophy; on 21 March of that same year, Ryle presented to
the Aristotelian Society a paper titled ‘Systematically Misleading
Expressions’.51 In SME, Ryle explores a number of ways in which ordi-
nary language causes philosophical confusion. He examines some
common mistakes which philosophers may be led to through what
he distinguishes as four kinds of misleading expressions in ordinary

(a) quasi-ontological,
(b) quasi-Platonic,
(c) quasi-descriptive, and
(d) quasi-referential descriptive statements.

By distinguishing among these four kinds of expression, Ryle outlines

the ways in which they are misleading to philosophers. Briefly put: (a)
quasi-ontological statements are expressions of the form ‘X exists’ or
‘X does not exist’, which thereby mislead philosophers into assuming
that an abstract entity x does exist; (b) quasi-Platonic expressions
seemingly refer to Universals, misleading philosophers into assuming
the existence of universals; (c) quasi-descriptive expressions mislead-
ingly look like proper names (which they are not), and as if their
meaning is identical to their sense (which it is not); and similarly (d)
different kinds of quasi-referential descriptions (such as ‘the King of
France’ or ‘the Labour Party’), which misleadingly present themselves
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 123

as if they refer to some entity, whereas in fact, contrary to descriptive

expressions, they do not.
The common element which these types of expression share is
their seeming designation of kinds of entities which, in their ordi-
nary usage, we do not take to exist. For example, when one uses the
statement ‘Poincaré is not the King of France’, one does not ordinarily
mean that there is one entity that is described by the expression ‘the
King of France’ and which Poincaré is not, but rather that someone,
who is called Poincaré, does not have the rank of ‘King of France’ (a
rank which, in fact, no person has).52 Of course, in ordinary usage,
there is no need of such analysis in order to clarify such ambiguities –
in fact, there is little trouble that may be caused by such misleading
expressions, and they will not lead anyone to the strange or absurd
conclusions which might be reached by philosophers who fall under
their spell.53
Ryle thinks that, when they are used by philosophers, these kinds
of misleading expressions may deceive them into mistakenly multi-
plying entities beyond necessity. Ryle takes on the task of putting an
end to this confused multiplication, restating Ockham’s razor as ‘Do
not treat all expressions which are grammatically like proper names
or referentially used “the” phrases, as if they were therefore proper
names or referentially used “the” phrases’ (1932a, p. 165). In other
words, the misleading nature of expressions, such as seemingly proper
names or seeming descriptions, has caused philosophers to mistak-
enly assume that they are, in fact, proper names or descriptions and
that therefore there is, for example, something called ‘Being’, or that
there are Platonic ‘essences’ of things. According to Ryle, there are
various ways of saying certain things, and for philosophers it is more
appropriate to replace systematically misleading expressions with less
misleading ones – i.e. ones which do not consequently lead them
into multiplying entities.

7. Shaving Husserl’s beard

The first example of Ryle’s application of his discovery of systemati-

cally misleading expressions (and of its consequent attempt to refor-
mulate philosophy less misleadingly) is ‘Phenomenology’, published
three months after his presentation of SME to the Aristotelian Society.
Here, Ryle’s rejection of Husserl’s quasi-Platonism applies the insights
124 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

developed in Ryle’s previous paper. He begins by pointing out (iden-

tifying Husserl’s position with Meinong’s) that Husserl ‘holds, or
used to hold, that universals or essences, as well as propositions, are
objects of a higher order’ (1932b, p. 170), and that philosophers have
as their task to intuit these semi-Platonic essences and propositions
and to analyse the ways in which they inhere in mental acts (i.e.
in concepts and judgements).54 In other words, a lot of what Ryle
was arguing against in SME is what he claims he had looked for in
Husserl and various other Germanophone texts. His description of
Husserl’s account of ‘the nature of a priori thinking’ (1932b, p. 170)
is also partly a description of what Ryle had been arguing against:
on the one hand, of a Platonism (which was attached to a particular
theory of meaning) that multiplied entities beyond necessity, and on
the other hand, of a particular conception of philosophy as ‘a sort
of observational science (like geography)’ (p. 170) of objects outside
space and time.55 For Ryle, neither of these two positions he attributes
to Husserl are attractive philosophically. This becomes even more
obvious once Ryle employs the insights developed in SME to attempt
to eliminate Husserl’s Platonism.

I do not myself believe that phrases such as ‘being a so and so’,

‘being a such and such’ and ‘that so and so is such and such’ do
denote objects or subjects of attributes. For I don’t think that they
are denoting expressions at all. Consequently, though I can know
what it is for something to be a so and so, I think that this knowl-
edge is wrongly described as an ‘intuition of an essence’. For intui-
tion, which I take to be a synonym for knowledge by acquaintance
or perception, does seem to be or to involve a relation between
two subjects of attributes, the perceiver and the thing perceived.
And I do not think that what Husserl calls ‘essences’ are subjects
of attributes at all. However I do not think that the whole notion
of phenomenology hinges on this special theory, so I do not think
that it need be discussed here. (1932b, p. 171)

Ryle claims here that certain expressions which misleadingly appear

as if they were denoting something or other, are not denoting expres-
sions.56 Sentences such as ‘being a so and so’ (e.g. ‘being the present
King of France’) do not denote an object or a subject of an attribute.57
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 125

One may not infer from the appearance of the types of sentences
which Ryle discusses that they allow for an ‘intuition of an essence’,
since the reality which underlies that deceiving appearance is the fact
that nothing has been denoted by them. Their seeming reference to
what Husserl takes to be ‘essences’ to be intuited is only deceivingly
produced through some particular fact about their grammatical struc-
ture. This structure allows us to take the mistaken view that they refer
to some kind of essence, which Ryle claims they do not.
Ryle is here introducing an application of the insight he developed
a few months earlier in SME, namely the notion that the grammar of
an expression may mislead philosophers and not ordinary language
users. Although the expression ‘being a so and so’ does not seem, at
first hand, to correspond to any of the particular categories of system-
atically misleading expressions Ryle develops in SME, its function is
similar: its grammar leads to a mistaken supposition of denotation,
which the expression does not fulfil. Examining the context in which
Ryle presents the example ‘being a so and so’ reveals that Ryle intends
by it to refute the denotation of universals (as semi-Platonic objects)
by such expressions. One may thus assume (though Ryle is not
perfectly clear in this case) that by citing ‘being such and such’ et al.,
Ryle means to exemplify sentences referring to universals or essences
(in reference to the second type of systematically misleading expres-
sions he discusses in SME). Thus, Ryle concludes that when Husserl
is taking such expressions to denote those essences or universals
which phenomenology is supposed to study, he is being misled into
supposing their existence or subsistence by their seeming reference
to semi-Platonic objects, which can be explained away by the kind of
linguistic analysis Ryle has developed in SME. If Ryle’s primary task
in SME was to transform linguistic analysis into sharpening Ockham’s
razor, then the first beard Ryle’s razor had shaved was Husserl’s.

8. Rylean phenomenology

Shaving Husserl’s beard was not an exclusively negative exercise for

Ryle, and phenomenology was also highly influential on the devel-
opment of his thought (despite Ryle’s statements to the contrary
later in his life) to such an extent that he called The Concept of Mind
‘a sustained essay in phenomenology’ (1971b, p. 188). First and
126 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

foremost, the negative dismissal of Platonism which Ryle (similarly

to Russell before him) poses against Husserl (who is bundled together
with Meinong, Frege, Brentano, and Bolzano) is one which is, to a
great extent, formative in his thought, and influential on subsequent
philosophers: It is an exercise in retaining a certain anti-psychologistic
account of the nature of philosophy, while simultaneously deserting
any seemingly redundant Platonic ontological ‘promiscuities’ (as
Ryle puts it).58 If anything, such an exercise determined the develop-
ment of various important philosophical tools which, independently
of their particular application against a specific theory of meaning,
have been instrumental in the development of sophisticated philo-
sophical techniques in use to this day.
In addition, as stated above, the criticisms against Platonism in
the theory of meaning do not have as their direct consequence an
overall rejection of the phenomenological method. If anything, such
criticism may allow for a reformed approach to phenomenology, and
various thinkers in the phenomenological tradition have found it
useful to discard any Platonistic implications of anti-psychologism
and thus pursue phenomenology without Platonism (e.g. Schülz,
Ingarden,59 Reinach, Pfänder).60 Ryle himself, as I shall proceed to
demonstrate, retained in his philosophical work various features of
Husserl’s phenomenology without thereby endorsing the existence
of quasi-Platonic entities.
Thus, immediately after his rejection of Husserl’s quasi-Platonism
regarding universals, Ryle goes on to describe an aspect of phenom-
enological thinking which appears upon examination to have deeply
influenced his own thought. Ryle’s account of intentionality in his
1932 paper on phenomenology is important precisely because it
immediately links the doctrine of intentionality with an idea intrinsic
to his own project in The Concept of Mind: the argument that there
is no such thing as a single, unified thing that we may call a mind
and that is somehow a higher order unity of particular mental acts,
such as ‘remembering, judging, inferring, wishing, choosing, regret-
ting, etc’ (Ryle, 1932b, p. 167).61 Famously, the basic underlying idea
behind The Concept of Mind is that there is no necessary connection
between the ‘mental acts’ described above and some unified thing
called a ‘mind’, which is made out by Ryle to be no more than a bad
myth that philosophers have inherited from Descartes. Yet, already
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 127

in 1932, Ryle was attributing the fundamental distinction between

various types of mental acts to the phenomenological doctrines of

it can be known a priori that consciousness is consciousness

of something. To wish is to wish for something, to regret is to
regret something, to remember, expect, decide and choose are to
remember something, expect something, decide something and
choose something. To every piece of mental functioning there is
intrinsically correlative something which is the ‘accusative’ of that
functioning. But though all consciousness is ‘intentional’ or ‘tran-
sitive’, it is not all intentional or transitive in the same way. The
act of remembering may have the same object as one of regret-
ting, but they are different sorts of acts and ‘have’ their object
in different manners. Moreover, some sorts of ‘consciousness of’
demand others as their platform. I cannot regret without remem-
bering, though I can remember without regretting. And, again, I
cannot remember without having once directly perceived, but I
can perceive without having to remember. And so on. (1932b, pp.

Husserl goes on to attempt to order these various kinds of intention-

ality into a hierarchy and then to unify them into an ego which is
the subject of all these intentional experiences, the ultimate centre of
the hierarchy. Eventually, as Ryle notes, the attempt to find a centre
for the disparate and distinct types of intentionality in the subject
that experiences them leads Husserl to ‘terminate in a subjectivist or
egocentric philosophy, though he is at pains to argue that it is not a
form of solipsism’ (1932b, p. 172).62 In other words, the main flaw in
Husserl’s account is seen by Ryle as being one that is derived from his
attempt to unify these various disparate ‘mental acts’, in contrast to
Husserl’s insight regarding the multiplicity and distinctness of their
various kinds of intentionality. What is at stake here is the fact that
the problem of the unification of the various kinds of intentionality
into some form of consciousness is only made apparent through
an understanding of their heterogeneity. Furthermore, the effort
Husserl undertakes towards solving this problem is shown to lead to
certain counter-intuitive idealistic positions, and for Husserl it meant
128 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

undertaking a persistent defence of his philosophy against the threat

of solipsism, which nevertheless still hovered over the entire enter-
prise of phenomenology.63
While Ryle thinks little of the solution Husserl gives to the problem
of the unification of intentional mental acts (as did many phenome-
nologists), he simultaneously retains some form of Husserl’s problem,
i.e. he takes the position that there is something like a web of discrete
but interwoven ‘mental’ intentional acts, whose apparent unity we
need to somehow make sense of. This task is undertaken by Ryle in
his 1949 The Concept of Mind. At Royaumont, he describes this book
as being

an examination of multifarious specific mental concepts, such as

those of knowing, learning, discovering, imagining, pretending, hoping,
wanting, feeling depressed, feeling a pain, resolving, doing voluntarily,
doing deliberately, perceiving, remembering and so on. The book could
be described as a sustained essay in phenomenology, if you are at
home with that label. (1971b, p. 188)

In other words, Ryle makes it apparent at Royaumont (although

apparently not very clear, amidst the confusion of languages and
nationalities, to all those who bore witness to this confession) that
The Concept of Mind, according to his statement, draws from Husserl’s
insights on the nature of ‘mental conduct’ (1949, p. 7). According
to Ryle, The Concept of Mind is an essay in ‘phenomenology’ in the
technical sense of the word employed first by Brentano and then by
Husserl, a sense puzzling to

Anglo-Saxon students, who, while familiar with the Platonic and

Kantian uses of the word ‘phenomenon,’ are quite unfamiliar with
Brentano’s idiosyncratic use of it, to stand for whatever could carry
the epithets ‘conscious’ and ‘consciously’, that is, for Cartesian
indubitables.64 (1971b, p. 180)

Here, Ryle is to be seen as a phenomenologist insofar as he takes up

the question, posed by Husserl, of the relation of phenomenal (in the
technical sense employed by Brentano and Husserl) mental acts to a
‘mind’, i.e. the question: How, given their heterogeneity, do mental
acts nevertheless seem to belong to some sort of homogeneous
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 129

entity called a ‘mind’? This is, precisely, a question whose answer by

Husserl, as we have already seen, has been criticised by Ryle. Thus,
at least partly, Ryle’s ‘essay in phenomenology’ is one which can be
seen as tackling Husserl’s problem of the seemingly unified nature of
intentional phenomena.
For Ryle, famously, phrasing Husserl’s problem in terms of a rela-
tion of mental acts to the unified mind of an ego is at the root of the
problem. Talk of ‘minds’ is perpetually plagued by linguistic ambi-
guities, which are caused by what Ryle calls a ‘category mistake’. A
category mistake is, briefly put, the bundling together, in a proposi-
tion, of things belonging to heterogeneous classes. Ryle’s example is
of the visitor in Oxford or Cambridge who, having seen ‘where the
members of the Colleges live, where the Registrar works, where the
scientists experiment and the rest’ (1949, p. 16) still insists to see
where the University itself is. In other words, the misguided visitor
has, in his ignorance, assumed that ‘the University’ is an object that
belongs to the same class of expressions such as ‘where the members
of the Colleges live, where the Registrar works’, i.e. the various build-
ings which make up what we understand to be ‘the University’.

His mistake lay in his innocent assumption that it was correct

to speak of Christ Church, the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean
Museum and the University, to speak, that is, as if ‘the University’
stood for an extra member of the class of which these other units
are members. He was mistakenly allocating the University to the
same category as that to which the other institutions belong. (Ryle,
1949, p. 16)

In speaking of such objects (i.e. of objects that belong to fundamen-

tally different logical categories) in one breath, the visitor is misled
into ignoring the substantially incompatible nature of the use of
such expressions. He mistakes objects belonging to one category (i.e.
the class whose members are the buildings which make up Oxford
or Cambridge University) with those of a completely different
sort belonging to another (i.e. the University itself). His mistake is
caused by his inability to properly use the term ‘University’; it can
be corrected when he is shown that what he had assumed to be a
member of one category belongs to an altogether different category.
Thus, he may learn to use the term correctly.
130 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Ryle believes that talk of minds is plagued precisely by this form

of elementary mistake which he calls a ‘category mistake’. Dualist
philosophers (i.e. those upholding the Cartesian distinction between
mind and matter) have maintained the separation of the mental
and physical realms by subsuming both these realms to categories
which are mistakenly assumed to be applicable to both. For example,
causality is attributed by Cartesian dualism to both the mental and
the physical – with the mind being a special kind of causal agency,
i.e. an agent of a kind of causality which is fundamentally different
in its nature from that mechanistic kind of causality operative in the
physical realm. According to Ryle, to look for causation in the mental
realm is to make the same form of elementary mistake as that which
takes place when one looks for the University among the buildings
of Oxford or Cambridge. It means, on the one hand, distinguishing
between two heteronomous realms, i.e. the mental and the physical,
and on the other, talking of them using a shared categorial framework,
i.e. talking of them as if ‘the categories of “thing”, “stuff”, “attribute”,
“state”, “process”, “change”, “cause” and “effect”’ (Ryle, 1949, p. 19)
applied to both otherwise heteronomous realms.
Ryle goes on to show that what, through the dualistic assumption
of the existence of two separate realms of mind and body, had been
thought to be some sort of internal, occult ‘thing’, ‘state’, ‘cause’, is,
in fact, something of a completely different nature:

the reason why the skill exercised in a performance cannot be sepa-

rately recorded by a camera is not that it is an occult or ghostly
happening, but that it is not a happening at all. It is a disposi-
tion, or complex of dispositions, and a disposition is a factor of
the wrong logical type to be seen or unseen, recorded or unre-
corded. ... The traditional theory of the mind has misconstrued the
type-distinction between disposition and exercise into its mythical
bifurcation of unwitnessable mental causes and their witnessable
physical effects. (1949, p. 33)

In other words, by confusing these two categories (of act and dispo-
sition), philosophers have been led into a fundamentally mistaken
assumption regarding the existence of two separable substances, the
realms of mind and matter, and the series of consequent problems
which emerge from the assumption of such a distinction (e.g. the
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 131

problem of the interaction of mind and body, the division between

idealism and materialism, or the question of the freedom of the will).
The reason why philosophers have accepted such a dichotomy, and
also why they have not been able to put such problems in check
through philosophical debate, is given by the fact that ordinary
linguistic practices have kept such confusion disguised. Beguiled by
his own use of language, the dualist could not have seen the elemen-
tary mistake to which his own statements had led him. Prior to the
‘linguistic turn’ and the development of certain techniques which
culminate in Ryle’s designation of a method for detecting differ-
ences between categories through the analysis of ordinary language,
Cartesian dualists could not have detected their own elementary
‘category mistakes’.

9. Husserl’s method for detecting ‘category mistakes’

The consequences of talking of mind and matter in the confused

manner in which the dualist talks of them (i.e. as heteronomous
within a shared categorial framework) are hunted by Ryle in his book
throughout the multifarious distinct types of ‘mental conduct’. I
have already demonstrated the important influence of Husserl (and
phenomenology in general) on the seeming inauguration of such a task
by Ryle. I shall proceed to discuss the relation between Ryle’s notion
of ‘category mistake’ and Husserl’s theoretical model for the detec-
tion of nonsense.65 Following Ryle’s own suggestions, it has become
apparent that Husserl’s theory of meaning and the way in which it
distinguished between sense (Sinn) and senselessness (Sinnlosigkeit),
were significant to the development of Ryle’s thought.
The reasons Husserl had for developing his particular account of
nonsense (Unsinn) (and its distinction from absurdity (Widersinn))
are significant. The designation of a method for distinguishing
between meaning, nonsense, and absurdity was employed by Husserl
as tool for distinguishing between categories!66 Within Husserl’s
overall project of a descriptive approach to categories of meaning,
nonsense becomes an indicator of category differences.67 This seem-
ingly complex and difficult statement may be rendered clearer when
one sees that, according to Husserl’s theory of meaning, nonsense is
produced when a term belonging to one category is substituted for a
term belonging to a completely different one.
132 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Take, for example, the sentence ‘A round x’. If one were to substi-
tute ‘x’ for ‘table’, one would have a meaningful sentence. One
could similarly substitute ‘x’ for ‘non-round’ or ‘square’ and obtain a
sentence having a certain kind of meaning which is contradictory or
absurd (formally absurd in the former case, and materially absurd in
the latter). Yet, if one were to substitute ‘x’ for ‘or’, the result would be
nonsense, an absolutely meaningless sentence. ‘Table’ may be mean-
ingfully (though absurdly) replaced by ‘square’ because both ‘table’
and ‘square’ belong to the same kind of a priori category of meaning,
whereas ‘or’ belongs to a completely different sort of category.
Husserl distinguishes between two types of categories: on the one
hand, (analytic a priori) categories of meaning and, on the other,
(synthetic a priori) ontological categories.68 We are here primarily
concerned with the former, as it is Husserl’s account of the catego-
ries of meaning which seems to have mattered to Ryle. What Husserl
means when he mentions the term ‘categories of meaning’ is confined
to what we may today understand as syntactic categories.69 A descrip-
tion of these syntactic categories may be given through outlining
what Husserl calls the (analytic)70 ‘a priori laws governing combina-
tions of meanings’ (2001, p. 189). The function of such laws is to
allow us to give an account of ‘the truth or falsity of meanings as
such, purely on the basis of their categorial formal structure’ (Husserl,
2001, p. 79), i.e. they are to present us with the validity (in contrast to
the soundness) of propositions. Thus, once an overall account of the
laws governing the possible combinations of meanings is given, one
may then examine the truth or falsity of particular statements.
The ‘a priori laws governing combinations of meanings’ are, in
fact, as we have seen, ways of distinguishing between, on the one
hand, meaningful statements and, on the other, the nonsense which
is produced by the violation of these laws. We have also seen that,
according to Husserl, the violation of such laws takes place when,
within a statement, an expression belonging to one formal category
of meaning is replaced with one belonging to another. The mean-
inglessness that results from this replacement becomes, according to
Husserl, a test as to the differentiation between the various formal
categories. Throughout his Logische Untersuchungen, Husserl main-
tains the distinction between meaning and nonsense as a kind of test
for category differences.
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 133

Thus, it is quite possible that Ryle’s concept of a ‘category mistake’

is inherited directly from Husserl, with minor modifications. As
Thomasson points out,

although Ryle made the method famous, he apparently derived

the idea from Husserl’s method of distinguishing categories of
meaning. But while Husserl used syntactic nonsense as a way of
detecting differences in categories of meaning (yielding different
grammatical categories), Ryle broadened the idea, taking absurdi-
ties more widely conceived to be symptoms of differences in logical
or conceptual categories. (2009, §2.2)

Thomasson shows that Ryle drew from a very specific technical

account of logico-grammatical meaning given in Husserl and trans-
formed it into a very generally applicable philosophical technique.71
Whereas Husserl’s understanding of nonsense was tied to a very
particular purpose, namely that of outlining a system of categories of
meaning and the a priori laws of their combination, Ryle may have
converted it into a technique applicable to the analysis of most forms
of theoretical linguistic practices.72

10. Analysis and Husserl’s meta-philosophy

Even as Ryle is employing something akin to a Husserlian theory of

meaning to deploy (by slightly modifying it, or perhaps simply broad-
ening its scope) an analytic technique through which to approach ordi-
nary language, Ryle is still answering a question which was perhaps
the fundamental question for both Husserl and himself. When Ryle
is re-launching Husserl’s method of distinguishing between catego-
ries of meaning, Ryle is detecting an answer to the question ‘What is
philosophy?’ in the work of Husserl which Husserl himself had been
unable to see.73 Through Ryle’s development of various techniques
to be used for the analysis of ordinary language, the simultaneous
redefinition of philosophy as a kind of analysis is effected.
The role meta-philosophy plays in Husserl’s work is an issue
in Ryle’s writings on phenomenology. His views on Husserl’s
meta-philosophical insights are mixed and multifaceted, ranging from
a heavy indebtedness – in some cases, remaining unacknowledged
134 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

while in others being explicitly stated – to a critical dismissal that

may sometimes seem arbitrary and unfair. The latter cases, though,
are fewer and more isolated than the former. As we shall proceed to
show, Ryle’s work in meta-philosophy may overall be deemed contin-
uous with that undertaken by Husserl.
In the first instance, the stress that Ryle puts on meta-philosophy
throughout his career is one which he inherits, at least partly, from
Husserl. The approach to meta-philosophy which sees as its task
the delineation of a space for philosophy in the ever-increasing
advances of scientific research is one which, to a great extent,
is first and most rigorously discussed in Husserl’s Logische
Untersuchungen. Anti-psychologism, with its accompanying variants
of quasi-Platonism, is a philosophical position generated in response
to a certain crisis in the borders of philosophy and psychology, and
Husserl’s work is largely dedicated to the delineation of a method for
demarcating between empirical psychology and phenomenology.74
Without Husserl’s emphasis on the need to develop an account,
within philosophy, of how to distinguish philosophy from empirical
science, Ryle’s meta-philosophical views would have certainly been
According to Ryle, Husserl’s distinction between empirical
psychology and descriptive phenomenology is interesting precisely
because it is applicable to a wider range of cases than Husserl had
envisaged. Talking of the distinction between a priori and empirical
psychology, Ryle notes:

This seems to me to be true and generalizable. Not only psychology,

but all sciences and all sorts of search for knowledge or probable
opinion aim at establishing particular or general propositions. But
whether in any particular case such a proposition is true or false,
the analysis of what it means, or of what would be the case if it
were true, is different from and in principle prior to the discovery
of what proves it or makes it probable. Thus, the philosophy of
physics is indifferent to the answers that physicists give to the
questions of physics, the philosophy of mathematics does not wait
for the solution of all possible equations, and in ethics we must
have some notion of desert, and one which we are already in prin-
ciple ready to analyse, whether or not we are able to decide that a
given defendant deserves a certain punishment. (1932b, p. 169)
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 135

In this passage, by drawing from Husserl’s singular case of the rela-

tion between philosophy and psychology, Ryle generalises to a defini-
tion of the proper scope of philosophy as comprising a multiplicity
of a priori studies of the various disciplines of ‘knowledge or prob-
able opinion’. Already in 1932, he is making an almost prophetic
statement of the future of philosophy based on an explication of the
work of Husserl. Philosophy did, in the decades to come, evolve into
a variety of sub-disciplines investigating the workings of particular
academic disciplines in both the exact sciences and the humanities,
by employing some or other method which is deemed to be appro-
priate to philosophy and philosophy only. Of course, the prophetic
quality of Ryle’s statements is diminished once one remembers the
central role Ryle held in the organisation of philosophy departments
across the Anglophone world following the Second World War.75
Ryle’s meta-philosophical view – i.e. the view that philosophy should
be a special form of study of the particular disciplines of science, a
view generalising Husserl’s insights on the relation between philos-
ophy and psychology – is one which was formative in the develop-
ment of Anglophone philosophy following the Second World War.
For both Ryle and Husserl, the method through which philosophy
should relate to other disciplines is that of analysis.76 As Ryle points
out in 1932, phenomenology is a method denoting ‘the analysis of
root types of mental functioning’ (1932b, p. 168) and is, to an extent,
opposed to the various other ways in which past philosophers have
approached the study of the mind. Of course, as Ryle notes, Husserl’s
analytic method is not his own innovation but has been in prac-
tice throughout the history of philosophy. ‘Mental types’ have been
philosophy’s subject of study throughout its history.

And while parts of the treatments given by historical philoso-

phers to these subjects have been not analytical, but specula-
tive or hypothetical or dogmatic, other parts have always been
strictly analytical and critical and have therefore been proper cases
of what Husserl describes as the phenomenological method. So
nothing save a rather misleading title would have been secured by
Husserl had he merely asserted that these and such like enquiries
are all phenomenological enquiries, in that all are enquiries into
the nature of more or less radical types of mental functioning.
(Ryle, 1932b, pp. 168–169)
136 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Thus, according to Ryle, Husserl was a philosopher employing an

analytical method (as opposed to a ‘speculative or hypothetical or
dogmatic’ one) who had unfortunately given the kind of analysis he
undertook a ‘rather misleading title’. Perhaps, as a consequence, the
various terminological difficulties in Husserl’s work (which we have
seen Ryle pointing out in various places) have disguised the worth of
Husserl’s insights to those philosophers who, together with Husserl,
see the task of analysis as a worthy task for philosophical thought.

11. Analysis v. Mistress Science

Despite the profound affinities of Husserl and Ryle’s approaches to

meta-philosophy, these are generally played down by Ryle’s texts
which tend to over-emphasise the differences. It is Ryle’s critique
of Husserl’s meta-philosophical theses that is more prominent and
explicit in his own writings than any positive inheritance of some or
other meta-philosophical insight.
In 1932, the differences are still not as loud and articulated as they
were to become later on. Ryle disagrees with Husserl on a doctrine
which is made out by him to be central to phenomenology: the
position that phenomenology ‘is an enquiry which can become a
rigorous science’ (Ryle, 1932b, p. 168).77 Although Ryle mentions his
disagreement with Husserl on this statement, he does so in passing,
proclaiming that he does not wish to undertake an elaborate criticism
of such a position. Referring to the above claim, Ryle says that it

seems to me to be either false or an awkward terminological inno-

vation. For I don’t think that philosophy or any part of philosophy
is properly called a ‘science’. Philosophical methods are neither
scientific nor unscientific. But this is not a question which I want
to deal directly with here. (1932b, p. 168)

Although Ryle expresses his disagreement with Husserl on this point

in various passages, he only deals with it indirectly and in passing.
The most explicit, and perhaps unfair, statement of this disagree-
ment takes place at Royaumont, i.e. at that point in time when Ryle
decides to present phenomenology as something contrary to his own
The Concept of Mind (while quirkily sustaining that the book is an
essay in phenomenology). In his 1958 presentation, Ryle notoriously
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 137

appears to be implying that Husserl was deluded in his attempt to

relate philosophy to scientific enquiry by baptising phenomenology
a ‘science’.

Husserl was so bewitched by his Platonic idea that concep-

tual enquiries were scrutinies of the super-objects that he called
‘Essences’,78 that he persuaded himself that these enquiries should
and would grow up into another science – grow up, indeed, not
just into one science among others but into the Mistress Science,
to which all other sciences would be in tutelage. (Ryle, 1971b, pp.

According to Ryle, Husserl’s quasi-Platonism had been the cause

which led him to the uncomfortable meta-philosophical position of
having to conceive of his phenomenological philosophy as existing in
a hierarchical position at the top of the great chain of being of scien-
tific knowledge. Again, Ryle makes little effort in his attempt to argue
against Husserl’s idea that phenomenology as rigorous science lies at
the root of all other scientific enquiry; rather, he simply attempts to
ridicule this position by reducing it to some absurd doctrine according
to which a scientific philosophy becomes the Mistress of all sciences
(this being a caricature which is not too far removed from Husserl’s
position in the Cartesian Meditations).79 It is also not clear that Ryle’s
claim that Husserl’s Platonism is the cause of his meta-philosophical
position may be unquestionably accepted as a valid interpretation of
Husserl. Ryle has already pointed out that Husserl’s Platonism is not
a necessary correlate of phenomenology! Phenomenologists may rid
themselves of it without necessarily (though not uncontroversially)
relinquishing their claim to be doing something which may eventu-
ally turn itself into ‘rigorous science’.
Ryle proceeds to further caricature Husserl’s meta-philosophical
position that phenomenology may in the future become a rigorous
science by attributing it to its Germanic origin:80

British thinkers have showed no inclination to assimilate philo-

sophical to scientific enquiries; and a fortiori no inclination to puff
philosophy up into the Science of sciences. Conceptual enquiries
differ from scientific enquiries not in hierarchical rank but in type.
They are not higher or lower, since they are not on the same ladder.
138 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

I guess that our thinkers have been immunised against the idea of
philosophy as the Mistress Science by the fact that their daily lives
in Cambridge and Oxford Colleges have kept them in personal
contact with real scientists. Claims to Fuehrership vanish when
postprandial joking begins.81 Husserl wrote as if he had never met
a scientist – or a joke.82 (1971b, p. 181)

Of course, by reducing some alleged caricature of Husserl’s position to

further ridicule,83 Ryle is steering his discussion of Husserl away from
the relation of influence which his work holds to him, towards some
extreme and unfair mockery of a philosophical position which he
fails to argue against. Many of the facts that Ryle lays out are simply
not true and appear to serve no purpose other than to create a seem-
ingly tense climate during the question session following the paper’s
presentation. It is not clear how such talk of philosophical national
identities is anything other than mere provocation!84 In fact, Ryle
proceeds to further lay claim to the superiority of the British national
philosophical culture:

We have not worried our heads over the question Which philoso-
pher ought to be Fuehrer? If we did ask ourselves this question,
we should mostly be inclined to say that it is logical theory that
does or should control other conceptual enquiries, though even
this control would be advisory rather than dictatorial. At least the
main lines of our philosophical thinking during this century can
be fully understood only be someone who has studied the massive
developments of our logical theory. This fact is partly responsible
for the wide gulf that has existed for three-quarters of a century
between Anglo-Saxon and Continental philosophy. For, on the
Continent during this century, logical studies have, unfortunately,
been left unfathered by most philosophy departments and cared
for, if at all, only in a few departments of mathematics.85 (1971b,
p. 182)

It is hard to make out clearly what one should take this paragraph’s
performative function to be. Its various commentators have taken
it to be one of the most polemical expressions of a split between
something called ‘Continental’ philosophy and its ‘Anglo-Saxon’
other.86 What is most intriguing is that Ryle makes this statement in
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 139

reference to Husserl’s meta-philosophy. Of course, most of Ryle’s talk

of national distinctions is simply false.87 Yet, what is more impres-
sive is how deeply misguiding its conjunction with a commentary on
Husserl really is.
It is obviously mistaken to accuse Husserl of having put something
other than logic in charge of philosophy, and to contrast his work
with that of British professors who, it is claimed, have not ‘fallen’
to such a position. For Husserl, what phenomenology produces is a
kind of description of what Ryle calls ‘our logical theory’; it is at best
a kind of meta-logical exercise. In other words, the picture which Ryle
gives of Anglo-Saxon philosophy as governed by logical theory (if it is
governed at all) is one which is very close to what a description of a
scientific culture governed by Husserlian phenomenology.

12. Phenomenology and The Concept of Mind

It has by now become clear that the relation between Ryle and
Husserl’s views is not being presented by Ryle in a straightforward,
unambiguous manner. There is, indeed, plentiful evidence towards a
peculiarly strained relation between the use of Husserl’s ideas in Ryle’s
work and his own presentation of such a use. There is, furthermore,
the apparent aggression towards some or other aspect of Husserl’s
philosophical views presented in the passage quoted above. In other
words, it is clear by now that if the relation that holds between
Husserl and Ryle is to be diagnosed through what Ryle writes of it, it
requires of its interpreter a certain amount of suspicion and scepti-
cism regarding what Ryle writes ‘between the lines’.
Thus, it would come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with
either Husserl or Ryle’s writings on him that what follows the above
attack on Husserl is, in fact, a sustained dialogue with his work. Of
course, acquaintance with either Husserl or Ryle’s writings on him
is necessary for detecting this dialogue. The reason for this is Ryle’s
failure to mention Husserl’s name throughout his discussion of his
work. In fact, excluding the overt polemics which we have already
looked at (and some discussion of various other philosophers, such
as Russell, Wittgenstein, or Sartre), the rest of ‘Phenomenology versus
The Concept of Mind’ is an essay on themes from Husserl’s work, and
if so only partly critical. Throughout the passages that follow, Ryle
discusses various ideas and views which we have already seen him
140 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

discussing in his previous articles on Husserl. He discusses these ideas

through a kind of quasi-critical review of their development within
philosophical work done predominantly in an Anglo-Saxon context,
and particularly as they appear within various debates taking place
in Cantabrigian philosophy. Yet, instead of properly attributing to
Husserl the various views he is referring to, Ryle simply discusses
the work of various Cambridge philosophers such as Russell and
Wittgenstein. In other words, Ryle’s discussion of Husserl is performed
in the absence of any mention of Husserl’s name – at least none that
goes beyond the initial critical remarks we have already reviewed.
Thus, Ryle attributes the rejection of the view that a sentence is
‘a whole of which the meanings of the words in it are independ-
ently thinkable parts’ (1971b, p. 184) to Russell and Wittgenstein’s
developments of Frege’s insights. He goes on to attribute the ‘new
weapon’ (p. 185) of a method for detecting nonsense to Russell,
omitting the obviously relevant fact of Husserl’s contribution to the
creation of this ‘weapon’. Ryle does mention Husserl, in conjunc-
tion with Wittgenstein, when he says that, according to a metaphor
used by both, ‘the rules of logical grammar’ (1971b, p. 186) prohibit
certain expressions from being either true or false. Yet, he does not
attribute the origin of such an idea to Husserl’s theory of meaning,
which was, of course, developed in the Logische Untersuchungen, five
years prior to Russell’s ‘On Denoting’, in which the account Ryle is
praising Russell for was first put forward.88 Indeed, Ryle emphasises
his critical response to Husserl when he mentions about Russell that

Though still as unquestioning as Husserl in his general adherence

to a Platonic theory about what concepts are, Russell was already
being forced by considerations of logic itself to realise that it was
not enough to allocate a separate Platonic universal or Essence to
every meaningful word. (1971b, p. 183)89

Regardless of whether this is a valid critique of Husserl or not, Ryle

states it in complete separation from any account of the positive
contributions Husserl made to distinguishing among meaningful,
absurd, and nonsensical sentences (rather than words) and thus to
distinguishing between formal a priori and contingent, particular
types of meaninglessness (i.e. nonsense and absurdity). His failure
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 141

to report such positive facts in conjunction with his critical remarks

seems biased and unfair.
Ryle attributes to Wittgenstein the notion that the unitary sense of
a sentence is logically prior to the particular senses of the words which
it consists of. He mentions that the logical priority of unitary sense
over particular senses may be shown to be true of a sentence, since if
‘we replace one of its words by another word of the same grammat-
ical kind, the new sentence will not necessarily be significant’ (Ryle,
1971b, p. 186). Despite the fact that Husserl did not hold an atomistic
view of meaning, we have already seen that Husserl put forth the
idea that substituting expressions belonging to different categories
of meaning could yield nonsense, rendering this into a technique for
detecting category differences. Ryle leaves this unmentioned.
Perhaps, in Ryle’s defence, the absence of any mention of Husserl’s
name during these passages is due to some form of implicit under-
standing that he is, in fact, at this point engaging with Husserl. For
example, at an earlier (and overtly polemic) passage, he writes:

Having indicated, by contrast with Husserl, how we tend not to

assimilate philosophy to science, or a fortiori to super-science, I
must now try to show what have come to be our ways of conducting
conceptual enquiries and our theory of those ways of conducting
them. (1971b, p. 182)

This is almost unavoidably an extremely overt polemical passage,

too swiftly dismissing a whole strand of philosophical thinking as
somehow obviously flawed in its view of the task of philosophy. It
is perhaps only in a very twisted way that one may read Ryle here as
stating that what will follow is an enquiry into how Husserl’s path may
be followed without its objectionable assumptions regarding the rela-
tion between philosophy and science. Even if one were to take such
extreme pains towards reading Ryle as admitting his encounter with
Husserl in the passages that follow (i.e. as saying that what follows
is how Husserl’s work was built on and improved by those philoso-
phers, such as himself, or before him Russell and Wittgenstein, who
had not subscribed to Husserl’s programme of philosophy as rigorous
science), the polemical nature of his statement is not one which may
be easily dismissed.
142 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Nevertheless, it is clear that Ryle himself did indeed follow the path
which Husserl had set out on – indeed, he did so while simultaneously
explicitly attacking various doctrines upheld by Husserl (such as his
quasi-Platonism), and perhaps most rigorously discarding Husserl’s
meta-philosophical doctrines. Yet, we have seen that even where Ryle
is critical of ‘Platonism’ or Husserlian meta-philosophy, the attempts
to formulate such criticism can be seen as formative of his philo-
sophical development. Indeed, Ryle found in Husserl not only a path
to follow but also the finest formulations of those doctrines which he
thought were important to oppose.
Seeing Ryle in this light may allow us to approach anew passages
such as the following:

Husserl’s path led him into a crevasse, from which no exit existed;
whereas the epistemological travails of contemporary English
thinkers led them, indeed, into morasses, but morasses from which
firmer ground could be reached.
First, Husserl was so bewitched by his Platonic idea that concep-
tual enquiries were scrutinies of the super-objects that he called
‘Essences’, that he persuaded himself that these enquiries should
and would grow up into another science – grow up, indeed, not
just into one science among others but into the Mistress Science,
to which all other sciences would be in tutelage.
Next, for special reasons, he was convinced that the philosophy
of mind was the basic part of philosophy. All other conceptual
enquiries were logically posterior to enquiries into the concepts of
consciousness, ideation, perception, judgement, inference, imag-
ination, volition, desire and the rest. A Platonised Cartesianism
would be the science of the basic Essences; and so be the Mistress
not only of all the other sciences, but also of all the other parts of
philosophy. (Ryle, 1971b, pp. 180–181)

The crevasse into which Husserl was led by Platonism is one which
Ryle, having seen the ‘firmer ground’ which the morasses of the
English thinkers led to, may build a bridge across. But Ryle, following
Husserl’s path, insists on attributing to Husserl the formation of
the crevasse, perhaps in order to disguise his own bridge-building
activities. Ryle seems to attribute to Husserl every mistake Husserl
made, and to others everything that Husserl got right. Every time
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 143

he writes of Husserl, he seems to choose to present warnings against

the mistakes he thought Husserl had made. In a sense, Ryle positions
himself on the other side of the crevasse, painting a picture in which
he has already disposed of the bridge that brought him there.

13. Fr. Van Breda’s response to Ryle

Ryle’s relation to Husserl thus remains an ambivalent one throughout

his career. His depictions of Husserl consist essentially of caricatures,
from which the fundamental importance of Husserl’s influence to
Ryle’s contributions to philosophy remains absent. Yet, none of the
preceding caricatures match the extremes to which his Royaumont
presentation goes. This is because at Royaumont, the caricature that
Ryle paints does not remain intact (i.e. limited to the scope of Ryle’s
seeming intentions), but rather enters into a much more distorting
vortex, first in the hands of those present at Royaumont and then in
the ripples that Royaumont as an event caused throughout the world
of philosophy following its occurrence.
Perhaps the most important component determining Ryle’s relation-
ship to Husserl is the fact that he had studied Husserl in Oxford, and
consequently in solitude.90 This solitude, constituted by the absence
of any interaction with other Husserl scholars, is evident throughout
Ryle’s work on Husserl, particularly in his various demonstrations
of a stubborn ignorance of specific facts about Husserl’s life. Thus,
Ryle, having not previously presented a paper on Husserl to experts
on Husserl’s work, makes elementary mistakes such as denigrating
the importance of scientific enquiry for Husserl’s work, or confus-
edly ignoring Husserl’s Jewish origins and his persecution under the
Nazi regime. Even Ryle’s thesis that Husserl is a quasi-Platonist is one
which, perhaps unbeknownst to Ryle, had come under question by
continental Husserl scholars.
Among those to whom Ryle had presented this ill-informed,
distorted picture of Husserl was Father Herman Leo Van Breda,
the Franciscan priest who had rescued around 40,000 pages (in
Gabelsberger shorthand) of Husserl’s unpublished works and manu-
scripts by smuggling them from Freiburg (which, at the time, was
under the Nazi regime) to Leuven in Belgium. As an archivist, Van
Breda’s philosophical vocation differs in a radical manner from that
of Ryle. Whereas the latter’s profession implicitly demanded from
144 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

him that he criticise the work of his colleagues, the former’s job was
that of preserving and making available to the world the thought of a
particular thinker. Thus, what might have seemed to Ryle to be unim-
portant details (e.g. biographical facts) may have deeply insulted Van
Breda, whose life’s work had been linked to the life of Husserl.
Fr. Van Breda’s response to Ryle is appropriately calm and restricted.
Van Breda notes a disagreement between him and Ryle that came
prior to Ryle’s presentation, according to which

Professor Ryle has reproached me amicably for reading Husserl too

assiduously. I agree that this is ‘my greatest fault’. However I am
obliged professionally to do so, if only to correct the galley-proofs.
You know that it is not the accepted fashion to read an author
attentively. I know, on the other hand, of the remarkable study
that Mr. Ryle has devoted to Husserl in the journal that he edits.
All this cannot keep me from returning his complement and
reproaching him, in turn, for not having sufficiently read his
Husserl. (Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 59)

Van Breda’s comments above are further indications of the ambiv-

alence which we have already detected in Ryle’s relationship with
Husserl. Ryle presented a paper about Husserl while at the same time
recommending not reading him too assiduously; he maintained that
Husserl’s views are somehow important enough to deserve various
papers by Ryle surveying them, but also that they are not important
enough to be read with any kind of sense of dedication.91 There may
be detected in this difference of approach some indication of a meth-
odological split between British and French philosophers; whereas
the latter tend to fall victim to a certain view of the history of philos-
ophy as the clash between particular philosophers, the former tend to
take the history of philosophy to be the struggle between contending
ideas.92 For the former, getting right what a particular person said and
what he meant by it is of fundamental importance; for the latter, the
stronger argument is what counts (and in the process of its strength-
ening, the actual historical argument might be lost). Although there
is some suggestion of such an implication here, it is dispelled by
the fact which Van Breda points out, namely that it is in the nature
of his work to dedicate himself to the assiduous study of Husserl’s
work. Van Breda is simply concerned with publishing Husserl’s work
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 145

in a manner which is faithful to Husserl’s intentions. Furthermore,

Ryle at Royaumont is clearly not an analytic historian of philosophy
proposing a rational reconstruction of Husserl’s views; Ryle’s interpre-
tation of Husserl as a ‘Platonist’ ‘Fuehrer’ of ‘Mistress Science’ is not
exactly charitable and rather resembles a straw-man.
Van Breda goes on, despite Ryle’s insistence, to show how it is false
that Husserl simply inherited the strained relation between philos-
ophy and scientific enquiry which existed in Husserl’s environment.

That Husserl otherwise lacked humour, above all, in his writings I

do not doubt for an instant; I have paid dearly to learn this. But for
you to contend that he was completely ignorant of the sciences of
his time, I find this an astounding assertion. Husserl received his
doctorate in mathematics in 1882 – it seems to me that Mr. Ryle
could not be ignorant of this. The most intimate frequenters of
Husserl’s home both at Halle and at Göttingen were well informed
scholars: for example, Georg Cantor and David Hilbert.93 It was at
the end of a lecture by Husserl at Göttingen that Hilbert proposed
his famous idea of a Definitheit, although he was obliged to correct
it afterwards. Max Planck was also one of those who came regu-
larly to his door. To the end of his days, Husserl maintained a volu-
minous correspondence with men of science. Obviously, he was
not the beneficiary of the distinguished privilege of living within
the community of a ‘college’, because in Germany, as everyone
knows, this institution does not exist. But on the other hand, he
met and was engaged with many scholars who were not philoso-
phers. I think he is not the only one to have defended a certain
priority for philosophy; even in the Anglo world certain thinkers
have defended this thesis. In this matter as well he has an illus-
trious predecessor, namely Aristotle. I don’t think anyone would
dream of ridiculing the Stagirite by referring to him as ‘Führer’.
(Merleau-Ponty, 2005, pp. 59–60)

Throughout this lengthy passage, Van Breda manages to correct Ryle’s

flawed depiction of Husserl’s relation to the scientific advances of his
time. Indeed, Van Breda’s comments indicate a crucial dimension of
Husserl’s thought (and one which is, perhaps, central to its impor-
tance, and particularly to its potential impact on the ‘Anglo-Saxon’
philosophical world which Ryle had previously attempted to introduce
146 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

it to and had partly failed): that aspect of Husserl’s thought which

can be considered to be a philosophy of science (from his writings on
the philosophical foundations of arithmetic to his exposition of the
phenomenological method) is derived directly from Husserl’s involve-
ment with the revolutionary scientific climate of his time (the devel-
opment of experimental psychology and the Psychologismus-Streit,
the various disputes in the philosophy of mathematics, etc.).
Ryle’s response to Van Breda’s comments is one which may be seen
as immensely irresponsible on behalf of a scholar. The facts proposed
by Van Breda show his depiction of Husserl to be, at best, inaccurate,
if not extremely biased. Yet, Ryle seems to care little about this:

I used the word ‘caricature’ to qualify what I was saying about

Husserl. I do not know if the caricature resembles him, and I care
little if it does. ... I am happy to be able to gather here some further
information on the last writings of Husserl and on his contacts with
the scientific world. But I would hope that this debate does not
degenerate into another colloquium on Husserl. (Merleau-Ponty,
2005, p. 61)

It is here that we can see Ryle at his most polemical: once cornered
regarding his inaccurate depiction of Husserl, he responds with an
unjustifiable kind of mockery. He fails to acknowledge the impact that
the above facts have on his preceding presentation, i.e. the conclu-
sion that several of his statements do not refer to actual historical
events. In other words, his accusations against Husserl do not pick out
actual properties of Husserl’s philosophy (e.g. that it is unrelated to
its contemporary sciences, or even that it is Platonist). Nevertheless,
despite all the apparent faults of his position, Ryle insists on denying
the importance of studying Husserl in any depth. He alludes to the
fact that the previous Royaumont colloquium had been dedicated to
the study of Husserl, thus implying that Husserl had received enough
attention at Royaumont already; the subject has been covered, and
it exceeds the bounds of the subject at hand, namely that of analytic
In the quoted passage above, Ryle refers to ‘the last writings of
Husserl’, which Van Breda had already brought into the discussion
in order to dispute Ryle’s claim that Husserl’s theory of meaning was
primarily a form of Platonism:
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 147

In spite of all I know of the gulf that separates Anglo-Saxon philos-

ophers from the continent, I am unable to hide my surprise at
having heard Mr. Ryle, again just now, reduce Husserlian philos-
ophy to a philosophy of Platonic essences. I believe that the
present state of Husserl studies, without mentioning the unpub-
lished texts to which we have referred in our debates, do not any
longer permit this reduction of Husserlian phenomenology to a
simply eidetic philosophy, above all, eidetic in the sense of Plato.
(Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 59)

Here Van Breda makes the straightforward point that Ryle’s reduction
of Husserlian philosophy to Platonism is not upheld by those who
study Husserl. The dismissal of the link between phenomenology and
Platonism seems to render most of Ryle’s criticism against Husserl
redundant, and disables Ryle from bundling Husserl together with
the rest of the Germanophone Platonists that he had read in order to
reject. The mode of presentation of his point, though, is less direct:
he implies that Ryle got this wrong because of some ‘gulf that sepa-
rates Anglo-Saxon philosophers from the continent’.
Initially, this may seem innocent enough. The lack of Husserl
scholars within Ryle’s contemporary Anglo-Saxon context is the
cause of his ignorance; since his studies were solitary, and received
little attention from his colleagues, Ryle’s examination of Husserl was
bound to be in some way or other unchecked and therefore at risk of
flaws. Without the elenchtic function of some review by his peers,
Ryle’s account of Husserl remained an idiosyncratic one and may
have, in many cases, got its facts wrong.
Is this statement of a ‘gulf’ between two types of philosophers one
that is intended as generalisable? It does not seem to be so, for if it
were, it would be contradicted by Van Breda’s statements a few lines
later, within the same question. Responding to Ryle’s earlier state-
ment regarding ‘the massive developments of our logical theory’
(1971b, p. 182), Van Breda points out that

one cannot ignore that the circle of Vienna was born in Vienna,
and that around this time – which was also that of Russell and
Whitehead – philosophers were enormously occupied with logic
in Austria and other continental locations. This occurred less
in France, where human mortality seems to be dead set against
148 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

those who would construct a mathematical logic; but one could,

all the same, cite Couturat, Cavaillès, not to mention Duhem
and Poincaré. There is as well a school of logicians in Holland,
Belgium, and Switzerland, and in the Scandinavian countries,
of whose number several illustrious representatives are here.
(Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 60)

In other words, even if Van Breda had intended to claim that there is a
generalisable ‘gulf that separates Anglo-Saxon philosophers from the
continent’, this gulf would have to be construed in some particular
manner which would include the Vienna Circle and the other logi-
cians mentioned above on the side of the continent.95 Rather, what
Van Breda should be taken to say, or should have said, is that there
was, with the exception of Ryle (and others, such as J. N. Findlay),
no contemporary scholarly interest on Husserl at the time in the
Anglo-Saxon world. In contrast with the dominance of ‘the three
Hs’ (Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger) over the contemporary French
academic philosophy, British and American philosophers had almost
completely ignored Husserl. Such a contingent fact was bound to
change.96 It may even be said that by now, Husserl is studied equally,
if not more, by ‘Anglo-Saxon’ than by ‘continental’ philosophers.

14. Merleau-Ponty and the borders of the continent

Unfortunately, it was the picture of a general ‘gulf that sepa-

rates Anglo-Saxon philosophers from the continent’ that presided
over the proceedings of the Royaumont colloquium. We find this
picture appearing repeatedly in the discussions of the various
papers presented, and gradually turning into its official mythology.
Intriguingly, Van Breda, who had put forth the proposition that
there is such a gulf, claims that he had already known of it prior to
hearing Ryle present his paper. One may, thus, justifiably wonder:
Who had informed Van Breda of such a gulf? What was it that origi-
nated the myth?
One of the answers may be found on the surface of the pages
that follow Van Breda’s statement. Briefly glancing at the questions
which follow, one may see that they are uttered by two philoso-
phers who were already familiar with the idea of this ‘gulf’: Ayer and
Merleau-Ponty. One may recall how Ayer and Merleau-Ponty had
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 149

already been acquainted during the period of the liberation of Paris.

One may also bring to mind their friendship, based upon a pact which
forbade them to discuss philosophy. Finally, one may remember the
meeting among Ayer, Merleau-Ponty, Georges Bataille, and Jean Wahl
in 1951, as well as a discussion among the former three, which had
led Bataille to conclude the following day that there exists an ‘abyss’
between English and French philosophy.
Bataille’s conclusion is the first recorded statement of the exist-
ence of a split between two distinct national philosophical cultures
in the twentieth century. Remarkably, the people associated with this
statement were also present at Royaumont. Jean Wahl introduced the
colloquium. The rumour of the existence of a gulf seems, thus, to
have circulated around a select number of people who had been at
least partly responsible for forging it in the first place. Yet, though
perhaps responsible for its circulation, none of the above philoso-
phers (possibly with the exception of Ryle) seem to espouse such a
gulf during the colloquium. On the contrary, they all seem to attempt
in some way to dispel any such myth.
Despite such efforts the myth became attached to the colloquium
and by means of this attachment became widely disseminated. The
most often cited example may be found in the avant-propos of the
published proceedings of the colloquium, written by Leslie Beck. In
this article, a misquoted passage is attributed to Merleau-Ponty and
Ryle. According to Beck,

quand Merleau-Ponty demanda: ‘notre programme n’est-il pas le

même?’, la réponse ferme et nette fut: ‘J’espère que non’. (Beck
et al., 1962, p. 7)97

The firm and clear response given to Merleau-Ponty above is one

which is supposed to have been given by Gilbert Ryle during the
discussion of his paper. This has since, for many, become the moment
in which the split between ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophy
was enacted. Such a view becomes apparent in the writings of
many recent commentators, who seem to look at it as a kind of
paradigm-shift in philosophy, the instant in which the wall between
the European continent and the Anglophone world was erected. One
such example is given in Simon Critchley’s recounting of the tale.98
According to Critchley:
150 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

the gulf that separates the analytic and Continental traditions

was most succinctly stated during the irritable and infamous
discussion that followed Gilbert Ryle’s paper at a conference
on analytic philosophy in France in 1960, where in response to
Merleau-Ponty’s plea ‘notre programme n’est-il pas le meme? (is
not our programme the same?)’, Ryle answered, ‘J’espère que non’.
It is this ‘I hope not’, this steadfast ‘no’ in the face of the perceived
exoticism of the Continent, that is so revealing of an ideological
prejudice that surely should have no home in philosophy. This is
the ‘No. No. No.’ of Baroness Thatcher’s refusal of Jacques Delors’
plans for European Union that was the seed of her political down-
fall in 1990. (2001, p. 35)

Still almost half a century after Royaumont, the supposedly rude

dismissal by Ryle of Merleau-Ponty’s offer of reconciliation is consid-
ered, by Critchley and others, to mark the event of the official inau-
guration of a split.
Yet, this conversation between Ryle and Merleau-Ponty never took
place. In fact, Beck somehow mistakenly seems to have put together
two completely different statements by Merleau-Ponty and Ryle as if
they were somehow a question by the former and an answer to the
former’s question by the latter, when in fact they simply referred to
very different parts of the dialogue.99
What Beck had presented as a kind of polemical outburst by
Ryle, referred to a completely different comment by Merleau-Ponty.
Merleau-Ponty’s question to Ryle, it is true, attempts to make an offer
of some form of ‘olive branch’ (Glendinning, 2006, p. 73) towards
a rapprochement between the two sides of the channel. In order to
perform such an appeasing gesture, Merleau-Ponty attempts to point
to the similarities between his approach (and perhaps more generally
the approach of the French disciples of Husserl) and Ryle’s. Thus he
remarks that ‘I do not see much that separates us’ (Merleau-Ponty,
2005, p. 66); but he does so after having stated that Ryle is somewhere
at the boundaries of analytic philosophy, ‘that he himself enlarges –
by the development of his own reflections – the limits that he at first
presented to us as the limits of English analytic philosophy’ (p. 66),
a phenomenon which Merleau-Ponty claims that Ryle shares with
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 151

There is, of course, something strangely twisted about this offer

on behalf of Merleau-Ponty: namely that it seems to assume and
state some or other form of a radical split, envisaged along mainly
national lines, between two philosophical cultures which may now,
with his offer, come to be re-aligned. This assumption has already,
as we have seen, been put on the table by Ryle, followed by Van
Breda, whose comments preceded Merleau-Ponty’s. Yet the way in
which Merleau-Ponty seems to restate Van Breda’s assumed ‘gulf’
between two national philosophical cultures seems to be one which
is meant as generalisable. The particular differences and similari-
ties pertaining to Merleau-Ponty and Ryle are mistakenly presented
here as somehow universal or generalisable, as if they were appli-
cable to some great community of philosophers which has been
divided. When Merleau-Ponty claims that he does not see much that
separates ‘us’, he is attempting to negate something which is not
clearly formulated in a positive manner. He seems to be assuming
some strange form of division which philosophers must strive to
overcome. (Of course, the attempt towards rapprochement seems
to be the mission statement of the colloquium, and therefore this
attempt towards negation seems partly determined by this mission
Merleau-Ponty goes on to offer a strange kind of question, one
which may perhaps be deemed naïve,100 since it appears to ignore the
internal tensions within analytic philosophy:

In the last part of his exposition, Mr. Ryle gave us some glimpses
of his own research which, for me, is not absolutely a surprise,
since I have worked with his Concept of Mind. I found here some
indications which completely satisfy me, for example, when Mr.
Ryle said that the task of a philosopher is never simply to make the
inventory of a concept, that the philosopher, when he examines
that which is hidden in a word, is led into a complex spider-web
of concepts. This appears to me to be profoundly interesting and
true. Does this conform to the program of philosophical inves-
tigation that Russell posed or that even Wittgenstein posed?
This is the question that I asked myself. I submit it to Mr. Ryle,
certainly not as an objection, but as a demand for clarification.
(2005, p. 67)
152 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

It is this question which had received Ryle’s famous answer of ‘J’espère

que non’:

In the fourth place, Mr. Merleau-Ponty asks me – he kindly tran-

scribed his question for me into English – if I am still strictly in
agreement, in my research, with the program outlined at the
beginning of the century by Russell and refined by Wittgenstein
and some others. My response is: I certainly hope not!
I do not mean by this to say anything disagreeable concerning
Russell, Wittgenstein, or anybody else. But the simple idea of
being totally in agreement with someone or another about some
problem, this seems to me to be the death blow to all philosoph-
ical enterprise. If the last word had been said, the only thing which
would be left for us to do would be to sit ourselves down in our
chair and twiddle our thumbs. We would be reduced to silence.
(Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 70)

One may wonder, glancing at this passage: Where have the ‘immense
distances’ or the ‘irreducible oppositions’ which Leslie Beck has
mentioned (1962, p. 7) gone? What does this exchange have to do
with the infamous ‘méconnaissance’ between these two thinkers and
the traditions they respectively stand for?
Of course we have seen that Ryle’s misrepresentations of Husserl
in his paper had been grave – Ryle successfully disguised any debt
he owed to Husserl in superficial polemics as well as in an adamant
refusal to read Husserl in depth. Yet, despite Ryle’s attempts to present
his work as something contrary to phenomenology (as seems to be
the goal of the title of his paper), the general response it received
during its discussion, including that of Merleau-Ponty, focused on
showing the affinities between Ryle’s presentation and those phil-
osophical tasks which phenomenologists took upon themselves.
The general impression one may get from reading the dialogue that
followed Ryle’s presentation is that the persons present in that room
saw Ryle’s work as transcending any strict boundaries between English
and Franco-German philosophical traditions.
The boundaries which Ryle seems more persistent in attempting
to draw are more obvious in the passage above. In response to
Merleau-Ponty’s question, Ryle replies that he is not following some or
other ‘programme’ that was set out by either Russell or Wittgenstein.
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 153

If he were doing so, he would have considered himself to be in error

and he is as resolute on distinguishing between his own work and
that of other so-called ‘analytic’ philosophers as he is insistent on
making a distinction between his own work and that of Husserl. The
kind of attitude which led to his caricature of Husserl is extended to
Russell and Wittgenstein insofar as they might be considered by some
philosophers as ‘masters’ they can become disciples of, founders of
some philosophical sect which unquestioningly follows their work,
continuing and expanding it.101
There are a number of dimensions that coexist in the claim
that Ryle makes regarding the distinction of his work from that of
Wittgenstein and Russell. On the one hand, he attempts to re-enforce
a view that is prevalent throughout the colloquium.102 It is the view
that there are various conflicting types of approaches to analytic
philosophy, endorsed by various schools of thought within analytic
philosophy. These types usually follow a temporal order with newer
types superseding older ones (by being theoretically more tenable).
One of these types, for whose formation Ryle was partly respon-
sible, may be called ‘Oxford linguistic analysis’. Such an approach to
analytic philosophy is endorsed (though, of course, in varying forms)
by many of the participants at the conference (e.g. Austin, Ryle,
Strawson, Urmson, Hare). At the same time, other participants (e.g.
Quine, Ayer, various ‘continental’ logicians) uphold different types of
approaches to analytic philosophy, which have been deemed inferior
by the Oxonians.103 Thus, the suggestion that Ryle may have been
doing the same type of philosophy that Russell or Wittgenstein did
had been unacceptable for him.
At the same time, Ryle does not seem to wish this differentiation
of his position to mean ‘anything disagreeable concerning Russell,
Wittgenstein, or anybody else’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 70). Having
said this, he proceeds to muddle the waters even further by claiming
that it would have been absurd to uncritically follow the solutions
previous philosophers had given to various philosophical problems.
Rather, as almost goes without saying, the cessation of scepticism
regarding the claims of previous philosophers, the blind acceptance
of answers to philosophical questions, is a mark of the cessation of
philosophy. Philosophers who do not doubt their predecessors are,
according to Ryle, ‘reduced to silence’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 70).
In other words, Ryle claims that he has not inherited from either
154 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

Russell, Wittgenstein, or any other Anglo-Saxon philosopher any

of their proposed solutions to the philosophical problems they had
worked on; perhaps what he does owe to them is a certain way of
radically questioning the statements philosophers make.
By this, Ryle seems to be making a number of dubious implications
which are, perhaps, unwarranted. He takes Merleau-Ponty’s question
(which, as we have been informed by Merleau-Ponty, had been trans-
lated to English by Merleau-Ponty for Ryle) to imply that Ryle has, in
fact, inherited some or other doctrine from Russell or Wittgenstein.
Yet none such implication is made by Merleau-Ponty, whose enquiry
had been as to whether Ryle would consider himself falling under
the same research programme as that of Russell and Wittgenstein. In
misunderstanding Merleau-Ponty’s question, Ryle construes it in a
particular way which allows him to imply the following:

a) that there is, perhaps, some particular method to the kind of

philosophy which Ryle subscribes to, according to which (i) the
criticism of established philosophical doctrines is more impor-
tant than (ii) some form of inheritance from previous philoso-
phers (e.g. a continuation of their philosophical systems), and
b) that various philosophers (such as for example Van Breda),
perhaps of the ‘continental’ persuasion, uncritically adopt (ii).

Here we get the implication of two kinds of philosophy, focusing

on philosophers on the one hand and on concepts on the other.
This implication is only derived from the misunderstanding of
Merleau-Ponty’s question and is, in any case, unfounded. In a similar
manner to Merleau-Ponty, who seems to imply negatively (by his
proposed attempt towards transcending it) the existence of some sort
of ‘gulf’ between English and French philosophy, Ryle seems to imply
negatively that the defining feature characterising this ‘gulf’ is some
opposition between criticism and dogmatism. Such an implication is
already present in his reproach of Van Breda’s too ‘assiduous’ reading
of Husserl. This is brought even further to light when Ryle proposes
that it is not simply given that philosophers criticise their predeces-
sors, and that this criticism is something which pertains particularly
to a tradition of which he is part.
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 155

Once again, even if we take this claim as one being implied by Ryle’s
sayings, it should only be taken as the particular utterance of a very
special claim rather than a generalisable statement of the existence
of two different types of philosophy (one of which is critical, and the
other dogmatic). If Ryle does, indeed, seem to wish to attack some
sort of ‘dogmatic’ Husserlianism on behalf of others in that room, the
extent of his attack should be limited to the clarification of his own
relationship to Husserl (as well as to Russell and Wittgenstein). We
have already seen how this particular relationship between Husserl
and Ryle is one which Ryle is consistently ambivalent about. Thus, it
is no surprise that, when his presentation has been taken by so many
of his peers to indicate an affinity with Husserl’s philosophy, Ryle
reverts to an almost compulsive repetition of the claim that his own
approach to Husserl is a critical one.
This repetition is undertaken in the face of the various indications
that Ryle is in fact a phenomenologist. Of course, the first indication
of this is given by Ryle himself who, as we have seen, claims that his
own The Concept of Mind ‘could be described as a sustained essay in
phenomenology, if you are at home with that label’ (Ryle, 1971b, p.
188). Glendinning points out that Ryle

invites us massively to downplay ... a quietly acknowledged point

that could have been a point of departure for a discussion which,
had Ryle wanted it to, could have opened rather than closed off
certain pathways. (2006, p. 74)

This point, despite Ryle’s wishes, did find its way into the colloquium
eventually, resulting in Ryle’s various spasmodic repetitions of his
rejection of Husserlian doctrines.
In the introduction of the colloquium Jean Wahl insightfully goes
beyond the veil Ryle’s title may impose upon its reader, noting that
though Ryle insists on presenting his work as contrary to Husserl,
if one reads on one may see that in fact Ryle is no less than a

Last night, when reading M. Ryle’s article in particular, I found

that for me there were important resemblances between what
he thought and what I thought ... that, deep down, he is not as
156 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

opposed to phenomenology as might seem at first sight ... perhaps

one day I might meet professor Ryle among the phenomenologists
at Leuven; but I am probably wrong? (Beck et al., 1962, pp. 9–10,
my translation)

Thus, already at the outset, Ryle might have found himself in the
difficult position of being introduced (though under the shadow
of a doubt) to his colleagues as potentially a phénoménologue. And
despite his best efforts to dispel the rumour of his phenomenolog-
ical convictions, the subject of his own views’ affinities to phenom-
enology is brought up in multiple instances during this discussion
of his paper.
An example of this is given by Ryle himself in his response to Ayer’s
question. Referring to what he takes as Ryle’s prohibition of the anal-
ysis of mental acts (i.e. ‘the analysis of the genre of sentences in which
the words of memory and of recollection, or locutions such as “to
remember”, “to evoke”, “to reflect on one’s past” ’ (Merleau-Ponty,
2005, pp. 63–64)), Ayer states that

it is not impossible that this is the genre of research that certain

disciples of Husserl recommend, in which case their curiosity
seems to me perfectly legitimate. (Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 64)

Ryle’s response comes in the form of his clarification that in the

passage where he was misunderstood by Ayer to be prohibiting the
phenomenological ‘genre of research’, he was in fact simply quoting
the opinion of Wittgenstein, with whom he is not in agreement.
Whereas Ayer had assumed that Ryle had disputed the legitimacy of
phenomenology, Ryle in fact was showing how this legitimacy might
have been erroneously disputed by Wittgenstein’s approach. He thus
admits that

It is perfectly evident – and I agree with Mr. Ayer on this point –

that we can legitimately speak of all sorts of things such as the
memory, perception, sleep, or boating – and that a part of what
we say about these different subjects will have its repercussions
upon the manner in which we broach philosophical problems.
(Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 64)
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 157

Thus this misunderstood critical intention on Ryle’s behalf is

dispersed once he is questioned on it. Where he had previously been
seen to be opposed to phenomenology, he is now shown to be in a
way allied with it. If his intentions had been previously seen as an
attempt to reduce phenomenological (or any other sort of) talk about
mental acts to nonsense, it now becomes evident that his effort was
towards the clarification of the kind of legitimacy which is involved
in talk about mental acts. His point seems to be that, although, for
example, talk of memory or recollection is meaningful, it should not
be taken to refer to any object. This view is one which he attributes
to the development of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ philosophy, and particularly to
Wittgenstein’s insight into the nature or non-referring expressions
such as ‘not’ or ‘or is’.104 According to Ryle:

Wittgenstein pushes things a little too far when he affirms that one
cannot use a phrase such as ‘to speak of ... ’ or ‘to think about ... ’
without producing a descriptive statement of the object about
which one speaks or about which one thinks. I think for my part
that one can utilize phrases of this genre in a much more liberal
sense. And I no longer see any contradiction between what I just
said and the fact that one can no longer say false or true things in
relation to words such as ‘and’ ... (Merleau-Ponty, 2005, p. 64)

What is shown by Ryle’s clarification is that Ryle’s prima facie objec-

tion to phenomenology in fact disguises a certain concern with
outlining constraints for the phenomenological method. Ryle takes
up Wittgenstein’s point, which he sees as an objection to phenom-
enology, and by ejecting what had been destructive to the phenom-
enological approach, transforms it into a device for understanding
what phenomenology does (or should do). By showing that phenom-
enology speaks of phenomena not as mental objects, but rather as
dispositions which do not refer to some particular object, Ryle is in
fact contributing to phenomenology rather than objecting to it.
The clarification which Ryle gives in response to Ayer’s ques-
tion hints at a more general characteristic of Ryle’s 1958 paper, and
one which is not present in his previous publications on phenom-
enology. Part of Ryle’s goal in his paper is to present the contribu-
tions that ‘Anglo-Saxon’ philosophers may make to the discussions
158 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

of phenomenology in the continent. But this is never clearly stated

by Ryle during his presentation; thus, a lot of the views which Ryle
proposes are simply taken to be dismissals of phenomenology rather
than contributions to it. A great part of Ryle’s comments on phenom-
enology aim to show how the contributions to ‘our logical theory’
by ‘Anglo-Saxon’ philosophers may in fact help delimit the role of
phenomenology, shape the outlook of its research and allow it to
avoid certain shortcomings. In other words, Ryle is recommending
his own way of doing phenomenology to both ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and
‘continental’ philosophers.
This kind of solitary gesture on behalf of Ryle may seem to consti-
tute an attempt to ‘bridge’ the gap which Ryle and others imagined
at Royaumont. Yet, to a great extent (perhaps determined more from
some aura of ‘failure’ which surrounded Royaumont, rather than by
Ryle’s critical intentions), it functions as a perpetuator of the conflict,
not only in its effects (i.e. instituting the idea of a gap between two
traditions) but also in its assumptions. In order to say that his own
approach to phenomenology is superior to that of others, Ryle postu-
lates the existence of two distinct types of philosophy. The distinc-
tion is construed as one between national and linguistic cultures; its
borders do not correspond to any type of limit which philosophy may
be held responsible for. The claim is that Francophone (and perhaps
also Germanophone) philosophy has not been the suitable environ-
ment for phenomenology to blossom, and bringing phenomenology
together with the advances of Anglophone philosophy would result
in a superior kind of phenomenology.
Although Ryle does not directly make such a claim, this seems
to be the direction which is implied by his paper. If his paper had
contributed towards non-communication between ‘Anglo-Saxon’
and ‘Continental’ types of philosophy, then it failed in its purported
mission. Had it instituted a hegemony of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ philosophy
over its ‘Continental’ other, this would also have counted as a failure.
The outcome of the paper could have been called successful if it had
resulted in some form of philosophical agōn (rather than a kind of
cold polemos) between the various parties involved.
Yet, this could not have taken place, precisely because the assump-
tion of the existence of two movements in philosophy had been a
false assumption to begin with. No united front between either
‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘Continental’ philosophers could have agreed on
‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont 159

some or other position to be disputed, simply because there was

nothing at Royaumont that could count as such a front. One may go
the continent and become acquainted with the various Continental
professors of philosophy. To look amongst these professors for
‘Continental philosophy’ would be mistaken. This confused use of
‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘Continental’ as descriptions of ‘philosophy’ is, after
all, due to a category mistake.105
Derrida and Searle: The Abyss
Stares Back?

1. Balliol, 1967

A long and turbulent affair between Jacques Derrida and Anglophone

philosophy began when in 1967, Derrida presented ‘La Différance’
in Oxford.1 Besides Derrida’s various brief mentions of the particular
event, little else has been written about it. Derrida recounts it first in
The Post Card, a series of quasi-fictional and quasi-autobiographical
post-cards addressed to a lover, written, according to Derrida, on the
back of a medieval picture of Plato and Socrates.

at Balliol, around La Différance, ten years after the lecture I had

given right here, if only you had seen the embarrassed silence,
the injured politeness, and the faces of Ryle, Ayer and Strawson.
(Derrida, 1987, p. 15)

The embarrassed silence of 1967 may be compared and, to use

Derrida’s lexicon, is supplementary to, a certain prior deafness, that
of the ‘dialogue de sourds’ of 1958 at Royaumont, where Ryle, Ayer,
and Strawson had attempted to inaugurate the kind of conflict at play
in the ‘eloquent’ (Glendinning, 2001, p. 53) silence they went on to
direct towards Derrida’s presentation at Balliol College. This silence
on behalf of the Oxonians is taken by Derrida to have stood for a kind
of negative argument, an argument against arguing. In a later discus-
sion, Derrida performs a prosōpopoiēsis of such a silence that utters
the following: ‘There is no arguing here and there is no prospect of
arguing with this man, or with this discourse’ (Glendinning, 2001, p.

Derrida and Searle 161

53). This disapproval is read in ‘the faces of Ryle, Ayer and Strawson’
(Glendinning, 2001, p. 53).
The three different instances in which Derrida recalls this
event (out of which two are conjured by his return to Britain as a
guest, in 1977, of Jonathan Culler and Alan Montefiore to speak
on ‘“philosophy and literature”’ (Derrida, 1987, p. 15) in Oxford,
and in 1999 of Simon Glendinning at Reading) vary on the theme
of breaking the silence. In La Carte Postale (1980), there is only
silence. In Arguing with Derrida (1999), he notices that ‘Ayer started
arguing – but it didn’t improve the situation’ (Glendinning, 2001,
p. 53). And finally in Without Alibi (2002), he talks of ‘an angry
outburst from Ayer, the only one to lose his cool there among Ryle,
Strawson and so forth’ (p. 127). The latter account is given within
the context of discussing lying, and particularly of revisiting a
previous essay called Limited Inc, a b c ... (which, as we shall see, is
of central importance to our discussion here) by reading an auto-
biographical incident in the life of Rousseau – in particular, a story
from his Confessions according to which Rousseau perjured himself
by falsely attributing to himself another man’s crime of stealing a
ribbon (Derrida, 2002, p. 82). Thus, the difficulty in understanding
why Ayer, having argued with Merleau-Ponty and the hypermod-
ernist Bataille, would be angry at Derrida is supplemented by the
difficulty of coming to terms with Derrida’s blend of fiction and
Derrida also interestingly varies his attribution of the embarrass-
ment involved in his presentation. In 1987 (The Postcard), he seems
to attribute the embarrassment to the faces of Ryle, Strawson, and
Ayer, whereas in 1999 (Arguing with Derrida) he speaks of his own
embarrassment, and of it being ‘a very embarrassing situation’
(Glendinning, 2001, p. 53): ‘I was totally mad to go to Oxford then to
give that lecture!’ (Glendinning, 2001, p. 53).
If the ‘silence’ of 1967 was indeed preceded by the ‘deafness’ of
1958, then it must also be noted that it is marked by the absence of
one man, an absence which Derrida recalls later on in his recounting
of the event:

Whenever I have misadventures at Oxford, where Austin taught

[or later at Cambridge, even when things turn out all right], I
always think of him. (2002, p. 127)
162 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

The absence of Austin,2 who had died in his late forties in 1960
(two years after he had presented his work at Royaumont), is in
a way constitutive of the future trajectory which is contained in
this silent encounter between Derrida and Oxford philosophy
in 1967.3 Had he been present at Balliol in 1967, Austin prob-
ably would have had as little to say as any of the other philoso-
phers there. Ryle’s engagement with phenomenology, and even
Ayer’s encounter with existentialism, had not prepared them for
a response to Derrida. Derrida’s hypothesis was that there was
no prospect of arguing with Ryle, Ayer, or Strawson. But it might
be closer to the truth to say that the scope of what Derrida was
saying, and the way in which he was saying it, were too dissimilar
to anything they had encountered before. They did not respond
to Derrida, because they did not have much access to his views or
any other method in which to approach them.4 Derrida probably
would have seemed quite remote from what Ryle or Ayer (and in
all likelihood, Austin had he been present) had been familiar with
as ‘continental philosophy’.
Austin’s engagement with phenomenology would most probably
have had no effect on the overall silence which Derrida came to face
in 1967. Yet, there is a story, even though one that is fragmented
and all too brief, to be told regarding the relation between phenom-
enology and Austin’s work.5 This relation might be a determining
factor in Derrida’s later encounter with Austin (and with Austin’s
absence from Balliol).
In what follows, I briefly examine Derrida’s ‘deconstruction’ of
Austin’s speech-act theory in the context of the dispute to which it
gave rise between Derrida and Searle. Much has been written about
the dispute, and this chapter does not aim to reiterate previous anal-
yses. I begin by examining Austin’s relation to phenomenology (as
it is developed by Derrida) in order to point to the Husserlian thread
which ties this dispute with those encounters addressed in previous
chapters. I go on to question in whose name the dispute is undertaken,
i.e. whether the dispute itself may count as one between ‘analytic’
and ‘continental’ philosophy. This image of Derrida and Searle as
representing two movements in philosophy is, as I show, one which
is questioned by both philosophers.
Derrida and Searle 163

2. Austin and phenomenology

Austin, in his article ‘A Plea for Excuses’, famously referred to his own
work as ‘linguistic phenomenology’.

In view of the prevalence of the slogan ‘ordinary language’, and of

such names as ‘linguistic’ or ‘analytic’ philosophy or ‘the analysis
of language’, one thing needs specially emphasizing to counter
misunderstandings. When we examine what we should say when,
what words we should use in what situations, we are looking again
not merely at words (or ‘meanings’, whatever they may be) but also
at the realities we use the words to talk about: we are using a sharp-
ened awareness of words to sharpen our perception of, though not
as the final arbiter of, the phenomena. For this reason I think it
might be better to use, for due way of doing philosophy, some less
misleading name than those given above – for instance, ‘linguistic
phenomenology’, only that is rather a mouthful. (1970, p. 182)

Rather than place his work under the banner of ‘analytic philosophy’,
a camp which the ‘ordinary language philosophy’ practised at Oxford
was, at the time Austin was writing,6 eager to place itself at the head
of,7 Austin chose to dismiss such a slogan-like name. In its stead, Austin
proposed the term ‘linguistic phenomenology’, only too quickly to
renounce it as ‘a mouthful’: though the term is ‘better to use’, it is
also not quite to the liking of a good linguistic phenomenologist.8
Here Austin’s resistance to high-sounding titles echoes Gilbert Ryle’s
laments over the ‘awkward terminological innovation’ (Ryle, 1971b,
p. 168) involved in Brentano and Husserl’s term ‘phenomenology’.
Other than this echo, there are no explicit references to phenom-
enology by Austin. Interestingly, Austin’s notion of a speech-act has
among its most important forerunners Husserl’s collaborator and
pupil Adolf Reinach and his associate Alexander Pfänder.9 Reinach
developed an account of social acts in which some of the key elements
of Austin’s speech-act theory can be found, e.g. in Reinach’s under-
standing of certain social acts as involving performances of particular
utterances, and in his subsequent analysis of promising as such a social
act in ‘Die apriorischen Grundlagen des bürgerlichen Rechts’. There
164 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

is no explicit sign of direct influence by Reinach in Austin’s work, and

despite the remarkable similarities between their ideas there are also
substantial differences.10 Yet, Reinach’s speech-act theory comes as a
consequence and extension of Husserl’s early work (and particularly
the theory of meaning proposed by the Logische Untersuchungen) and
is not far removed, as we shall see, from Austin’s response to a closely
related theory of meaning.
Austin’s theory of speech-acts may be seen as relying in its core
on a distinction between performative and constative utterances –
although Austin himself goes on to call the distinction into question.
Austin’s formulations of this distinction vary, but it is perhaps most
appropriate here to quote from ‘Performatif-Constatif’, the paper he
presented at Royaumont in 1958:

One can quite easily get the idea of the performative utterance –
though the expression, as I am well aware, does not exist in the
French language,11 or anywhere else. This idea was brought in to
mark a contrast with that of the declarative utterance or rather,
as I am going to call it, the constative utterance. ... The constative
utterance, under the name, so dear to philosophers, of statement,
has the property of being true or false. The performative utterance,
by contrast, can never be either; it has its own special job, it is used
to perform an action. To issue such an utterance is to perform the
action – an action, perhaps, which one scarcely could perform, at
least with so much precision, in any other way. (1963, p. 22)

Thus, a performative utterance, according to Austin, is one which is

not reducible to a statement whose meaning may then be determined
by its truth-conditions, in the way that constative statements are.
For a performative utterance, e.g. in the case of ‘I promise to put the
cat on the mat’, an attempt to translate the utterance into verifiable
sentences would simply be confused. To attempt the reduction of a
promise to a kind of statement which is either true or false is simply
to misunderstand the function of such types of utterance, which in
fact do not make statements but rather enact something: they bring
about some or other action. Performative utterances, in other words,
are speech-acts; they are ways of doing things with words.
When Austin notes that the name of ‘statement’ is so dear to
philosophers, what he is perhaps also implying is that this obsession
Derrida and Searle 165

is the reason for his turn towards performative utterances. Speech-act

theory responds to the theories of meaning which had developed
(partly in Cambridge, partly in Vienna) in the years prior to the war,
and particularly to their fundamental schism between sense and
nonsense, where the former is reserved for sentences that are verifi-
able. As we have seen in preceding chapters, Carnap and Ayer gave a
criterion of meaning according to which an utterance may be mean-
ingful only if it is reducible to a true or false statement (unless it is
a statement about the use of words). Under this criterion for mean-
ingfulness, a large number of utterances were deemed to be utterly
nonsensical, including among their ranks all metaphysical, ethical
and aesthetic utterances.
Austin’s speech-act theory shows that the reduction of all utter-
ances to statements is too strict and too limited, since most common
utterances in ordinary language are not constative (i.e. declarative,
reducible to statements). Thus, what the radical theories of meaning
proposed by Carnap and Ayer deemed to be nonsensical, and there-
fore far removed from the reach of philosophy, is shown by Austin
to have a certain kind of good order in terms of successfully enacting
something (and hence also potentially failing to enact something).
An account of various types of speech-acts is given by differentiating
among different levels at which speech may effect or aim at effecting
Austin distinguishes among locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocu-
tionary acts. A locutionary act is the enacting of any type of utterance:
it is simply ‘the act of “saying something”’ (Austin, 1962b, p. 94). A
locutionary act involves all aspects of the act of saying something, i.e.
its phonetic act (the act of opening one’s mouth and making some
pattern of noises), its phatic act (the act of uttering certain ‘vocables
or words’ (Austin, 1962b, p. 95) which belong to a certain vocabulary
and grammar)12 and its rhetic act (the act of performing the utterance
of those ‘vocables or words’ with ‘a more or less definite sense and
reference’ (Austin, 1962b, p. 95)).
Whereas a locutionary act is an act of saying something, an illo-
cutionary act is the performance of an act involved in saying some-
thing. What is performed in saying something may be understood in
terms of having a certain illocutionary force, such as in the cases of
‘informing, ordering, warning, undertaking, etc’ (Austin, 1962b, p.
108). An illocutionary act may be contrasted to a perlocutionary act,
166 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

which is characterised by its bringing about a certain result through

the performance of an utterance, e.g. in ‘convincing, persuading,
deterring, and even, say, surprising or misleading’ (Austin, 1962b, p.
By going beyond the analytic-philosophical approach to locu-
tionary acts, according to which philosophy may deal with the
analysis of the rhetic function of sentences (i.e. with constructing
accounts of what constitutes meaning, and furthermore truth, in
relation to statements which are, as Austin calls them, constative),
Austin is opening up a whole field of inquiry which some of his phil-
osophical predecessors and contemporary colleagues had sought to
place beyond the bounds of philosophy. The overall impetus of his
thought might have allowed for the turning of linguistically-minded
philosophy back towards subjects, such as ethics, which many among
its ranks had considered strictly meaningless, without thereby tran-
scending the strictures imposed by preceding philosophers obsessed
with constatives and their conditions of meaningfulness.

3. Derrida’s Austin

Derrida (1988a) prefaces his discussion of Austin with an allusion to

the Husserlian aspect of the obsession of philosophy with constatives.
He opens ‘Signature Event Context’ with a long passage in which he
discusses the account of writing given in Etienne de Condillac’s Essai
sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (1746), followed by a short
and perhaps confusing discussion of Husserl, which comes at the end
of the section titled ‘Writing and Telecommunication’. Here Derrida
examines a particular aspect of the relation between Husserl’s theory
of meaning and absence, the question of ‘the absence of a referent and
even of the signified meaning’ (1988a, p. 10) from something which
he calls the mark (of writing). Derrida notes that Husserl had shown,
on the one hand, that statements (whose objects are not absurd) are
intelligible without requiring that the object be present when the
statement is made, and on the other hand that there are statements
for which there might be an absence of meaning, a phenomenon
which, according to Derrida, is called the ‘crisis of meaning’ (1988a,
p. 11). The latter phenomenon, Derrida says, may be divided into
three parts.13 According to Derrida, the first part of the crisis of
Derrida and Searle 167

meaning is caused by the fact that ‘I can manipulate symbols without

in active and current fashion animating them with my attention and
intention to signify’ (1988a, p. 11), which he attributes to Husserl’s
work in the Origin of Geometry.14
Derrida goes on to describe the latter two parts of the Husserlian
‘crisis of meaning’:

B) Certain utterances can have a meaning, although they are

deprived of objective signification. ‘The square is circled’ is a propo-
sition endowed with meaning. It has sufficient meaning at least for
me to judge it false or contradictory (widersinnig and not sinnlos,
Husserl says). ... ‘Squared circle’ marks the absence of a referent,
certainly, as well as that of a certain signified, but not the absence
of meaning. In these two cases, the crisis of meaning (nonpresence
in general, absence as the absence of the referent – of perception –
or of the meaning – of the intention of actual signification) is still
bound to the essential possibility of writing; and this crisis is not
an accident, a factual and empirical anomaly of spoken language,
it is also the positive possibility and its ‘internal’ structure, in the
form of a certain outside [dehors].
C) Finally there is what Husserl calls Sinnlosigkeit or agrammati-
cality. For instance, ‘the green is either’ or ‘abracadabra’ [le vert est
ou; the ambiguity of ou or où is noted below, trans.].15 In such cases
Husserl considers that there is no language any more, or at least no
‘logical’ language, no cognitive language as Husserl construes in a
teleological manner, no language accorded the possibility of the
intuition of objects given in person and signified in truth. We are
confronted here with a decisive difficulty. Before stopping to deal
with it, I note a point that touches our discussion of communica-
tion, namely that the primary interest of the Husserlian analysis
to which I am referring here (while precisely detaching it up to a
certain point, from its context or its teleological and metaphysical
horizon, an operation which itself ought to provoke us to ask how
and why it is always possible), is its claim rigorously to dissociate
(not without a certain degree of success) from every phenom-
enon of communication the analysis of the sign or the expression
(Ausdruck) as signifying sign, the seeking to say something (bedeut-
same Zeichen). (1988a, pp. 11–12)
168 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

The two parts of Husserl’s ‘crisis of meaning’ mentioned above are

no more or less than the Husserlian distinction between absurdity
(Widersinn) and nonsense (Unsinn) (Husserl, 2001, p. 192), which
is already familiar to us through its use by Carnap (Chapter 2, §19)
and Ryle (Chapter 4, §9). Derrida’s talk of this distinction seems to
be committing the terminological error of confusing Husserl’s terms
Unsinnlichkeit (nonsense) with Sinnlosigkeit (senselessness). Husserl
uses the German term Sinnlosigkeit to refer to general senselessness,
which is further subdivided into absurdity (Widersinn) and nonsense
(Unsinn).16 According to Husserl, there are two types of senselessness
(Sinnlosigkeit), absurdity and nonsense. But Derrida confusedly uses
Sinnlosigkeit (senselessness) to mean ‘agrammaticality’ and goes on to
mistakenly claim that Husserl opposes agrammaticality (Sinnlosigkeit)
to absurdity (Widersinnlichkeit). When Derrida says Sinnlosigkeit
(senselessness) he really means what Husserl called Unsinnlichkeit
(nonsense) – Unsinnlichkeit (and not Sinnlosigkeit) is opposed by
Husserl to Widersinnlichkeit.
Derrida’s confusion might be caused by Husserl’s writing, but also
possibly by a selective reading of Husserl’s text. The references Derrida
makes to Husserl’s examples (‘abracadabra’, ‘the green is either’) indi-
cate that he has in mind the text of the first Investigation, which he
follows closely (Husserl, 2001, pp. 118–119). Here Husserl does not
yet refer to the separation between types of meaninglessness; he does,
though, use the term Widersinnlichkeit in a way which could mislead-
ingly imply that, as Derrida states above, it is opposed to (and not a
type of) Sinnlosigkeit. Derrida seems to ignore the fourth Investigation,
in which Husserl clarifies that meaninglessness (Sinnlosigkeit) is,
quite importantly, subdivided into nonsense (Widersinnlichkeit) and
absurdity (Unsinnlichkeit) (2001, pp. 192–193), clearing away the
misleading implication of the first Investigation.
Although the difference between meaninglessness and nonsense is
seemingly minor, and the correction of Derrida’s error might appear
to be a matter of pedantry, a world of difference emerges by the
substitution of one term with the other. Without this substitution,
Derrida’s error functions as a mask for the centrality of this reference
to Husserl for Derrida’s project. That is, it lacks the explicit mention
of the fact that, prior to his engagement with Austin, Derrida is refer-
ring to a term which is central to a tradition, going through Carnap
and Ryle, the concerns of which Austin’s work is responding to. The
Derrida and Searle 169

Husserlian conception of nonsense is at least partly constitutive of

that which Austin is reacting against insofar as it is influential on
Carnap’s account of nonsense.
Furthermore, one may also find here a parallel trajectory between
Carnap’s quasi-Husserlian account of nonsense, his consequent
critique of Heidegger, and Derrida’s own reaction to Heidegger.17 A
brief comparison between Carnap and Derrida’s views of Heidegger
may prove quite surprisingly fruitful: both Carnap and Derrida draw
on Heidegger’s work to reconfigure the relationship between philos-
ophy and literature, and for both this reconfiguration becomes an
almost hypermodernistic rejection of metaphysics, which is seen
at least to some extent by both as relying on the development of
some new technique – for Carnap ‘logical analysis’ and for Derrida
‘deconstruction’ promise to expose the deeply entrenched biases of
philosophy’s metaphysical past.18 Here we find a striking dissimilarity
between the two: whereas Carnap rejects metaphysical philosophy as
a kind of failure to write literature, in order to side with philosophy
proper and logical analysis, Derrida seems to accept a Carnapian iden-
tification of metaphysics with literature and to generalise it, taking a
quasi-Heideggerian avant-gardist step (which Carnap would not have
taken) of siding with literature. Derrida thus undertakes the kind of
defence of Heidegger against Carnap’s critique that Heidegger would
never have had the audacity to undertake.
Something like this defence of Heidegger against Carnap can be
discerned in Derrida’s further remarks on Husserl’s account of ‘agram-
maticality’ (i.e. nonsense):

Let us return to the case of agrammatical Sinnlosigkeit [sic]. What

interests Husserl in the Logical Investigations is the system of rules
of a universal grammar, not from a linguistic point of view but
from a logical and epistemological point of view.19 In an impor-
tant note to the second edition, he specifies that his concern is
with a pure logical grammar, that is, with the universal conditions
of possibility for a morphology of significations in their cognitive
relation to a possible object, not with a pure grammar in general,
considered from a psychological or linguistic point of view.20
Thus, it is solely in a context determined by a will to know, by
an epistemic intention,21 by a conscious relation to the object as
cognitive object within a horizon of truth, solely in this oriented
170 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

contextual field is ‘the green is either’ unacceptable. But as ‘the

green is either’ or ‘abracadabra’ do not constitute their context by
themselves, nothing prevents their functioning in another context
as signifying marks (or indices, as Husserl would say). Not only
in contingent cases such as a translation of German into French,
which would endow ‘the green is either’ with grammaticality, since
‘either’ (oder) becomes for the ear ‘where’ [où] (a spatial mark):
‘Where has the green gone (of the lawn: the green is where)’ ... But
even ‘the green is either’ itself still signifies an example of agram-
maticality.22 (Derrida, 1988a, p. 12)

Thus Derrida finds in Austin’s account of performativity a way

forward beyond the designative function of language, circumventing
the supposed criteria of meaningfulness which are imposed, he
claims, by an epistemological or logical context which is ‘determined
by a will to know, by an epistemic intention’ (p. 12). Such a context
is seen as limited to some very strictly defined cognitive function of
language which, according to Derrida’s reading of Husserl, cannot
account for the full range of psychological or linguistic phenomena
involved in communication, but only treats meaningfulness as
the communication of potential knowledge (i.e. true or false asser-
tions). As Austin points out (in response to a strict Carnapian limi-
tation of meaningfulness to true or false statements, a limitation
which also functions by excluding any contingent psychological or
linguistic factors from a scientifically-minded philosophical account
of meaning), the constative function is only a limited and restricted
aspect of linguistic activity; its full range could, in turn, be captured
in terms of speech-acts, in terms of what language may do rather
than what it may allow us to claim to know.
Derrida stresses the function of ‘citationality’ and ‘iterability’ (1988a,
p. 12) – i.e. the possibility of functioning in different contexts – in
the move away from a strict account of cognitive meaningfulness
in terms of a dichotomy between sense and nonsense (what Austin
describes as taking place in a rhetic act). According to Derrida, a state-
ment which might in some context be meaningless, as in Husserl’s
example of ‘the green is either’ (which is meaningless within the
context of an ‘epistemic intention’ (Derrida, 1988a, p. 12)), is only
meaningless within a particular context (a context which, in turn,
one may not fully delimit – a context which is not fully ‘saturable
Derrida and Searle 171

and constraining’ (Derrida, 1988a, p. 12)), but it can migrate from

context to context, e.g. when, here, ‘the green is either’ is cited as an
example of meaninglessness. This, according to Derrida, destabilises
the distinction between an expression’s ‘original’ or ‘normal’ func-
tion and the possibility of its functioning differently (parasitically)
by being cited.
This idea becomes clearer if seen as a commentary on Austin’s
distinction among phonic, phatic, and rhetic acts. One of the
defining characteristics of the first two is that they have a potential
for mimesis which is relative to the ‘higher’ category. For example,
two identical phonic acts may or may not constitute the same phatic
act, depending on various aspects of the context in which they are
being made. Thus, for example, the same sequence of sounds may
be taken to be grammatical if uttered by a human being, and it may
not when uttered by another animal. Similarly, the same phatic act
may be taken to have a different sense and reference, depending on
where and when it is uttered. Thus, in following Austin’s account, it
becomes apparent that Derrida may be seen as claiming that ‘cita-
tionality’ implies the primacy of phasis over rhesis. Derrida goes on
to relate ‘citationality’ to the iterability of writing, and uses this idea
to deconstruct various aspects of Austin’s speech-act theory.
Derrida’s deconstruction of Austin is detailed and complex, more
so than can be presented here. What is significant for the purposes
of this discussion is the way in which Derrida establishes a relation
between Austin and a certain strand in Husserl’s thought which we
have already connected with Carnap and Ryle. We have seen that
Derrida obscures the connection (ironically by an error in citation); he
is also in agreement with Austin when he rejects the Husserl-Carnap
account of nonsense. But Derrida goes beyond this agreement when
he tries to propose something like this: that there is no possible
theory (not even speech-act theory) that can determine a priori what
lies outside the realm of meaning.

4. Searle’s reply to Derrida

The publication of the English translation of Derrida’s ‘Signature

Event Context’ was followed by a critical review of the paper by John
Searle.23 The review is notorious for having instigated something
which can only be described as a feud between Searle, Derrida, and
172 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

a camp of supporters on each side. Of course, some of the contents

of the review are quite harsh towards Derrida, who is considered by
Searle in an only half-polite tone as difficult to understand when he

I did not find his arguments very clear and it is possible that I may
have misinterpreted him as profoundly as I believe he has misin-
terpreted Austin. (1977, p. 198)

This statement opens the floodgates, and the issue of misunder-

standing becomes possibly the main attribute of the polemic that
ensues. For example, Searle himself later on complains that

With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he’s so obscure.
Every time you say, ‘He says so and so,’ he always says, ‘You misun-
derstood me’. But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation,
then that’s not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who
was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that
Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism
of obscurantism).24 We were speaking French. And I said, ‘What
the hell do you mean by that?’ And he said, ‘He writes so obscurely
you can’t tell what he’s saying, that’s the obscurantism part, and
then when you criticize him, he can always say, “You didn’t under-
stand me; you’re an idiot.” That’s the terrorism part.’ And I like
that. So I wrote an article about Derrida. I asked Michel if it was OK
if I quoted that passage, and he said yes. (Postrel, Feser, & Searle,

Yet, far from levelling accusations of terrorism, Searle’s ‘Reply to

Derrida’ is only slightly harsher in the expression of its claims than an
average piece of scholarly criticism in the Anglo-American academic
context of philosophical discourse. Searle undertakes a close and
careful analysis of Derrida’s text, citing the original French terms
Derrida uses and clarifying the extent to which his own interpretation
might be flawed.25 Searle’s reply addresses the issue of correct inter-
pretation. A large part of his effort is implicitly dedicated to showing
how Derrida constructs a straw-man argument from Austin’s claims,
which Searle shows not to correspond to Derrida’s accusations.26
Derrida and Searle 173

Searle claims that Derrida’s conception of citation as circumventing

the criteria of meaning applied to constatives is flawed. According to
Searle, Derrida’s claim is that the criteria of meaning which deter-
mine that ‘the green is either’ is meaningless do not apply in the case
where ‘the green is either’ signifies an example of meaninglessness.

He says the meaningless example of ungrammatical French,

‘le vert est ou,’ means (signifie) one thing anyhow, it means an
example of ungrammaticality. But this is a simple confusion. The
sequence ‘le vert est ou’ does not MEAN an example of ungram-
maticality, it does not mean anything, rather it IS an example of
ungrammaticality. The relation of meaning is not to be confused
with instantiation. This mistake is important because it is part of
his generally mistaken account of the nature of quotation, and his
failure to understand the distinction between use and mention.
The sequence ‘le vert est ou’ can indeed be mentioned as an example
of ungrammaticality, but to mention it is not the same as to use it.
In this example it is not used to mean anything; indeed it is not
used at all. (1977, p. 203)

Here Searle accuses Derrida of the elementary mistake of not

being aware of the simple distinction between use and mention.
Distinguishing between use and mention is important because it links
to Austin’s worry regarding the relation of phasis to rhesis. To mention
an expression is to perform a mere phatic act, or even possibly a
phonic act. One may simply mention a series of sounds, e.g. ‘Derrida
exclaimed, “Oui!”’), since the mention of an expression does not use
that expression as rhesis, as a statement with sense and reference. To
use an expression implies making a rhetic act, i.e. producing an utter-
ance with sense and reference. For example, ‘“the green is either” is
an expression coined by Derrida’ only mentions ‘the green is either’,
whereas ‘Searle wonders whether the green is either’ uses the expres-
sion ‘the green is either’. As Searle shows, ‘the green is either’ by itself
is a meaningless expression.27 It can be mentioned in a meaningful
statement, but it cannot be used in one. In other words, as a phonic
act, ‘the green is either’ can be mentioned in rhetic acts, but it may
not be used as a rhetic act. Citation as the mention of an utterance
within quotation marks is not, in this case, productive of the sense of
174 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

a statement; a meaningful statement may mention a (meaningless)

phonic act. This accusation may have grave implications for Derrida’s
discussion of citation, since Derrida appears to confusedly claim that
a phonic act may be used in a meaningful rhetic act.28
Perhaps Derrida takes Austin’s point of view too far when he tries
to assert that it is citationality in general (by which he means itera-
bility) which undermines Husserl’s conception of meaninglessness
(Sinnlosigkeit), when in fact all that needs to be said is that Austin’s
distinction between constative and performative gives Husserl’s
theory of meaning its due place.29 If the focus of Derrida’s argument
was to show that Husserl’s theory of meaning was limited in its scope
as a certain kind of theory of science (and should not therefore be
applicable to all philosophical endeavour), then all he needed to say
was already said in Austin’s criticism of the obsession of philosophers
with constatives. It is not clear why one would need to claim that it is
citation in particular which may transform phatic acts into rhetic acts
by breaking with their ‘original’ context (and thereby engendering
‘an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimit-
able’ (Derrida, 1988a, p. 12)).
So far, I have briefly outlined Derrida’s account of Husserl and its
relation to Austin, followed by analysis of one of Searle’s concerns. I
shall now move on to Derrida’s reply to Searle, in order to challenge
the idea of the Derrida-Searle dispute as a confrontation between
analytic and continental philosophy.

5. Questioning the ‘confrontation between two

prominent philosophical traditions’

Derrida’s answer to Searle becomes complicated by the fact that it

is written from a particularly peculiar perspective: as Derrida puts
it (1988b, p. 39), the whole of the exchange (including Derrida’s
original text and Searle’s reply) may be read in terms of its illocu-
tionary or perlocutionary effect rather than as a series of constative
statements with true or false meanings.30 Derrida’s remarks are not
structured as logically well-formed arguments in a strict sense.31
Unfortunately, this unavoidably leads one towards interpreting a
large part of Derrida’s paper as an ad hominem polemic against Searle;
Derrida insists on referring to Searle as ‘Sarl’ (the French abbreviation
Derrida and Searle 175

of Societé à Responsibilité Limitée (Society with Limited Responsibility),

i.e. the French version of the English ‘Ltd’).32
I shall not attempt here to address the complexities of the entirety
of Derrida’s response. Rather, I shall concentrate on a particular ques-
tion which both Derrida and Searle address – the question of the
status of the philosophical traditions that are supposedly represented
during the exchange.
Derrida takes issue with the first few sentences of Searle’s text, where
Searle claims that it would be a mistake to read Derrida’s reading of
Austin as an encounter between two traditions:

It would be a mistake, I think, to regard Derrida’s discussion of

Austin as a confrontation between two prominent philosoph-
ical traditions. This is not so much because Derrida has failed to
discuss the central theses in Austin’s theory of language, but rather
because he has misunderstood and misstated Austin’s position at
several crucial points, as I shall attempt to show, and thus the
confrontation never quite takes place. (1977, p. 198)

It is implied by Searle that what might have (normally) been expected

from an encounter between Derrida and Austin would be ‘a confron-
tation between two prominent philosophical traditions’, which
‘never quite takes place’ (because of Derrida’s misunderstanding
of Austin). Searle is here responding to Glyph’s mission statement,
which had set up the Derrida-Searle exchange as an encounter
between the Continental European tradition (to which ‘the names
of Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Heidegger, Derrida can serve as indexes’
(Weber, 1977, p. xi)) and the distinct ‘universe of discourse’ (p. xi)
of the ‘English-speaking world’ (p. xi). Thus, one may risk claiming
that, by reference to the mission statement, the two prominent phil-
osophical traditions, which Searle does not name, may be construed
(in the manner that all subsequent commentators come to construe
them) as on the one hand the ‘analytic’ Anglo-American tradi-
tion, and on the other hand ‘continental philosophy’ (now broadly
conceived as ranging from Nietzsche to Derrida). But it is still not
clear whether, instead of referring to the ‘English-speaking’ and
‘European’ philosophical traditions, we should imagine Searle to have
meant the confrontation to have been, for example, one between
176 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

the Enlightenment and its ‘postmodernist’ critics.33 Other possible

candidates might include ‘deconstruction’ versus ‘speech-act theory’,
‘scientism’ versus ‘irrationalism’, ‘fashionable’ versus ‘academic’
philosophy, and so on ad nauseam.
Derrida’s assumption (which was perhaps already decided by Glyph,
and which the majority of his subsequent readers reaffirm) is that
Searle’s imaginary failed confrontation is one between analytic and
continental philosophy.34 Searle’s possible reference to the absence of
this confrontation is reinforced by Derrida’s interpretative assump-
tion of an actual reference to a particular confrontation (which did not
take place between analytic and continental philosophy). This results in
a cataclysmic event, through which these assumptions are projected
onto some make-believe, generalisable ‘gulf’ between philosophical
traditions (which each side is both identified with and dissociated
from). Derrida talks of the two sides as ‘fronts’ (prête-noms), in the
sense, he says, in which he encounters this in the film The Front,35
and therefore as pseudonyms, ‘straw men’ which function as a ‘mask,
substitute for a clandestine subject’ (1988b, p. 37).
Derrida focuses on Searle’s assertion, according to which a confron-
tation between ‘two prominent philosophical traditions’ never takes
place. According to Derrida,

if there is only one sentence of the Reply to which I can subscribe,

it is the first (‘It would be a mistake, I think, to regard Derrida’s
discussion of Austin as a confrontation between two prominent
philosophical traditions’), although for reasons other than those
of Sarl. (1988b, pp. 37–39)

Thus, the imagined absence of confrontation is jointly accepted by

both Searle and Derrida. Derrida accepts it by way of disagreeing
with Searle. Searle negates the existence of a possible confrontation,
whereas Derrida agrees with Searle’s negation in order to negate the
possibility of such a confrontation in the particular case. Thus, Derrida
goes on to claim that the assumption of an attempt on his behalf
to initiate such a confrontation is plainly a false assumption (and
is a product of a misreading of his work). He expresses his suspicion
regarding the existence of two traditions by naming them ‘fronts’
or masks which ‘transcending this curious chiasmus, are forces of a
non-philosophical nature’ (1988b, p. 38). He proceeds to reverse the
Derrida and Searle 177

picture which Searle’s indication of a failed confrontation between

these two forces implies, first by pointing out his own critical stance
towards the metaphysical presuppositions of the ‘Continental’ tradi-
tion and secondly by making the claim that Searle’s work shares some
of these presuppositions with ‘Continental’ metaphysics36 and in
particular, as Derrida claims, with ‘the hermeneutics of Ricoeur and
the archaeology of Foucault’ (1988b, p. 39).37 Derrida, in turn, claims
that he sees himself as in fact being ‘in many respects quite close to
Austin, both interested and indebted to his problematic’ (1988b, p.
38); he even comes, several years later, to the point of calling himself
an analytic philosopher (Glendinning, 2001, p. 83), though he
quickly corrects this slip of the tongue.
As Derrida points out, he is for a number of reasons ‘unqualified
to represent a “prominent philosophical tradition”’ (1988b, p. 38);
there is no such thing to be represented by him! If Derrida (whose
work, as he insisted in pointing out, was most widely disseminated in
America and not ‘the continent’) has a place in the French national
philosophical establishment,38 it is in association with a certain
anti-phenomenological (and perhaps anti-philosophical) strain in
French academic thought, a tendency which predominantly came
from the humanities and social sciences and therefore from outside
philosophical circles (e.g. from literary theory, psychoanalysis, histo-
riography, anthropology).39 Derrida has a doubly critical relationship
to phenomenology as well as to the reaction against phenomenology
in the humanities. Derrida alludes to this later on, when in response
to a question regarding Searle’s criticisms he responds:

It is because in appearance at least ‘I’ am more of a historian that

‘I’ am a less passive, more attentive and more ‘deconstructive’ heir
of that so-called tradition. And hence, perhaps again paradoxi-
cally, more foreign to that tradition. (1988b, p. 131)

Yet, Derrida’s foreignness to a so-called ‘tradition’ of phenomenology,

as opposed to some passive belonging within its bounds, can in turn
be seen to stand as a ‘front’ for the existence of some singular and
unified ‘prominent philosophical tradition’ which may then be put in
quotation marks or be preceded by ‘so-called’. Derrida paradoxically
reiterates the difference between two ‘traditions’ when he divides
between ‘Sarl’ and himself the role of ‘fronting’ two ‘forces’. Derrida’s
178 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

deferred analysis of the non-philosophical character of the ‘forces’

behind those ‘fronts’ is undermined by his performance of the usurpa-
tion of those fronts by Searle and himself. Instead of ‘deconstructing’
the binary opposition between analytic and continental philosophy
which Derrida imagined Searle to be constructing, Derrida re-enacts
the opposition by attacking a claim that Searle perhaps did not make.
His claim that neither Searle nor himself may be seen to fall neatly
under the dichotomy only mystifies the already ill-defined division
under question.

6. Forces and fronts

What underlies the Derrida-Searle controversy is, to use Derrida’s

terms, a certain shift in the non-philosophical ‘forces’ which Derrida
and Searle are said by Derrida to ‘front’. The analysis of these ‘forces’
which Derrida promises remains deferred and is precisely what is
necessary if one wants to shed some light on this severely misun-
derstood debate. What is required for this illumination is to deter-
mine exactly what this shift is. One may do so by looking at the
institutional context of philosophy at the time Derrida and Searle are
writing. Furthermore, one may also look at the history of controver-
sies which precede Derrida and Searle and see the changing models of
exchange between past disputes and the present one.
What is perhaps most overlooked throughout the controversy is
the question of defining exactly who is on which side. As we have
already mentioned, Searle does not define which two sides are the
two contestants, and only briefly mentions ‘enlightenment’ versus
‘postmodernism’ later on. Derrida imagines that Searle is talking of
‘continental philosophy’. Yet, neither party wishes to clarify exactly
what might be meant by ‘continental’ philosophy, in Derrida’s case
as something which he assumes Searle has asserted, and in Searle’s
case as something with regard to which he might differentiate his
There are various reasons for this lack of attempting to define the
scope of ‘continental’ philosophy, yet perhaps the most interesting
one in this case is the chronology of the Derrida-Searle controversy
and the institutional context in which it was undertaken. Derrida’s
‘Signature Event Context’ was first presented, in French, in 1971, by
which time a decade had passed since the founding of the Society
Derrida and Searle 179

for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in the United States.

This meant that, at least institutionally, ‘continental’ philosophy had
been developing, already for some time, outside the ‘continent’ under
the banners of ‘phenomenology’ and ‘existentialism’. The designa-
tion ‘continental’ had already become an obviously inadequate term
in the nineteen-seventies, since its reference could no longer be
limited to any number of institutions geographically situated in the
European continent, let alone to any set of philosophical doctrines
or methods. This is due largely to the rise of trends, such as struc-
turalism, which challenged phenomenology. Whereas a few decades
back, one could designate at least an institutional (or even national)
basis for the differentiation between Anglo-Saxon and continental
philosophy,40 this boundary had become more and more blurred
since the nineteen-sixties.
What this amounts to is the gradual international dominance of
something called ‘analytic philosophy’, which had dominated British
academia since the nineteen-thirties and had become the dominant
philosophical approach in America during the nineteen-fifties. With
this rise to dominance, the meaning of the term ‘analytic philosophy’
slowly came to encompass a number of very different approaches to
philosophy, leading to an increasing number of problems regarding
its definition. For example, it becomes controversial whether natu-
ralistic approaches in Anglo-American philosophy, following the
paradigm set by Quine, should or should not be counted as ‘analytic
philosophy’.41 Even if one were to exclude naturalism from analytic
philosophy, one would have to take into account the phenomenon
which Rorty calls the ‘Kantian consensus’ (2008, p. 162) of both
Anglo-American and continental philosophy (and the Kantian turn
which one may find in Strawson (1966), Sellars (1968), and later e.g.
in McDowell (1994)),42 a phenomenon which makes the very idea
of a strict differentiation from ‘continental’ philosophy – which has
nevertheless been maintained – highly problematic.43
Parallel to these developments, ‘continental philosophy’ in the
form of phenomenology and existentialism was gradually exported
to the United States and Britain,44 primarily through the creation of
various institutes for its study.45 This institutional situation called for
a kind of armistice between phenomenology and ‘analytic philos-
ophy’, which can be found in the emergence of a small group of
American scholars of phenomenology whose approach to philosophy
180 Encounters between Analytic and Continental Philosophy

was not entirely incompatible to that of analytic philosophers and

in some cases (e.g. Dreyfus, as already mentioned) consisted in
a synthesis, a kind of ‘best of both worlds’ approach. Publications
dealing with presenting phenomenology to an Anglophone audience
began to emerge in the nineteen-seventies.46 Today, phenomenology
is primarily studied in departments of analytical philosophy, whereas
‘continental philosophy’ is a label for a number of heterogeneous
approaches to philosophy, in many cases anti-phenomenological
(e.g. Deleuze, Badiou and others).

7. In whose name?

Derrida and Searle largely attempt to follow the model of previous

disputes, those that took place between analytic philosophers and
phenomenologists, and to impose such a model on a situation
which is both quite different and new. It is perhaps no accident
that the mission statement of Glyph calls for an exchange between
two traditions. The illusion of the continuation of strife between
two ‘prominent’ philosophical traditions that Glyph had called for
is successfully performed by Derrida and Searle (as it had been by
Ryle, Merleau-Ponty, et al. at Royaumont, despite all evidence to the
contrary). Instead of rational exchange in argumentation between
two philosophers, what we have here is a performance of struggle
between two ‘fronts’. By 1977, the institutional factors which had
previously sustained the conditions through which interlocutors
could identify the ‘side’ they were on had become unsustainable.
Nevertheless, the two sides presented themselves as if sustaining an
old conversation, as if this were one of the old controversies between
phenomenology and analytic philosophy.
What is most striking about the Derrida-Searle controversy is the
lack of clarity regarding in whose name the exchange is undertaken.47
Besides Derrida’s rude insistence on misnaming his opponent, the
names of the two sides that are supposedly represented by the two
thinkers are absolutely blurred. Whether or not there are two sides
which each thinker may be said to represent, what should have been
clear (which is precisely that which the controversy mystifies) is the
fact that these ‘sides’ have shifted.
The almost imperceptible shift that occurs in the controversy
between Derrida and Searle lies in the reformulation of the old concept
Derrida and Searle 181

of an ‘abyss’ or ‘gulf’ between two ‘sides’ in philosophy. Whereas prior

to the polemical encounter between Derrida and Searle, the dispute
appeared as if it were one which lay primarily between continental
phenomenology and analytical philosophy, the division is redrawn –
for Derrida as one between Anglo-Saxon academia and the continent;
for Searle as one between rational academic inquiry and the forces
which attempt to undermine it. Derrida’s designation of the ‘gulf’
may lead the reader towards wondering whether what is at stake
in the Derrida-Searle dispute is some age-old struggle which has its
roots in the nineteenth century (such as for example, in the disputes
between Kant’s epigones and their empiricist critics). Searle’s defini-
tion of the struggle may come closer to its mark, though it mislead-
ingly connotes some split between the humanities and the sciences
in the vein of C.P. Snow’s (1959) indication of the ‘two cultures’.
Though elements of both approaches may contain specks of truth, it
is unclear how a dispute over the interpretation of Austin’s considera-
tion of parasitic speech acts may shed light upon such great cultural

The history of interpreting encounters between analytic and conti-

nental philosophers in the twentieth century has been plagued by
a series of omissions, mistakes and misunderstandings, in many
cases seemingly small. To a great extent, these have made it easier
for the philosophical descendants of the thinkers we have so far
discussed (though not necessarily for the thinkers themselves) to talk
past each other or simply to follow radically divergent paths which
preclude the necessity of exchange. Still, such a conclusion is far too
general, and our examination of the particulars of each encounter
has demonstrated manners through which the polemical appearance
of the exchange at hand is overcome. In all of these encounters, it
is not some irreconcilable clash between philosophical movements
which is to be found; rather, extra-philosophical factors cause such
misinterpretations. Regarding Frege and Husserl, the fierce battle was
fought over whether it was Frege who had turned Husserl away from
psychologism or not. It was only in the past decade that commentators
have placed Carnap and Heidegger within a shared Germanophone
context. Despite all appearances to the contrary, its few commenta-
tors project the analytic-continental split onto the encounter among
Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, and Ayer. The Royaumont colloquium has
been considered a landmark of the analytic-continental split, due
largely to a rude remark against Merleau-Ponty mistakenly attrib-
uted to Ryle. Finally, the Derrida-Searle dispute has been mistakenly
construed as representative of the analytic-continental split.
This series of mistakes and omissions are caused by a drive towards
picturing twentieth century philosophy as split in two, and have

Conclusion 183

been instrumental in painting the haunting image of such a split.

Philosophers have committed these mistakes because they were
seeking some justification for this image of itself that philosophy
had conjured. In the attempts to shout across the gulf, one might
have expected to find an explanation for the prevailing silence. But
perhaps such efforts precluded looking closely enough in order to
see the flawed nature of the object of their enquiry. Thus, it is not
without at least some small element of surprise or disbelief that one
may discover proximity between thinkers who had been imagined
to lie so far apart. In dissolving the prior appearance of distance, the
question as to the origins of the haunting image with which this
investigation began is not answered, but rather becomes posed once
again, now having acquired a degree of gravity which renders it
more urgent. What lies at these origins is now, perhaps, slightly less
a caricature.

1. Bataille talks of an ‘abyss’ (1986, p. 80); Ryle (1971b, p. 182) and Dummett
(1993, p. xi) talks of a ‘gulf’.
2. See Reynolds & Chase, 2011, pp. 254–255.
3. A recent survey of the field is given in Floyd, 2009; see also Beaney, 1998;
Preston, 2005.
4. See esp. Sluga, 1998; Stroll, 2000; Glock, 2008; Monk, 1996a. See also
Hylton, 1990; Hacker, 2007; Glendinning, 2006; Preston, 2007; Floyd,
2009, p. 173.
5. See e.g. Stroll, 2000; Glock, 2008. See also Reynolds and Chase, 2010;
Reynolds et al., 2010.
6. An early variant of this view is proposed by Urmson (1992), who divides
the history of philosophical analysis into four types: (i) ‘classical’ analysis
(Russell), (ii) ideal-language analysis (early Wittgenstein, Vienna Circle,
Quine, Goodman), (iii) ‘therapeutic positivist’ (p. 299) analysis (later
Wittgenstein, Ryle, Wisdom, Waismann), and (iv) ‘ordinary language’
analysis (Austin). Weitz (1966) similarly comments that ‘it has become
established practice in anthologies and histories of twentieth century
philosophy to divide its analytic parts into (a) Realism, (b) Logical Analysis
or Logical Atomism, (c) Logical Positivism, and (d) Linguistic, Ordinary
Language, or Conceptual Analysis’ (p. 1). Russell (1959, p. 216) talked of
three waves in British philosophy 1914–1959, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus,
Logical Positivism, and the later Wittgenstein.More recently, Hacker (1996,
pp. 4–5; 2007) proposed a similar understanding of analytic philosophy
as a series of phases in the history of philosophy, rather than defining it
as either a set of necessary and sufficient conditions or as a family resem-
blance concept. Whereas Urmson emphasises the ‘decisive break’ (1960,
p. 187) between modes of analysis, Hacker emphasises the causal links
which connect one phase to another; see also Sluga, 1998, pp. 107–108.
Simons (2000), drawing from Brentano’s (1998) view of the history of
philosophy, also proposes a four-phase history of analytic philosophy,
beginning with Russell and Moore, followed by Dewey and James, going
through Wittgenstein and Quine and culminating with Rorty. In tracing
the American aspect of this development, Simons gives an alternative
view to Hacker’s, who finds in Quine and his followers ‘the decline of
analytic philosophy in all but name’ (1996, p. xi). Simons traces a parallel
line of development in continental philosophy, starting with Brentano
and Husserl, moving on to Heidegger, then to Sartre and finally to
Derrida. For a criticism of Simons’ view, see Dummett, 2010, pp. 148–149.

Notes 185

7. One may emphasise the British (e.g. Hacker, 1996) or the American
perspective (Simons, 2000; Soames, 2003) of this phase.
8. As Michael Dummett points out, ‘even Japanese philosophy departments
are split between analytic philosophers, Heideggerians, Hegelians and so
on’ (2010, p. 149).
9. See Hacker, 1996, p. 274.
10. Ayer et al., 1967.
11. It is notable, however, that the first use of the term ‘analytic philosophy’ is
to be found in a critique against it, launched in 1933 by one of its earliest
opponents, R. G. Collingwood. See Beaney, 2001. Another early use of
the term is made by Nagel (1936), who had seen ‘analytic philosophy’
as a European phenomenon, ‘professed at Cambridge, Vienna, Prague,
Warsaw, and Lwów’ (p. 6).
12. Nonetheless, ‘continental philosophy’ is currently taught as a branch of
philosophy in the continent; see Gosvig (2012).
13. Despite this, there have been attempts at defining continental philosophy
in what Reynolds and Chase (2010) call ‘essentialist’ terms. For example,
Cooper (1994, pp. 4–7) points to what he sees as three definitively ‘conti-
nental’ themes: ‘cultural critique, concern with the background condi-
tions of enquiry, and ... “the fall of the self”’ (p. 4). But these themes do
not seem to sufficiently characterise a distinctively continental approach
to philosophy (e.g. they have been of philosophical concern since antiq-
uity); they are not even necessarily proper to (academic) philosophy. For
all these, Cooper notes that they are features which are not admitted by
analytic philosophers into their conception of the discipline: Strawson
(1992) admits that ‘reflection on the human condition’ belongs to ‘a
species of philosophy’ ‘quite different’ (p. 2) in its aims from analytic
philosophy (Cooper, 1994, p. 4); Williams claims that analytic philos-
ophy finds Nietzschean genealogy ‘quite embarrassing’ (Williams, 1993,
p. 13, quoted in Cooper, 1994, p. 6); Ryle’s (1949) ‘ghost in the machine’
contrasts with Sartre’s ‘bloodthirsty idol which devours all one’s projects’
(Cooper, 1994, p. 6). By referring to these themes, Cooper unwittingly
seems to point to the degree by which ‘continental’ philosophy is shaped
by exclusion.Reynolds and Chase (2010) instead see the differences
between analytic and continental philosophy in terms of family resem-
blances (i.e. neither in ‘essentialist’ nor ‘deflationary’ terms) regarding
respective attitudes towards particular themes and methodological
commitments; see Vrahimis, 2011b.
14. See Føllesdal, 1997.
15. Some examples of this include Foucault’s controversy with Habermas
(Kelly, 1994), as well as Derrida’s polemical exchanges with Foucault
(Derrida, 2001, pp. 36–76), Gadamer (Michelfelder & Palmer, 1989), and
Habermas (Thomassen, 2006).
16. Some (e.g. Braver, 2007; Critchley, 1997) might see the division stretching
back to Kant or perhaps to some post-Kantian philosopher such as Hegel
or Nietzsche (see e.g. Rosen 2001; Braver, 2007, pp. 59–162; Babich, 2003;
186 Notes

Rockmore, 2005; Redding, 2007). Though looking at such predecessors of

the divide might sometimes be helpful in illuminating some particular
philosophical idea which purports to underlie it, there is also an element
of anachronism involved in projecting the idea of the divide over two
centuries in the history of philosophy.
17. Mill, 1985. See also Rée, 2005. When Mill talked of Coleridge as repre-
senting ‘continental philosophy’, he was referring to an approach to
philosophy that was also flourishing in Britain.
18. See e.g. Hylton, 1990; Nasim, 2008; Candlish, 2009.
19. See Bell, 1999.
20. Ernst Cassirer may count as part of the camp of the ‘non-aligned’. The
book’s guest stars include all those philosophers mentioned who were
present at Davos in 1928, Royaumont in 1958, and Balliol College in
21. By ‘phenomenologists’, here I mean philosophers associated with the
tradition of phenomenology broadly construed so as to include figures
such as Derrida and Bataille. For similar groupings of these thinkers under
the term ‘phenomenology’, see Glendinning, 2007 (on Derrida); and
Himanka, 2000 (on Bataille).
22. See O’Neil and Uebel, 2004; Uebel, 1992.
23. Adorno et al., 1976. See also Dahms, 1994.
24. Bar-Hillel, 1973; Habermas, 2000, p. 94.
25. Habermas, 1995; Rawls, 1995.
26. See e.g. Dennett and Carr, 1996; see also Zahavi, 2007.
27. Russell, 1992, pp. 309–346. See Vrahimis, 2011a.
28. Chomsky & Foucault, 2006.
29. Sokal, 2000; see also Sokal & Bricmont, 1999.

1 Frege, Husserl and the Future of Philosophy

1. The eighteen-seventies also gave rise to advances that brought about the
radical transformation of a number of other academic disciplines, such as
number theory and analysis, geometry, physics and, of course, logic (Bell,
1999, p. 196).
2. Although it is difficult to make out who should or should not count as
a ‘psychologicist’, the term was thought to apply primarily to a thesis
expressed in the work of John Stuart Mill (1843). The term ‘psychologism’
can be traced back to the Hegelian response to the psychological theo-
ries of Fries and Benecke, and is first coined in Erdmann, 1870.Among
the various Germanophone philosophers who stressed the centrality of
psychology to philosophy, one may count e.g. Wundt, Brentano and
Stumpf, Nietzsche and Dilthey. See Kusch, 1995.
3. A table of such views is given in Kusch, 1995, pp. 118–120.
4. Later uses of the term include Popper’s objections to ‘epistemological
psychologism’ (see Uebel, 1992, pp. 175–176); or Wittgenstein and
Mises’ anti-psychologism in economics (see Long, 2004). ‘Psychologism’
Notes 187

even became a position the rejection of which was formative of literary

modernism; see Jay, 1996.
5. See Kusch, 1995, pp. 190–193. See also Chapter 2, §5.
6. Natorp, Rickert, Windelband and Riehl may all be considered
‘Neo-Kantians’; see e.g. Heidegger, 1997, p. 191.
7. Kusch, 1995, p. 190.
8. See Kusch, 1995, pp. 211–219.
9. Neo-Kantian philosophers such as Natorp, Riehl, Bauch, and others enthu-
siastically endorsed German militarism through various arguments for
enlightenment values and social democracy. See Sluga, 1993, pp. 76–82;
Kusch, 1995, pp. 213–219; Habermas, 2002.
10. See Føllesdal, 1994; Mohanty, 1982; Dummett, 1993; Hill & Rosado
Haddock, 2000.
11. But see Parsons, 2001.
12. See Monk, 1996b.
13. The importance to scholars of the relation of influence between Frege and
Husserl has been a matter of controversy among commentators. For some
(e.g. Hill & Rosado Haddock, 2000, pp. xi–xiv), debunking the myth of
Frege’s influence on Husserl allows for important advances to be made in
Husserl-studies, since in this way a new, non-Fregean (and perhaps conse-
quently in some sense philosophically superior) Husserl may be seen to
emerge. For others (e.g. Føllesdal, 1990), a Fregean reading of Husserl’s
thought is superior to the traditional one in so far as it is compatible
with Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts in ways in which the traditional
reading is not.For still others (e.g. Kusch, 1995, pp. 12–14), it is perhaps
unfortunate that the focus of scholarship has insisted on this issue, since
it is not obvious that such a question goes beyond a matter of proving the
supremacy of one tradition’s grandfather over another’s. Since hundreds
of articles have been written on the matter, I will not attempt to examine
it here, or to present it in any depth. That does not necessarily imply that
I endorse Kusch’s view, but rather that I see the question of influence
as irrelevant to the central goal of this chapter, which is to undermine
another prevailing view that underlies these disputes, i.e. the view which
has Husserl and Frege to have grandfathered one tradition each.
14. The fact that Husserl had used Frege’s Grundlagen in his Philosophie der
Arithmetik, and had been one of the few authors to have commented
on Frege’s work (as Frege notes in their correspondence), implies, as Hill
points out (Hill & Rosado Haddock, 2000, pp. 95–109), that Husserl had
already been familiar with the anti-psychologistic arguments propounded
by Frege while working on his own psychologistic account of arithmetic.
This serves to deflate the myth which has Husserl’s psychologism crumble
before Frege’s surprise attack.
15. Frege’s views against psychologism were already expressed in his criti-
cisms of Mill and Kant’s philosophies of arithmetic in the 1884 Die
Grundlagen der Arithmetik (1980b, pp. 12–24). His subsequent criticism of
psychologism in the 1893 first volume of his Grundgesetze der Arithmetik
188 Notes

comes closer to Husserl’s criticisms in the 1900 Prolegomena to the Logische

16. Interestingly, in a letter to Paul F. Linke written in 1919 (1976, pp.
153–156), Frege refers to a passage from Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen
in order to explain his distinction between sense and reference.
17. See also Rosado Haddock, 2008, pp. 102–103.
18. Followed by a second volume in 1901.
19. See Hill & Rosado Haddock, 2000, pp. xiii–xiv; Rivenc, 1996. For a defence
of Føllesdal’s Fregean reading of Husserl see Føllesdal, 1990.
20. See e.g. Føllesdal, 1969; Langsdorf, 1984.
21. Many of the terminological affinities between Husserl’s work and that
of his contemporary philosophers of mathematics have been lost in the
English translation of his early works; see Hill & Rosado Haddock, 2000,
p. xii.
22. See also Thiel & Beaney, 2005.
23. See Kneale & Kneale, 1984.The idea of ‘modern logic’ in contrast to tradi-
tional Aristotelian logic is often overstated, given that: (i) already medieval
logicians had considered their logic to be new in comparison to Aristotle’s
(Oliver, 1999, p. 262) and (ii) the Stoics developed propositional logic (see
Sellars, 2006, pp. 58–59; Gabriel, Hülser & Schlotter, 2009).
24. Frege did not use the existential quantifier but rather used the universal
quantifier to express existential statements, e.g. in the form of ‘¬x¬
( ... )’.
25. Frege’s term ‘thought’ may be taken to refer to what one may today call
propositions, rather than sentences (or utterances of sentences). Whereas
sentences have truth-values, i.e. have a referential function which can be
mapped either to the true or the false, propositions (or, following Frege’s
terminology, thoughts) do not, but rather only have a sense. Any utter-
ance of any sentence, according to Frege, must express a thought (or
proposition). See e.g. Dummett, 1959.
26. It is important here to note that what Dummett calls Frege’s ‘myth of the
third realm’ (1996, p. 249) only gets introduced by Frege in 1918. Such a
myth may be seen as an attempt to account for the Platonistic ontology
of logicism, i.e. to answer the question of what kind of entity a non-
psychological thought is.
27. See also Chapter 2, §10.
28. See Church, 1996, pp. 56–57. Malatesta (1997, p. 13) claims that using
the term ‘logistic’ is more precise than ‘mathematical logic’ or ‘symbolic
29. Following Kant, logic was divided into a doctrine of concepts (examining
fundamental concepts of thought such as quantity, number, time, place,
quality, subsumption), of judgements (concerning the various meanings
of the propositional copula ‘is’ or the relation of grammatical and logical
sentential form) and of inferences (examining forms of syllogisms);
Käufer, 2005, pp. 142–143. The third was the only part of logic that relates
Notes 189

to its content and was widely taken to have been conclusively given by
30. The extent of ground which Husserl’s term ‘logic’ may be said to cover
is not clear. According to Smith (2002, p. 52), there are three possible
approaches to the issue: (i) the whole of Logical Investigations is about
logic (construed in its nineteenth century sense as a kind of philosophy
of logic), (ii) only a small part of Logical Investigations is about logic
(construed as what in the nineteenth century would be called Logistik)
(iii) in the Logical Investigations, ‘logic as conceived today is integrated
with speech-act theory, ontology, phenomenology, and epistemology’
(p. 52). Although the twenty-first-century view of logic (what Smith
calls the ‘Copenhagen’ interpretation of Husserl) is anachronistic when
applied to Husserl, it is not completely implausible, given (i), that
Husserl may have held it.Ryle offers an interpretation of Husserl which
assumes the separability of his (‘quasi-Platonist’) ontology from his
phenomenology – perhaps this view is due to Ryle’s assumption of (ii);
see also Chapter 4, §5.
31. Husserl inherits the idea of eigentliche Wissenschaftslehre from Bolzano
(Bolzano 1972). However, whereas Bolzano’s Wissenschaftslehre is tied to
the notion of objective ideas, the notion of object we find in Husserl is
more nuanced; see also Simons, 1987.
32. The definition of logic as a normative discipline is the common point
between Frege’s arguments against psychologism in his 1893 first volume
of the Grundgesetze der Arithmetik (1997, p. 202) and those which Husserl
makes here. The discussion of the is-ought distinction becomes instru-
mental in the attack on psychologism, in different ways for each author.
Frege sees a direct link between defining logic as a discipline of the way
in which thought ought to be, contrary to the way in which thought is,
which is the study that pertains to the field of psychology. Husserl criti-
cises this approach to arguing against psychologism in the Prolegomena
of the Logische Untersuchungen (2001, pp. 31–35, §§19–20), although not
explicitly directing his criticism against Frege. For a detailed exposition
of the arguments Husserl makes, see Kusch, 1995, pp. 43–58, and the
subsequent comparison between Frege and Husserl’s arguments in Kusch,
1995, pp. 60–62.
33. Husserl, for example, compares his account of logic as a technology to
the idea of l’art de penser (2001, p. 21). See also Mormann, 1991 (esp.
p. 67).Interestingly, the term ‘technology’ is also used by Ryle (1971a,
ix) in describing Carnap’s formalist project of utilising modern logic in
34. Husserl, 2001, p. 78; see also Chapter 4, §9 on Husserl’s categories of
35. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 983a27.
36. Chapter 2, §19 and Chapter 4, §5 give a more detailed account of Husserl’s
theory of meaning.
190 Notes

37. Among others, Brentano, Meinong, Natorp, Rickert, Sigward, Stumpf, and
Wundt, had seen Husserl’s criticism of psychologism as psychologistic. As
Kusch (pp. 90–91) points out, there were various views as to how Husserl,
it was argued, relapsed into psychologism: (i) some thought that his view
of self-evidence was psychologistic, (ii) some saw his Platonism as a form
of psychologism, (iii) others thought the division between the ideal and
the real was psychologistic, while (iv) others still saw ‘phenomenology’ or
‘descriptive psychology’ as psychologistic.
38. It is interesting to note that the derogatory term ‘existentialism’ had been
coined during the Psychologismus-Streit to denote some doctrine slightly
less offensive to psychologism, according to which the realm of logic is
dependent on existing beings; see Kusch, 1995, p. 11.
39. See also Chapter 2, §2.
40. See Rickert, 1904, p. 88; Rickert, 2002, pp. 195–196 & 211; Kroner, 1908,
pp. 241–242.
41. See Schlick, 1918, pp. 120–121; Husserl, 2001, p. 269. Following Husserl’s
complaint, Schlick withdrew his previous comments, rewriting them in a
footnote (1985, p. 139). See also Van de Pitte, 1984; Livingston, 2002.
42. See Schlick, 1985, pp. 139 & 153. Schlick had already criticised Husserl’s
first volume of the Logische Untersuchungen in his Habilitationsschrift
43. Natorp, 1901.
44. See also Kusch’s table of all the types of objections to and accusations
levelled against Husserl (1995, p. 93), and Kusch’s table of the accusations
of ‘psychologism’ weighted from one ‘school’ against another (1995, p.
45. In a footnote, Husserl refers to Frege’s arguments (along with those of the
Neo-Kantian Paul Natorp) for the separation of psychology and math-
ematics (2001, p. 406), taking them as a given for his own argument. In
the same footnote, he also withdraws the criticisms he made against Frege
in his Philosophie der Arithmetik. Heidegger’s (1978a) mention of Frege’s
work is another notable exception.
46. See Heidegger, 1978a; Kusch, 1995, p. 89.
47. See Mendelsohn, 2005, pp. 2–3. For a sociological account of Frege’s recep-
tion, see Pulkkinnen, 2000. As Kusch points out (1995, pp. 205–206), the
University of Jena was, at the time Frege was working there, an impov-
erished institution at the margins of German academia. See also Dathe,
2005; Carnap, 1963a, pp. 3–5.
48. See Dathe, 2005; Kusch, 1995, pp. 205–206.
49. British Idealism had already developed a form of anti-psychologism;
in particular F. H. Bradley in his Principles of Logic (1883) had attacked
the empiricist view that judgements and inferences are ideas, construed
psychologically.For a discussion of the anti-psychologistic influence on
Moore of F. H. Bradley, G. F. Stout and J. Ward, see Preti, 2008.
50. See Russell, 1905. See also Beaney, 2003, pp. 129–131.
51. See e.g. Carnap, 1963a, p. 3; Mendelsohn, 2005, p. 5.
Notes 191

52. To a large extent, it was through his reading of Peano (who had read
Frege’s work) that Russell had received a lot of Frege’s insights; see Beaney,
2004, pp. 130–131.
53. On the question of the relation of influence between Frege and
Wittgenstein, see e.g. Green, 1999; Reck, 2002.
54. Nevertheless, Husserl’s attitude to the history of ideas is generally a nega-
tive one – this is important in some of his later writings where he sees
philosophy on the path towards becoming rigorous science; see Husserl,
1965, p. 128.
55. Husserl insisted on continuously introducing phenomenology anew –
most of his books’ subtitles include the word ‘introduction’ or some
variant thereof (Husserl, 2001, 1962, 1960 & 1970); see Cumming, 2001,
pp. 3–4; see also Glendinning, 2007, pp. 31–33.
56. Various French philosophers of science and epistemologists (e.g. Cavaillès,
Bachelard, Canguilhem) who opposed themselves to this particular line of
phenomenological philosophers (see Foucault, 1998) were also informed
by Husserl’s early work; see Schrift, 2006, pp. 36–37.
57. See e.g. Alweiss, 2003.
58. See Monk, 1996b.
59. There might be something distorting (and, as Majer notes (1997, p. 37),
mistaken) about reading Husserl through the perspective of either side –
it is possible that a more interesting approach to Husserl is one which is
neither analytical nor continental/‘Husserlian’.
60. Though the Vienna Circle’s manifesto refers explicitly to Brentano and
his students as contributing to the scientific Weltauffassung, emphasising
their development of Bolzano’s insights in logic, no mention of Husserl
is made, but only of Höfler, Meinong, Mally, and Pichler (Carnap, Hahn
& Neurath, 1973, pp. 302–303). Perhaps this omission had been due to
Schlick’s polemical exchange with Husserl.
61. Note also that Husserl was in close contact with various philosophically-
minded mathematicians of the time, for example, Weierstrass, Hilbert,
and Cantor. The significance of this aspect of Husserl’s life and thought is
discussed in Chapter 4, §13. See also Hill & Rosado Haddock, 2000.
62. See Chapter 2, §19.
63. See Chapter 4.
64. See Chapter 5, §5.
65. See Küng, 1993; Miskiewicz, 2009; Lukasiewicz, 2009.
66. See Huemer, 2003. See also Kaufmann, 1940 & 1941.
67. In this list, one may find included almost all of the ‘analytic’ protago-
nists of our subsequent chapters.Another, lesser known, member of the
Circle associated with Kaufmann and interested in phenomenology was
Robert Neumann. Huemer also shows, quoting from Gustav Bergmann’s
diary, that the Vienna Circle ‘phenomenologists’ were considered by
other members to lie quite close to the ‘Wittgensteinians’; Waismann
‘in private recommended reading Husserl’ (Bergmann, 1993, p.
200), leading to a meeting in which Hahn asked Waismann ‘how he
192 Notes

distinguished himself from a phenomenologist’ (p. 200). See Huemer,

2003, p. 153.
68. Bertrand Russell was to review Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen during
the time he served in prison (1986, p. 327; see Ryle, 1970a, p. 9), but
for unknown reasons he did not. Russell also received reports of the
‘intellectual contortions’ (1998, p. 263) involved in Husserl’s phenom-
enology from Norbert Wiener (the mathematician later made famous for
his invention of cybernetics); see Russell, 1998, p. 263. Thus, whereas
Russell had successfully imported the thought of other Germanophone
authors relevant to the Psychologismus-Streit, such as Frege and Meinong,
his role as the importer of new Germanophone philosophy of logic to
Cambridge, coupled with his lack of attention to Husserl, may have partly
caused Husserl’s obscurity.To this may be added the fact that one of the
early importers of Husserl’s philosophy into Cambridge, the self-professed
amateur philosopher T. E. Hulme, was one of the few British philosophers
to have died in the First World War. Hulme had seen Husserl’s views as
closely linked with those of Russell (Hulme, 1915, p. 187) and Moore
(Hulme, 1916). Husserl’s idea of phenomenology as a rigorous science was
deemed by Hulme to be more or less aligned with Russell’s ideas regarding
scientific philosophy; Husserl’s anti-psychologism in logic was considered
by Hulme to go hand in hand with Moore’s anti-psychologism in ethics.
Similar views were also expressed later on by Ryle (see Chapter 4, §3) and
Ayer (see Chapter 3, §4). Hulme’s disagreement with Russell about the war
(Hulme had a pseudonymous polemic exchange with him on the matter
following a lecture by Russell throughout which, Russell claims, Hulme
had insisted on reading his newspaper (North Staffs, 1916; Russell, 1916))
possibly disabled him from convincing Russell himself on his proximity
to Husserl. See also Russell, 2003, pp. 321–326. Interestingly, Hulme’s
anti-psychologism was an influence on extra-philosophical literary
and artistic modernism, particularly on T. S. Eliot; see Jay, 1996; Avery,
2006.Moore was, in fact, indirectly influenced by Husserl, through his
reading of Husserl’s pupil August Messer; see Milkov, 2004. Both Russell
and Moore studied in Germany during the rise of the new experimental
psychology and were influenced by Brentano (as well as his import into
Britain by Ward and Stout). See Bell, 1999; Beaney, 2007, pp. 205–206.
69. Husserl, 1970 & 1950.
70. The lecture series was rapidly deemed a fiasco; see Spiegelberg, 1970 (notice
that Spiegelberg’s article was published in the first pages of the first publi-
cation of a British attempt to practise phenomenology). Nevertheless, it
did bring about two important results: (i) Husserl described phenome-
nology as a ‘transcendental idealism’ which might have misled his audi-
ence of British philosophers into thinking this an apt description of his
views, and some of his later Anglophone commentators into seeing a
break in his work which might have led to the analytic-continental split
(see e.g. Dummett, 1993, pp. 76–83), and (ii) Gilbert Ryle subsequently
Notes 193

took an interest in Husserlian phenomenology.During his stay, Husserl

briefly met Moore, Stout and Broad; see Spiegelberg, 1970, p. 15.
71. Part of this chapter was published as Vrahimis, 2012c.

2 Questioning Metaphysics in Weimar Germany:

Carnap, Heidegger, Nonsense
1. Gatherings of the Davos Hochschule between 1928 and the last session
in 1932 included among the participants Albert Einstein, Jean Piaget,
Paul Tillich, and Marcel Mauss, to name a few; see Kleinberg, 2005, p. 39;
Gordon, 2004, p. 229.
2. Peter Gordon attributes this phrase to the press (2004, p. 229), while
Sallis (1992, p. 209) attributes the phrase ‘intellectual Locarno’ to Jean
3. Plato, Sophist, 245e6–246e1.
4. In his commentary on the dispute, Rosenzweig saw it as a ‘representative
encounter between the old and the new thinking’ (1984, p. 236).
5. The notion that Neo-Kantianism was defeated at Davos has been repeated
in many of the works of scholarly literature regarding the debate. See e.g.
Coskun, 2007; Waite, 1998. Levinas, who had been present at Davos, talks
more subtly of Cassirer as representing ‘an order which was to be undone’,
while ‘Heidegger announced a world that was going to be turned over’
(Levinas & Robbins, 2001, p. 35).
6. The journal had been founded by Carnap and Reichenbach the previous
7. Arthur Pap translated the title as ‘The Elimination of Metaphysics
through the Logical Analysis of Language’ (Carnap, 1959). The German
term Überwindung was incorrectly translated as ‘elimination’. The term
‘elimination’ was employed by Ayer (1936), influencing Pap’s translation.
The term ‘overcoming’ is more appropriate; see Friedman, 2000; Gabriel,
2003.Pap’s translation also mistakenly cites the date of publication as
1932 (Carnap, 1959, p. 60).
8. Cassirer is no orthodox Neo-Kantian, and it is questionable whether he
was still in 1929 somehow a representative of this movement. His later
work includes themes from neo-Hegelianism, Lebensphilosophie, and
even (following Davos) Heideggerian existentialism. See Ferrari, 2010;
Verene, 1969; Skidelsky, 2008, pp. 160–219; Coskun, 2007, pp. 223–244;
Friedman, 2000, p. 101.
9. See Friedman, 2000, pp. 25–39; Crowell, 1999, pp. 187–190; Köhnke,
10. Carnap was also educated within the Neo-Kantian tradition, having
been influenced particularly by Bruno Bauch, who leaned towards the
Southwest school but was also in dialogue with the Marburg school. See
Friedman, 2000, pp. 63–64.
194 Notes

11. The Grammaticae speculativae, on which Heidegger’s thesis was a commen-

tary, was at the time attributed to Scotus, before it was found in 1922 (six
years after Heidegger’s dissertation was written) by Martin Grabmann to
have been written by Thomas of Erfurt: ‘Martin Heidegger has shown
that the Grammatica speculativa hitherto attributed to Duns Scotus, is
compatible with Husserl’s terms and overall outlook, obscuring the struc-
ture and distinctiveness of the medieval original’ (1926, p. 118). This put
an end to Heidegger’s aspirations towards becoming a Scotus scholar. See
Grabmann, 1922.
12. See Friedman, 2000, p. 26; Kühn, 2010.
13. Nevertheless Neo-Kantianism (especially Cassirer) was not absolutely
opposed to German Idealist Kantianism; see Gordon, 2010, pp. 17–18.
14. This change of focus between metaphysics and epistemology is often seen
as caused by Kant’s own shift in emphasis between the first and second
editions of his Critique of Pure Reason; for example Heidegger (1997) sees the
second edition as ‘Kant’s Shrinking-Back from the Transcendental Power
of Imagination’ (p. 112). The preface to the first edition Kant clearly sets
up his problem as that of providing a critique of dogmatic metaphysics,
while the preface to the second edition attempts to relate the Critique of
Pure Reason to the other two critiques; see Hanna, 2001, pp. 14–22.On
the meaning of the term ‘epistemology’ for the Neo-Kantians (in contrast
to the empiricist view), see e.g. Friedman, 1996a, pp. 375–379.
15. See e.g. Beiser, 2009.
16. Thus, Neo-Kantian epistemology paved the way for the later development
of Logical Positivism; see e.g. Uebel, 1992, pp. 17–19.
17. This phrase was first coined by Liebmann (1865), who repeated this as a
refrain at the end of each of the book’s chapters. (Husserl’s famous slogan
‘Back to the “things themselves”’ (2001, p. 88) may have been intended
as a response to Liebmann’s phrase (see Moore, 2012, p. 447).)
18. See Richardson, 2006.
19. These are, however, over-generalisations, imposed over a wide diversity of
approaches to philosophy covering a span of more than half a century;
see Köhnke, 1991.
20. See e.g. Kusch, 1995, p. 99. Carnap was influenced by Vaihinger; see
Carus, 2007, pp. 23–24.
21. See e.g. Gabriel, 2002.
22. During the disputation, Heidegger claims that Husserl had fallen ‘into the
clutches of Neo-Kantianism between 1900 and 1910’ (1997, p. 193). See
e.g. Beaney, 2007, pp. 209–210.
23. See Anderson, 2005, p. 289.
24. See Copleston, 1963, p. 436.
25. See Kusch, 1995, p. 99.
26. See Chapter 1, §1; Kusch, 1995, pp. 190–193.
27. See Kusch, 1995, p. 243.
28. According to Hohendahl (2010), the Neo-Kantian establishment faced
an overall crisis at the end of the Great War; the challenge posed by
Lebensphilosophie may be seen as an initial phase of such a crisis.
Notes 195

29. See Skidelsky, 2008, pp. 160–194. This was paralleled by the vitalist oppo-
sition to Neo-Kantianism in interwar France.
30. See e.g. Windelband, 1915, pp. 273–289.
31. Most Marburg Neo-Kantians were social-democrats or socialists, whereas
the Southwesterners were predominantly conservative, and sometimes
reactionary; see e.g. Mormann, 2000, p. 45; Gordon, 2010, pp. 22–24.
32. See Cassirer, 1929. On Cassirer’s politics see Skidelsky, 2008, pp.
33. See Cooper, 1999.
34. See e.g. Spengler, 1926, pp. 41–43.
35. See e.g. Lukács, 1980 and Marcuse, 1969.
36. Kusch (1995, pp. 211–212) claims that these may be divided into those
(e.g. Rickert) who took Lebensphilosophie as a new term that, like ‘psychol-
ogism’, one may use as an accusation against other philosophers, and
those who attempted to appropriate its force (e.g. Scheller). Kusch briefly
examines Neurath’s response to Spengler and finds it to ‘not deviate
much from other contemporaneous reproaches’ (p. 250). Yet, Neurath’s
‘Anti-Spengler’ introduces (albeit perhaps too quickly) an idea of verifica-
tion which slowly came to be transformed into the positivist ‘elimina-
tion’ of metaphysics. Neurath distinguishes between world-feeling and
world view in a manner which leads to the later distinction between
Weltanschauung and Weltauffassung, and to Carnap’s distinction between
Lebensgefühl and theory. Kusch mentions the political tone of the Vienna
Circle’s manifesto (10 years after Neurath’s ‘Anti-Spengler’) and notes
that it might have functioned to fashionably distinguish the Circle from
apolitical Professorenphilosophie (which was seen as abstaining from real-
life matters). Yet, he fails to add to this the biographical fact that Neurath’s
‘Anti-Spengler’ had been written by a Marxist who had been imprisoned
for his political activities; see also Cartwright, 1996, p. 76.
37. Rickert (1920) criticised Lebensphilosophie by arguing for a philosophical a
priori status of values which is distinct from the alignment of values with
38. Although Neurath’s ideas were worlds apart from Rickert’s, Neurath
cites Rickert’s attack on Lebensphilosophie more or less approvingly in his
critique of Spengler (1973, pp. 209–210).
39. Despite Neurath’s early rejection of Spengler’s views, several concerns
derived from Lebensphilosophie lingered around the Vienna Circle. The
question of the relation of science to life was already set out in the Circle’s
1929 manifesto, which identifies the development of the scientific
Weltauffassung it proposes with its service to life and vice versa (Carnap,
Hahn & Neurath, 1973, p. 318). Surprisingly, Schlick (1927) emphasised
the role of Lebensphilosophie in developing a conception of the meaning
of life. Wittgenstein’s conception of life has an ambiguous relation with
Spengler and Lebensphilosophie; see e.g. DeAngelis, 2007; Haller, 1988, pp.
74–89.Most importantly for our topic, Carnap’s questioning of the theme
of the relation between science and life leads him gradually to his thesis
against metaphysics. The earliest development of this thesis, as well as
196 Notes

his earliest mentions of Heidegger, are to be found in a series of lectures

he presented to the Bauhaus school of Dessau in 1929 (and particularly
the lecture titled ‘Science and Life’); see Galison, 1990; Krunkowski, 1992;
Dahms, 2004; Potochnik & Yap, 2006; Vrahimis, 2012b.
40. Scheller, 1972.
41. See Mormann, 2007; Gabriel, 2003.
42. Köhnke (1991) shows that none of the members of the Neo-Kantian
schools saw themselves as falling under such a description, and goes as
far as to claim that there is no such thing as a Neo-Kantian school or
43. Heidegger might be seen here as being ‘almost deliberately unfair’
(Makkreel & Luft, 2010, p. 5).
44. This point is further explicated in Gordon, 2004, pp. 238–239.
45. But see Sluga, 2001.
46. See Ott, 1993, pp. 84–86.
47. Philipse (1998) identifies five ‘leitmotifs’ (p. 75) in Heidegger’s oeuvre: (i)
meta-Aristotelian, (ii) phenomenologico-hermeneutical, (iii) transcen-
dental (and perhaps the Neo-Kantian influence might enter here), (iv)
Neo-Hegelian, and (v) post-monotheist.
48. As Levinas recalls, during the Hochschule, he, together with Bulnow, paro-
died the dispute in a theatrical sketch, with Levinas painting his hair
white to play the role of Cassirer and Bulnow playing Heidegger. Levinas
offered Bulnow a caricature of Heidegger’s interpretative skill, asserting
that ‘to interpret is to put things upside down’ (Levinas & Robbins, 2001,
p. 34).
49. In the third and fourth editions of the Kant book, Heidegger (1997, p.
xviii) admits that his interpretation had less to do with Kant than with his
own philosophy and thus retracts it.
50. If there is any evidence for such ‘cowardice’ in Kant, an inability to live up
to his discoveries, it is to be found in the preface to the second edition of
the Critique of Pure Reason. Heidegger’s attempt to go where Kant had not
dared go before is justified, for Heidegger, by Kant’s prescription to remain
true to that which is unthought in a philosopher’s work. It is interesting
to see here how Heidegger’s book on Kant thus becomes a predecessor for
Deleuze’s approach to the history of philosophy (see Sellars, 2007), as well
as Derrida’s.
51. See Sadler, 1996, p. 129.
52. Yet, Cassirer had already deviated from that establishment himself,
moving in his Philosophie der symbolischen Formen (1923) away from the
strict epistemological project of his Marburg predecessors and turning
towards a metaphysical philosophy of symbolic forms; see Krois, 1992.
53. Translated in Hamburg, 1964, p. 209.
54. See also Levinas & Robbins, 2001, p. 36. Naturally, being on the Alps,
Heidegger spent a lot of time skiing. Skiing was in fact part of the attrac-
tions of the Hochschule; see Kleinberg, 2005, p. 39. Yet, according to Peter
Gordon,Heidegger frequently appeared at lectures in his ski-clothes – not
because he did not have the time to change into more formal attire, but
Notes 197

because he seemed to enjoy the effect: he wrote to Elisabeth Blochmann

upon his return from Davos that ‘my hope for the new powers among
the youngest [students] has grown stronger ... it was wonderful, when on
intermittent days Riezler and I could get out for excursions,’ and then,
afterwards, ‘fatigued, full of the sunlight and freshness of mountains ... we
made our entrance every evening in our ski-suits amidst the elegance of
evening attire.’ ‘For most of the Docents and audience,’ he adds, ‘this was
something unheard of.’ Some found Heidegger’s informality refreshing,
but Toni Cassirer, Ernst’s wife, seems to have found it displeasing. (2004,
p. 228)It is interesting to note here that Carnap was also a ski aficionado.
One may find in his correspondence with Quine references to his skiing
trips (Quine & Carnap, 1990, pp. 162 & 227). According to Quine (1994),
Carnap ‘was vigorous, apparently quite regular about his exercise ... I knew
from his correspondence and conversation, he’d go for long skiing week-
ends with other philosophers on the Tyrolese Alps’.
55. See also Gordon, 2004, pp. 219–220.
56. This is noted in his wife’s memoirs (Cassirer, 2003, p. 165).
57. As with many of the facts regarding the dispute, this is uncertain. Jean
Cavaillès notes that among the French, only Levinas defended Husserl
and Heidegger (Ferrières, 1982, p. 52), while Hamburg notes the courage
of Cassirer in facing the overwhelming presence of ‘post-Kantians’ ‘drawn
by Heidegger’s presence’ (Hamburg, 1964, p. 208). Perhaps the French
saw Neo-Kantian followers of the French Léon Brunschvicg where the
Germans counted Heideggerians.
58. It is possible that the political nature of the event has been overempha-
sised (e.g. by its presentation in newspapers at the time) when envis-
aged as a dramatic political conflict (rather than an honest philosophical
exchange); see e.g. Friedman, 2000, p. 5; Gordon, 2004, p. 242; Gordon,
2010, pp. 1–42.
59. By the time of the dispute, Cassirer had been the only active German
proponent of Neo-Kantianism. All other Neo-Kantians had either retired
or died. See Kusch, 1995, p. 243.
60. See Kant, 1929, §A142; Kant, 2004, §34.
61. According to Aristotelian logic, in
(1) All S are P,
(2) M is S,
Therefore, (3) M is P.
(2) is the subsumption of a particular object, M, to a general category S.
For Kant, the question which schematism comes to answer (i.e. the ques-
tion of how an intuition comes to be subsumed under a pure concept)
becomes methodically resolved through the application of the categories
to time through a series of syllogisms. The form that these syllogisms take
is roughly one in which the major premise consists of the subsumption of
the schema under a category to which it corresponds, the minor premise
is the subsumption of an object under the schema, and the conclusion
brings us to the subsumption of an object under a category.See also
Patton, 2004, pp. 66–68.
198 Notes

62. ‘Numerus est quantitas phaenomenon, sensatio realitas phaenomenon,

constans et perdurabile rerum substantia phaenomenon, aeternitas neces-
sitas phaenomenon, etc’ (Kant, 1929, p. 186).
63. Whereas in Being and Time finitude denotes death, in Kant and the Problem
of Metaphysics, finitude evolves into the origin of (metaphysical) thought,
that element which renders it both possible and necessary. For an infinite
being, (metaphysical) thought is neither possible nor necessary, whereas
for a finite being, its finitude, by being an issue for itself, demands meta-
physical thinking. For an infinite being, it makes no sense to differentiate
between intellect and sensibility – infinite beings require no mediation
between their concepts and time. Finite beings are required, by their
finiteness, to institute a certain relation between their concepts and their
temporal intuitions – they require a schematism. Humans as finite beings
are required to move from concepts to objects, to think of objects, some-
thing which would have been impossible for infinite beings. See also
Inwood, 1999, pp. 69–71.
64. Cassirer’s response to Heidegger focused on the question ‘how are synthetic
a priori truths possible?’ (Heidegger, 1997, p. 195), extending his criticism
on the one hand to the claim that Heidegger’s interpretation does not
account for the necessary universality of mathematics (Heidegger, 1997,
p. 195; see also Kant, 2004, §§6–13) and on the other hand the centrality
of ethics to the whole of Kant’s philosophy (momentarily in the dispute
(Heidegger, 1997, p. 196), and later on in writing (Cassirer, 1967)). The
detail of Cassirer’s response (and Heidegger’s answer) will not be presented
here; one may consult further Skidelsky, 2008, pp. 195–220; Gordon,
2010; Gordon, 2004, pp. 240–243; Friedman, 2000, pp. 129–145.On the
criticism regarding ethics see e.g. Harries, 2007, pp. 80–85. The thesis
that the ethical is absent from Heidegger’s thinking is disputed in Hodge,
1995.On the influence of Cassirer’s critique of Heidegger on Levinas, see
Leask, 2005.
65. Pos links the attraction of ‘younger’ philosophers to Heidegger to his
extreme emotional nature – his expression of ‘feelings of loneliness, of
oppression, and of frustration’ (1949, p. 68).
66. Friedman (2000, p. 7) points to Carnap’s diaries as evidence of Carnap’s
dialogue with Heidegger at Davos. Rosado Haddock (2008, p. 3) speculates
that Carnap had possibly already met with Heidegger nine years earlier, at
Husserl’s seminar in Freiburg.
67. See Friedman, 2000, p. 8.
68. See Friedman, 2000, p. 8.
69. See e.g. Witherspoon, 2003.
70. Carnap first presented these ideas (mentioning Heidegger) in September
1929. See Dahms, 2004, pp. 368–370.
71. Confusingly, in a later presentation to a British audience (Carnap, 1935,
p. 16), Carnap mentions Pythagoras and Spinoza as metaphysicians. Yet
Carnap later acknowledges that his attack simply does not apply to philos-
ophers who were close to the scientific thinking of their time. He gives the
Notes 199

examples of Aristotle and Kant, noting that their metaphysical views were
not deemed by him as meaningless, but as false (1963b, p. 875).
72. Carnap does not clarify how far the ancient sceptics opposed metaphysics.
It is perhaps to particular aspects of ancient scepticism that Carnap is
alluding to here (for example, their development of Agrippa’s trilemma
rather than their ethics). See also Quine, 1974, pp. 2–3.
73. See Anderson, 2005, p. 302.
74. In his introduction, Carnap (1959) alludes to this when among his failed
predecessors he talks of those who believe metaphysics ‘to be uncertain, on
the ground that its problems transcend the limits of knowledge’ (p. 60).
75. See Carnap, 1936 for a clarification of the shift in Carnap’s concerns from
epistemology to semantics and the logic of science. See Richardson, 1998,
p. 91.
76. This view falls within a more general interpretative framework which
sees Neo-Kantianism as the central influence on Carnap’s early writings
(rather than, for example, Russell, which is the view established by Quine
and Goodman); see e.g. Haack, 1996; Sauer, 1989; Richardson, 1998;
Friedman, 2000.
77. The Neo-Kantians were not, in their totality, averse to metaphysics.
78. These metaphysicians belong to a Kantian tradition insofar as they are
not ‘pre-critical’ dogmatic metaphysicians: in other words, Carnap is
partly mistaken when he attributes to them knowledge of the essence of
things. Nevertheless, he is also partly correct, insofar as these thinkers are
striving, within the limitations set out by Kant, to establish an ontology
rather than an epistemology. See Limniatis, 2008 (esp. pp. 152–190).
79. Though from 1929 to 1931, Heidegger might have appeared, for Carnap,
to be a metaphysician, Heidegger’s views on metaphysics were not always
favourable, and changed throughout his career; see Inwood, 1999, pp.
80. For example, Heidegger held a very ambivalent attitude towards Hegel;
he later set as the task of his historical lectures ‘to place Hegel’s system in
the commanding view and then to think in a totally opposite direction’
(Heidegger, 2000, p. 123).
81. It is likely that by ‘metaphysician’, Carnap simply means whoever
produces nonsensical (i.e. metaphysical) statements.
82. See Inwood, 1999, p. 126.
83. Heidegger is here criticising Cohen’s conception of das Nichts; see Gordon,
2005, p. 50.
84. See Crowell, 2001, p. 81.
85. See Chapter 1, §4b.
86. See Käufer, 2005, pp. 141–144.
87. Heidegger was ‘one of the first German philosophers seriously to read
Frege’ (Simons, 2001, p. 299); see Heidegger, 1978, p. 20. For his negative
remarks on Russell’s logic as mere calculus see Heidegger, 1978, pp. 42–43
& 174. See also Friedman, 2001, p. 39.
88. See Heidegger, 1978a, 1978b, 1978c.
200 Notes

89. See Priest, 2001; Käufer, 2005, pp. 144–146; Crowell, 2001, pp. 76–114;
Mohanty, 1988.
90. See Käufer, 2005, p. 144.
91. See Martin, 2006, pp. 103–146.
92. See Friedman, 2000, pp. 46–47.
93. Heidegger, 1996, pp. 62–67.
94. See Heidegger, 1996, pp. 70–77.
95. See Heidegger, 1996, pp. 68–69.
96. See Heidegger, 1996, p. 63.
97. Heidegger, 1996, §§39–42.
98. Heidegger, 1996, §45.
99. Heidegger, 1996, §§46–53.
100. See Heidegger, 1996, §40.
101. See Heidegger, 1998, p. 88.
102. See Heidegger, 1998, p. 89.
103. Here, ‘more originary’ does not imply temporal priority. To be thrown
in the midst of ready-to-hand entities is always temporally prior to
ontology (but not prior to an understanding of Being). An authentic
relation to the world is temporally posterior but ontologically prior.
104. Heidegger, 1998, p. 85.
105. The sphere of the ontological must be further divided into its pre-on-
tological and ontological components. The pre-ontological is the onto-
logical before it is made explicit, before an account can be given of it. For
example, the movement from anxiety to the understanding of its refer-
ence to nothing is a movement from the pre-ontological to the onto-
logical. See also Inwood, 1999, p. 109.
106. It is not clear, though, that this understanding may be applied to modern
post-Aristotelian logics (e.g. non-binary logics).
107. See Heidegger, 1996, p. 42.
108. The context in which Heidegger makes the distinction quoted above
(between categories and existentials) is that of the general differentiation
between what he calls ‘the Analytic of Dasein’ and the disciplines of
psychology, anthropology, and biology (1996, pp. 42–47).
109. Carnap, 1967, p. 148. The condition is singular and may be applied to
either of the four different ‘languages’ Carnap specifies (syntax, logical
form, epistemology or ‘phenomenology’).
110. In this, Carnap has been influenced by Lebensphilosophie, in particular
through Dilthey’s student Hermann Nohl; see Gabriel, 2003; Gabriel
further cites Naess, 1968 and Patzig, 1966.
111. It must be noted here that Carnap had first presented this thesis to a
group of artists and architects at the Bauhaus school of Dessau in 1929
under the title ‘The misuse of Language’ (Der Mißbrauch der Sprache).
This may be taken as a clue towards also reading his turn against meta-
physics as a protreptic towards artists to take over the gap that will be
left once metaphysicians realise their proper place. See Dahms, 2004,
pp. 368–370; Vrahimis, 2012b. (As Dahms notes, his use of Heidegger
Notes 201

as an example of his thesis was posed in this presentation. Carnap had

asked the Bauhauslers to guess who came up with the phrase Das Nichts
Nichtet, and they suspected it might have been Kurt Schwitters.)
112. A discussion of Carnap’s thought on philosophical style is given in
Wolters, 2004.
113. Anon., 1988.
114. Lange’s notion of Begriffsdichtung was influential on Nietzsche, who
viewed metaphysics as a kind of Begriffsdichtung, an art of concepts; see
Wolters, 2004, p. 28.
115. Intriguingly, Nietzsche was also a musician and composer.
116. For example, the term Überwindung itself is one that is consistently
employed in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (1883), albeit in a poetic manner;
see Friedman, 2000, p. 23; see also Luchte, 2007.
117. Carnap’s obvious target here is Frege and the ‘Julius Caesar problem’
(which Frege introduced as an objection to Hume’s Principle, in order
to demonstrate the necessity of his ‘Basic Law V’ that was subject to
Russell’s paradox). Frege states the problem thus: ‘we can never – to
take a crude example – decide by means of our definitions whether any
concept has the number Julius Caesar belonging to it, or whether that
conqueror of Gaul is a number or is not’ (Frege, 1980b, p. 68); an over-
view of the problem is given in MacBride, 2000. Carnap implies here
that Frege’s objection is meaningless.
118. Carnap further expounds this later on: ‘Another very frequent violation
of logical syntax is the so-called “type confusion” of concepts. ... We have
here a violation of the rules of the so-called theory of types. An arti-
ficial example is the sentence we discussed earlier: “Caesar is a prime
number.” Names of persons and names of numbers belong to different
logical types, and so do accordingly predicates of persons (e.g. “general”)
and predicates of numbers (“prime number”)’ (1959, p. 75).
119. The word archē already had at least two meanings prior to being put to
use by the Pre-Socratics; on the one hand, we can trace back to Homer’s
Iliad its being used to mean ‘temporal beginning’ (Iliad 22.116) in the
way Carnap points out, but in the same text the verb archō, from which
the noun archē is derived, is used to indicate governance (Iliad 2.494)
(we later find Pindar and other texts pre-dating the Pre-Socratics using
archē to indicate sovereignty) connoting something spatial rather than
temporal (the word may be used to indicate a place of governance).
See Lidell, Scott & Jones, 1883, p. 227.Furthermore, one might claim
that the word archē is transformed into a cosmological, quasi-meta-
physical concept precisely because of its earlier ambiguity. Thus, from
Anaximander to Plato’s Timaeus, one can say that the term archē desig-
nates a temporal origin which (by virtue of its being a first cause) has
some form of authority over the physical organisation of the cosmos.
120. On the ‘nonsense’ which results when Heidegger translates the
Pre-Socratics by going back to the ‘original’ Pre-Platonic uses of their
terms (legein, logos, alētheia, physis), see Adkins, 1962.
202 Notes

121. It is important to note here that Husserl’s talk of the archai of the sciences
was one which was made in parallel with Husserl’s early rejection of
metaphysics; see e.g. Schmitt, 1962a & 1962b; Zahavi, 2003; Priest,
122. See Heidegger, 1993, 1998d, 2007.
123. See e.g. Rorty, 1991; Derrida, 1991.
124. See also Stone, 2006, pp. 221–222.
125. It is possible that Carnap might have meant that the sentence ‘Nothing
is outside’ (p. 70) is here translated in another language (according to
the relevant rules of transformation), into the sentence ‘There is nothing
(does not exist anything) which is outside’ (p. 70), which has a different
logical structure.
126. Heidegger agrees that he does not use ‘nothing’ as a neologism; see
Stone, 2006.
127. E.g. Conant, 2001; Käufer, 2005.
128. In his response (though not explicitly addressed to Carnap), Heidegger
(1998c) claims that ‘the question “What is metaphysics?” ... springs from
a thinking that has already entered into the overcoming [Überwindung]
of metaphysics’ (p. 231). Another implicit response to Carnap is found
in Heidegger, 1998d.
129. See Friedman, 1996b, p. 48.
130. See e.g. Friedman, 2000, p. 12.
131. See Stone, 2006; Gabriel, 2003.
132. Heidegger later discusses the Überwindung (Heidegger, 1969, p. 43) and
afterwards Verwindung (Heidegger, 1959) of metaphysics.
133. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1026a.
134. See Atkins, 1962.
135. In an earlier translation, ‘illusory problems’ is more appropriately trans-
lated as ‘pseudo-problems’ (Heidegger, 1962, p. 262).
136. See Heidegger, 1971.
137. See Friedman, 2003, p. 20.
138. See Reck, 2007. On the relation of logical positivism to the ‘soft’ sciences,
see Hardcastle, 2007; Uebel, 2007; Nemeth, 2007.
139. See also Friedman, 2000.
140. See also Gabriel, 2003.
141. See Gordon, 2010, pp. 43–48.
142. Carnap studied under Frege in 1910 and 1913–14; see Thiel & Beaney,
2005, p. 30.
143. See Rosado Haddock, 2008; Mayer, 1991, 1992; Ryckman, 2007; Gabriel,
144. On the Husserlian influence on Der Raum see e.g. Sarkar, 2003.
145. See Rosado Haddock, 2008; Ryckman, 2007; Roy, 2004.
146. See Friedman, 1996a.
147. Nieli (1987, pp. 61–64) traces the change of attitude back to Carnap,
1967, whereas Mormann (2007) points to Carnap, Hahn & Neurath,
1973 as an important turning point.
Notes 203

148. See e.g. Carnap, 1950; Quine & Carnap, 1990, p. 406. On the question
of the influence of Husserl on Carnap’s notion of explication (devel-
oped from his earliest work to 1950), see Beaney, 2004. See also Beaney,
149. See Ryckman, 2007, pp. 91–92; Rosado Haddock, 2008, p. 2.
150. Rosado Haddock (2008, p. 3) points to the resemblance with Carnap of
a person in the seminar photograph but goes on to also question this
151. See Rosado Haddock, 2008, pp. 1–2; Carnap, 1967, pp. 4–5.
152. Wittgenstein (1922) announces that most philosophical propositions are
nonsense (4.003), which throughout the Tractatus can be taken (through
a problematically proto-verificationist reading) to mean neither true nor
false (e.g. 5.5351, 6.51).Furthermore, in the passage which follows his
announcement, he attributes to Russell’s theory of descriptions the view
that ‘the apparent logical form of a proposition need not be its real one’
(4.0031). Both Russell and Wittgenstein’s reading of Russell are certainly
sources for Carnap’s division between logical and historico-grammatical
syntax.Carnap’s views on nonsense may have resulted from Carnap’s
break with Wittgenstein’s conception of meaning; see Carus, 2007, p.
153. See e.g. Conant, 2001; Hacker, 2003.
154. See Carnap, 1963a, pp. 25–26. Carnap’s relations with Wittgenstein
ended traumatically in 1932; upon reading the offprint of Carnap’s latest
publication in Erkenntnis Wittgenstein became enraged, thinking that
Carnap was stealing his ideas; see Hintikka, 1996, pp. 131–132.
155. The text referred to here consists of notes typed by Waismann in the
presence of Schlick in 1929, later published as the ‘Lecture on Ethics’
(Wittgenstein, 1965), which excluded his very explicitly approving
comments on Heidegger; see also Murray, 1974.Wittgenstein remarks
that ‘Ich kann mir wohl denken was Heidegger mit Sein und Angst meint’
(Wittgenstein, Waismann & McGuinness, 1967, p. 68) (‘I can readily
think what Heidegger means by Being and Dread’ (Wittgenstein, 1978,
p. 80)). Given the date in which the discussion took place, Wittgenstein
must have been referring to ‘Was ist metaphysik?’In the undated notes
he dictated to Waismann for Schlick, titled ‘On the character of disquiet’
(Wittgenstein, Waismann & Baker, 2003, pp. 69–77), Wittgenstein also
quotes Heidegger’s ‘Das Nichts Nichtet’, perhaps less approvingly this
time. As Gordon Baker suspects (Wittgenstein, Waismann & Baker, 2003,
p. xvi), it is probable that he dictated these notes in December 1932,
which makes it likely that here Wittgenstein is responding to Carnap. This
might, in turn, imply that Wittgenstein’s attitude is one of replacing
the kind of criticism Carnap weighed against Heidegger. Instead of
looking for a criterion for differentiating between sense and nonsense,
Wittgenstein produces a series of aporetic remarks on Heidegger’s view.
156. On Frege’s views of senselessness, see e.g. Diamond, 1991, pp. 73–93;
Conant, 2000. The Fregean notion of nonsense which both Diamond
204 Notes

and Conant find in Wittgenstein is one which they contrast with the
Vienna Circle’s positivistic interpretation of Wittgenstein’s conception
of nonsense.Frege held that expressions such as ‘There is Julius Caesar’
(1997, p. 189) are senseless (meaning neither true or false) because they
employ a proper name (i.e. an object) as a concept word. Frege’s notion
of a sentence being senseless if and only if it is neither true nor false is
undoubtedly important in the development of Carnap’s thoughts on the
subject (as well as Russell and Wittgenstein’s).
157. See Gabriel, 2007, pp. 70–73. As we have seen, Frege (and his ‘Julius
Caesar problem’) is one of the targets of Carnap’s criticism in this
158. See Bar-Hillel, 1957.
159. This view is originally ‘not Carnap’s, nor Frege’s, nor Russell’s or
Whitehead’s or Hilbert’s, but Husserl’s’ (Rosado Haddock, 2008, p. 100);
see also Bar-Hillel, 1957, p. 367.
160. For Husserl, this distinction is particularly important, since meaningless-
ness is a method for the detection of differences between categories of
meaning; thus, this method becomes central to Husserl’s development of
his system of categories; see Thomasson, 2009.
161. The term ‘developed’ should be understood to imply here that a priori
grammatical rules appear in languages which already have certain
‘linguistic habits’ (and thereby it might seem that the a priori rules
somehow presuppose the historical formation of the a posteriori ones,
though they are logically prior).
162. In the Logical Investigations, Husserl misleadingly gives the expression (8)
‘a round square’ as an example of an absurd expression. He later clarifies
(Husserl, 1969 & 1975) that he is referring only to formal combinations
of meanings (as in the example given above), excluding the ‘material of
knowledge’ (Husserl, 2001, p. 194) entailed in the more concrete aspect
of (8). See Bachelard, 1968, pp. 7–8.Husserl emphasises that the laws
of formal grammar (what Husserl calls ‘the laws of complex meaning’
(2001, p. 183)) guard against nonsense, while ‘the laws of pure logic
establish what an object’s possible unity requires in virtue of its pure form’
thus guarding against formal absurdity.
163. ‘An object (e.g. a thing, state of affairs) which unites all that the unified
meaning conceives as pertaining to it by way of its “incompatible”
meanings, neither exists nor can exist, though the meaning itself exists’
(Husserl, 2001, p. 193). See also Tugendhat, 1982, pp. 107–120.
164. Formal absurdity results if an object is a priori impossible (due to the laws
of pure logic), while material absurdity is ultimately ontological (e.g.
results from combining ‘round’ and ‘square’). In 1931, Carnap would
have objected to the latter (though not the former).
165. Bar-Hillel (1957) points out that Husserl’s laws for avoiding nonsense
and formal countersense are ‘an interesting anticipation of the modern
conceptions of rules of formation and rules of transformation’ (p. 366)
central to Carnap’s work. Though the former may be true, it is possible
Notes 205

that the latter is not as straightforward as Bar-Hillel would have it,

given the difference between Husserl’s ontological conception of mate-
rial countersense and Carnap’s semantic conception of the rules of
166. See e.g. Alweiss, 2003. Complicating things further, Kusch (1988) claims
that Heidegger’s critique of Husserl’s theory of meaning brings him to a
view of meaning which is also held by Frege and Wittgenstein.
167. See Glendinning, 2007, pp. 40–48.
168. See Zahavi, 2003, pp. 5–8.
169. One criticism of both the positivism that Carnap had stood for and
Heideggerian metaphysics comes from Horkheimer, who polemically
(and perhaps unfairly) relates the positivist view of science to the rise of
fascism (Horkheimer, 1982).
170. ‘ ... my Marxist views on how metaphysics will be overcome through
reformation of the substructure’ (Friedman, 2000, p. 21).
171. See Galison, 1990; Carus, 2007. See also Stadler, 2007, pp. 19–31.
172. See Friedman, 2000, pp. 17–21.
173. See Bestegui, 2005, p. 162.
174. See Matar, 2006, pp. 29–44; Cooper, 1999.

3 Was There a Sun before Men Existed?: Ayer, Sartre,

Bataille, and Merleau-Ponty
1. Ambrosino, Wahl, and Bataille were members of the Collège de Sociologie
and possibly also of ‘Acéphale’, the secret society founded by Bataille.
It is still unclear which members of Bataille’s circle, apart from Bataille,
were really members of Acéphale. Jean Wahl (1937) did write an article
which was published in the Acéphale journal, though he most prob-
ably did not take part in their meetings. See also Surya, Fijalkowski &
Richardson, 2002, pp. 235–254.
2. Ayer seems to have been introduced to the Parisian intelligentsia by his
various girlfriends. For example, regarding Albert Camus, Ayer remarked
that ‘I don’t know his work well, but he and I were friends: we were
making love to twin sisters after the war’ (Rogers, 2002, p. 197).
3. He met Merleau-Ponty through Francette Drin, the sister of his girlfriend
Nicole Bouchet de Fareins (Rogers, 2002, pp. 192–193).
4. Delmer was a British painter and artists’ model, famously depicted by
Epstein, Picasso, Giacometti, and Bacon. Born Isabel Nicholas, she had
married several times and was later known as Isabel Lambert and Isabel
5. Delmer also had an affair with Bataille; Francis Bacon mentions this in an
interview given to the Paris Match magazine the year he died (Maubert,
1992), in the context of confessing his own love affair with Isabel.On
her collaboration with Bataille, see Bataille, Waldberg & Lebel, 1995;
Waldberg & Waldberg, 1992.
206 Notes

6. See also Rogers, 2002, pp. 191–206.

7. See Trakakis, 2007.
8. Ayer’s film criticism was published in the Nation (February–May 1942)
under the nickname P. H. Rye, an allusion to the Heraclitean ta panta
rhei (everything flows), as well as the area called Rye in New York, where
his children had been evacuated to in the period of 1940–1943. See Ayer,
1977, p. 259; Rogers, 2002, p. 176.
9. Ayer, 1945, 1946a. Ayer went on to write numerous pieces on Sartre; see
Ayer, 1946b, 1948, 1950, 1961, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1984. Ayer, together
with Stuart Hampshire, also participated in a discussion of Sartre’s philos-
ophy on BBC radio in 1958.
10. What is important about these dates is, obviously, the ascent of Hitler to
power during this time, which would lead to the gradual dispersal of the
Circle. Given these circumstances, the political stance of the Circle was
also intensified during these years. It is thus quite surprising that Ayer
would later downplay the role of politics in the development of Logical
Positivism. See e.g. Magee, 1982, pp. 119–120.
11. Ayer & Honderich, 1991, p. 209.
12. According to Ayer, Ryle had explained that ‘We know roughly what
Wittgenstein’s doing at Cambridge but we don’t know what’s happening
in Vienna. Go there, find out, and tell us’ (Magee, 1982, p. 128).
13. Ayer cites Carnap’s article (Ayer, 1936, p. 36) but does not identify any
differences between their respective theses.
14. In fact, even as late as 1988, Ayer talked of Heidegger and Derrida as
‘modern charlatans’, saying that he is ‘very sad to learn that their rubbish
is acquiring popularity in this country, appealing to those who mistake
obscurity for profundity’ (Ayer, 1991, p. 3).
15. In other words, whereas in 1932, when Carnap published the article, Hitler
had not yet come to power, by 1936 and the publication of Language,
Truth, and Logic, Heidegger had already failed in his attempt at becoming
the official philosopher of Nazism.
16. Russell’s import of Meinong into an Anglophone context led to the use
of the phrase Meinongian to mean, among other things, someone who
thinks ‘nothing’ is a name, a view which, as Oliver (1999) shows, was
closer to those held by early Russell (pp. 263–264) than by Meinong (pp.
17. E.g. Friedman, 2000; Gabriel, 2003; Stone, 2006.
18. In all his later, more detailed, restatements of his criticism of Heidegger
(e.g. 1969, p. 213), Ayer repeats this misreading of Carnap and even gives
a more generally erroneous and implausible interpretation of Heidegger’s
work. For example, in both his article ‘Reflections on Existentialism’
(1969) and his chapter on ‘Phenomenology and Existentialism’ in his
Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (1984), he attributes to Heidegger the
position of deriving a theory of time based on ‘psychological concepts
with metaphysical frillings’ (1969, p. 208). This demonstrates a funda-
mental misunderstanding of Heidegger, insofar as Heidegger’s work is
Notes 207

concerned with a certain anti-psychologistic turn in the philosophy of

logic (following Husserl). Heidegger, in Being and Time, is concerned with
arguing that those concepts, which Ayer is describing as psychological,
are precisely not so – they are fundamentally ontological.
19. Ayer draws a line between religiously-minded Heideggerian phenom-
enology and Sartrean atheistic existentialism, being perhaps more sympa-
thetic to Sartre than to Heidegger precisely because of his disagreement
with the latter on the moral implications of his claims. For example,
he claims that ‘Sartre is not so ponderous as Heidegger, but his method
is basically the same. On the subject of time and negation he follows
Heidegger closely, though without the extravagancies of the “clear night
of the nothing.” But he has some views of his own ... ’ (1969, p. 214). Ayer
is ambiguous on the difference between Sartre’s concept of nothingness
and Heidegger’s. Although he appears, as late as 1969, to bundle them
together, in a later text, perhaps catching up with Sartre scholarship, he
claims that Heidegger’s ‘Das Nichts selbst Nichtet’ (the nothing itself
nothings) was ‘mistranslated by Sartre ... as “le néant se néantisé” (“the
nothing negates itself”)’ (1984, p. 229).
20. See Rée, 1993. As Rée points out, the quintessential work of British exis-
tentialism was Colin Wilson’s 1956 The Outsider.
21. A discussion of the relation between these two philosophical movements
and modernism (in which the title of modernism is claimed for the
Logical Positivists) is given in Quinton, 1982.
22. E.g. Sartre, 1946.
23. A review of the fundamental points of agreement between positivistic and
existentialist approaches to ethics is given in Meyerhoff, 1951. See also
Wiggins, 1988.
24. The radical separation between Sartre’s work in Being and Nothingness on
metaphysics and the philosophy of mind on the one hand and his ethics
on the other, is perhaps more problematic than Ayer found it to be; see
Glendinning, 2007, pp. 100–118.
25. A concise polemic against Ayer’s criticisms may be found in Knight, 1958,
p. 190.
26. The critique of Sartre’s concept of nothingness as nonsensical is only one
of the criticisms which Ayer, in 1944, levelled against Sartre’s doctrine.
He also objects to Sartre’s use of Husserlian intentionality (Ayer, 1945,
p. 13) and more generally to his distinction between l’en-soi (which he
translates as ‘object-in-itself’ opposing it to Kant’s ‘thing-in-itself’) and
le pour-soi (1945, pp. 12–15) with its consequent account of sincerity
and mauvais-foi (1945, pp. 16–18). Also, following his critique of Sartre’s
account of the Nothing, Ayer dismisses Sartre’s account of temporality
(1945, pp. 20–26).It is interesting to note that Ayer’s criticism of the
Sartrean account of temporality based on his objection to Sartre’s use
of ‘nothing’ is very much in parallel with the debate between Ayer and
Merleau-Ponty, which is discussed in the following pages. Ayer believes
that, since Sartre’s conception of nothingness is nonsensical (and since
208 Notes

his distinction between l’en-soi and le pour-soi is not sustainable), then

Sartre cannot meaningfully distinguish between a temporality which
exists for le pour-soi only, and l’en-soi which does not occupy any temporal
realm. Merleau-Ponty also criticised Sartre’s distinction between l’en-soi
and le pour-soi, although along different lines than those taken by Ayer.
Merleau-Ponty’s account of temporality is one which is at least partly a
consequence of his criticism of Sartre’s dichotomy.
27. A similar use of Carnap and Lewis Carroll is made by Quine in his Word
and Object (1960, p. 133), where he also links this confusion regarding the
use of the word nothing to Plato’s Parmenides and to Hume’s unsympa-
thetic interpretation of Locke’s defence of universal causality. As in Ayer’s
use, this further complicates what Carnap’s argument is taken to imply,
since the cases Quine discusses are quite distinct from that of Heidegger.
Whereas, for example, Hume’s interpretation of Locke concerns the use of
‘nothing’ where a contradiction ensues if nothing is considered as some-
thing, Heidegger, as we have seen, is well aware of this contradiction, and
in fact Carnap distinguishes between nonsense and absurdity when he
accuses Heidegger of uttering nonsense.
28. See Richmond, 2007.
29. Manger (1961), perhaps confused by Ayer’s formulation of his objection,
claims that Sartre could not have made the elementary contradiction (i.e.
the mistake of confusing nothing for something) which Ayer attributes to
30. There is, of course, a fundamental difference between Sartre and Heidegger’s
accounts of nothingness, which eventually leads to their dispute over
humanism. It is perhaps important here to note that Sartre’s criticism of
Heidegger’s use of nothing amounts to the claim that Heidegger treats
nothing as if it did something (rather than man, who is the real doer
according to Sartre).
31. Ayer’s review was summarised by Acton (1947, p. 164). To an extent,
the effect was negative; for example, C. A. Mace wrote a highly polemic
review of P. J. R. Dempsey’s 1950 The Psychology of Sartre, in which Sartre
is ridiculed (see Rée, 1993, p. 14), while in 1954, Russell included ‘The
Existentialist’s Nightmare: The Achievement of Existence’ (1954, pp.
36–39) in a collection of quasi-satirical stories.
32. See e.g. Murdoch, 1953; Warnock, 1965; Plantinga, 1958. According to
Murdoch, Ayer is (despite not claiming the title) an existentialist as much
as Sartre, the common characteristic being ‘the identification of the true
person with the empty choosing will’ (Murdoch, 2001, p. 34). Collini
(2006) calls him ‘plus Existentialiste que l’ Existentialiste’ (p. 398).
33. Gilbert Ryle had previously compared Husserl’s philosophical endeavours
to the early work of Moore and Russell, as well as Frege; see Ryle, 1932b,
1971b. Similar views were expressed by T. E. Hulme as early as 1915
(Hulme, 1915, p. 187; 1916).It is not clear whether Ayer had already come
to such a conclusion independently in 1951; it is possible that he learned
that forms of analytic philosophy might be related to phenomenology
Notes 209

from the 1958 Royaumont colloquium. He expressed a similar view in

1959, when he argued that linguistic analysis is comparable to phenom-
enology (Taylor and Ayer, 1959, pp. 121–123).
34. Nevertheless, this is not altogether true; Ayer’s attempts at criticising
Merleau-Ponty’s views (Taylor and Ayer, 1959; Ayer, 1984) are much more
detailed, sustained (and perhaps plausible) than his all-too-quick attacks
on Heidegger.
35. Ayer comes close to this point when he notes that Merleau-Ponty’s quasi-
idealistic thesis (i.e. the position over which the two were arguing in
1951) is a form of anthropocentrism (Ayer, 1984, pp. 225–226), which he
also links to pragmatism; unfortunately, Ayer in 1984 does not elaborate
on the relation of this thesis to the Heidegger-Sartre dispute which he had
earlier rejected as nonsense.
36. Heidegger’s letter (1998b), written to Jean Beaufret in 1946, was published
in 1947.
37. Sartre’s quite elaborate conception of nothingness exceeds the bounds
of this study. A more complete introduction, followed by an account of
Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of Sartre’s humanism, is given in Descombes,
1980, pp. 48–74.
38. Cf. Taylor and Ayer, 1959, pp. 123–124.
39. Merleau-Ponty correlates the notion of ‘scientific explanation’ with both
the metaphysical position of realism, and more generally with empiri-
cism (though he does acknowledge that empiricism leads to idealism);
see e.g. Priest, 2003, pp. 90–92; Martin, 2003; James, 2007. Empiricism is
connected with what Merleau-Ponty calls realism insofar as it holds that
a world that exists independently of any subject is the cause of perceptual
experience.Note that Merleau-Ponty (2002, p. 27) explicitly refers to the
Vienna Circle’s atomism as an example of empiricism.
40. By idealistic analysis, Merleau-Ponty is referring to the insights of
Neo-Kantian idealism as primarily developed in France by Léon
Brunschvicg. See e.g. Flynn, 2004.
41. The aporia between realism and idealism was one that played a central
role in shaping the phenomenological tradition, particularly since the
early Husserl thought phenomenology overcame this metaphysical
issue; see Zahavi, 2003. Heidegger and Carnap, both students of Husserl,
similarly saw this aporia as a paradigmatic pseudoproblem. By contrast,
Merleau-Ponty did not reject the problem itself, but rather the opposed
theses associated with it.The drive towards rejecting this aporia may be
seen to originate in nineteenth century science, from Fourier to Mach
and beyond, and its move away from claims as to the ultimate reality
of its objects. Thus, it is strange that Merleau-Ponty associates scientific
explanation with realism, given the actual rejection of such a view by
scientists (who came closer to his own middle-ground between realism
and idealism).
42. See Hammond, Howarth & Kent, 1995, chapter 5. See also Glendinning,
2007, p. 131.
210 Notes

43. Merleau-Ponty attempts to show the limitations of the idealist-realist

dilemma by offering an account of ‘embodied subjectivity’. He finds the
question of embodiment interesting precisely because he sees the body
as a site which is neither in consciousness nor for it, neither subject nor
object, but in between this bi-lateral opposition. Husserl’s attempt to
describe the body in terms of an ‘ownness sphere’ is not the strongest
aspect of his phenomenology. Heidegger’s criticism of Husserl’s assump-
tion of a pure consciousness opens up a path away from the purity of
subject and object. Thus, it becomes Merleau-Ponty’s task to follow this
path and to offer a phenomenological description of a consciousness that
is not ‘pure’ but embodied.
44. Baldwin claims (albeit very briefly) that this theory of meaning is made
redundant by the discussions of meaning from Logical Positivism to
Putnam and Kripke; see Merleau-Ponty & Baldwin, 2004, p. 20.
45. Note here that talk of a ‘world’ (both by Merleau-Ponty and Sartre) refers
to an anthropocentric concept, a human world.
46. Merleau-Ponty ascribes to a species of phenomenological presentism, i.e.
the view according to which one may only understand time from the
inside, as it is lived. Merleau-Ponty uses the image of a boat floating in a
river: from the perspective of the traveller, there is a kind of deceivingly
non-moving horizon (analogous to the distant past) which is contrasted
with the visible motion of the nearby scenery (analogous to the move-
ment towards the future). The past and the future are only accessible from
the point of view of the present and do not exist independently of that
perspective. This, in turn, implies that without such a perspective, there
could be no meaningful reference to past or future time – there could be
no ‘objective’ past out there that existed prior to a being-in-the-world
for which it would be meaningful. See also Romdenh-Romluc, 2009, pp.
47. This is also Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of Sartrean humanism, with its
assumption of a strict dichotomy between being-for-itself and being-in-it-
self, in which the former only is identified with what is properly human.
48. Ayer’s puzzlement is undertaken in the context of his criticism of Merleau-
Ponty’s account of temporality (1984, pp. 224–226). Ayer employs here
the idea of two types of time series, (a) one in which events are related
by being either before or after one another and (b) one in which events
are related in terms of past, present and future; this idea may be orig-
inally found in McTaggart, 1908. Merleau-Ponty points out that series
(b) is always relevant to the temporal position of a subject. Ayer’s criti-
cism consists in pointing out that series (a) need not be so. This, for Ayer,
renders the ‘idealist thicket’ (Ayer, 1984, p. 224) into which Merleau-
Ponty is led redundant.
49. Wahl, who was an important ‘existentialist’, introduced pragmatism
and early analytic philosophy to France; see Wahl, 1925; Wahl, 1932.
As we shall see in Chapter 4, Wahl was also involved in organising the
Royaumont colloquium.
Notes 211

50. ‘The depth of this distinction may be questioned, but the fact that he
frames it in these terms does not diminish the force of Merleau-Ponty’s
argument’ (Ayer, 1984, p. 220).
51. Cf. Carman’s (2007) comparison of analytic and continental notions of
52. Ayer is here replying to Taylor’s exposition of the phenomenological view
that ‘perception is a kind of behaviour’ (Taylor and Ayer, 1959, p. 96),
i.e. that it is active. Taylor contrasts this phenomenological view with
the empiricist view of perception as passive, whereby impressions acquire
their significance by association ‘in the sense of a physiologically-defined
stimulus’ (Taylor and Ayer, 1959, p. 96). Taylor sees empiricism as aligned
with a problematic behaviourism; Ayer concedes that behaviourism ‘faces
obvious difficulties, but I am not so easily persuaded by Mr. Taylor that
they are insuperable’ (Taylor and Ayer, 1959, p. 115).
53. See Merleau-Ponty, 2002, pp. 17–18.
54. In 1961, Merleau-Ponty gave a lecture (hitherto unpublished) at
Manchester on the subject of Wittgenstein’s philosophy (Mays & Brown,
1972, p. 20).
55. It is followed, a year later in Britain, by a brief statement made in a review
of Croce’s My Philosophy by Isaiah Berlin, who claims that ‘no student of
contemporary philosophy, however superficial, can fail to observe that
it is divided by a chasm which divides the main portion of the conti-
nent of Europe on the one hand, from the Anglo-American world with
its Scandinavian, Austrian and Polish intellectual dependencies’ (Berlin,
1952, p. 574). Note the similarity in the imagery involved (‘chasm’,
‘abyss’), as well as the closeness of the dates; this might imply that Ayer
had been Berlin’s source. See Rée, 1993.
56. See Himanka, 2000 and Critchley, 2001, pp. 35–36.
57. One phenomenon related to Bataille’s claim is the lack of imports of
French books into England during the Second World War; see Acton,
1947. (Note that Acton, in giving a survey of at least eight years in which
French philosophy had been neglected in England, cites Ayer’s criticism
of Sartre in Horizon – but no other authors critical of Sartre.)
58. Sartre, 1975. See also Heimonet, 1996; Hollywood, 2002, pp. 25–36.

Chapter 4 ‘La Philosophie Analytique’ at Royaumont:

Gilbert Ryle’s Ambivalent Phenomenology
1. See Gellner (1959, p. 242). Some mistakenly thought the colloquium took
place in 1960; see Rée, 1993, p. 14.
2. See e.g. the report on the colloquium in the Times Literary Supplement
(Anon., 1963).
3. Royaumont was followed, in Britain, by a Symposium of the Aristotelian
Society devoted to ‘Phenomenology and Linguistic Analysis’ (discussed in
Chapter 3, §6); see Taylor & Ayer, 1959.Another effort which attempted
212 Notes

to ‘avoid ... a repetition of the Royaumont Colloquium’ (Mays & Brown,

1972, p. 20) was the ‘Philosophers into Europe’ series of symposia, organ-
ised in 1969 by the University of Southampton; see Mays & Brown,
4. See Apostel, 1962; Beth, 1962.
5. See Batens, 1996, p. 137.
6. See Feferman & Feferman, 2004, pp. 181, 206 & 249–252.
7. See Gross & Dearin, 2003, pp. 1–13. Perelman had been Apostel’s super-
visor and, together with Devaux, they formed a Belgian ‘school’ of philos-
ophers affiliated with (and also critical of) early developments in ‘analytic’
philosophy; see Gochet, 1975.
8. Bocheński, 1961 & 1963.
9. See Whitehead, 1939 & 1969; Russell, 1965, 1969, 1971a & 1971b; Devaux,
1967 & 2007.
10. See Wahl, 1925 & 1932. Wahl’s commentary on Whitehead and Russell
had been particularly influential on Deleuze; see Sellars, 2007, p. 555.
11. See Berger, 1972.
12. See Cournand & Lévy, 1973.
13. See Van Breda & Taminiaux, 1956 & 1959; Van Breda, 1959.
14. See Brun, 1965, 1981 & 1988.
15. See Alquié, 1950, 1955, 1974 & 1981; Deleuze & Parnet, 2007, p. 12.
16. See Acton, 1939 & 1947; Ryle, Hodges & Acton, 1932.
17. See Gewirth, 1996, pp. 28–29.
18. Williams describes himself as ‘both deniably and undeniably, an analytic
philosopher’ (2006, p. 201).
19. See e.g. Gochet, 1975.
20. See Rée, 1993.
21. See Smith, 2006.
22. Rée (1993) confusingly claims that ‘the French hosts manifested a respectful
curiosity about “Anglo-Saxon philosophy”, and “the Oxford School”, but
“the chorus of Oxford analysts” huddled together in self-defence, as if they
feared some kind of intellectual infection from the over-friendly conti-
nentals’ (p. 15). Rée cites as the source of his quotation Beck, 1962, p. 230;
here ‘le choer des analystes d’Oxford’ are in fact responding with cries of
‘Hear, Hear’ to Austin’s pleasure in finding a kindred spirit in Leo Apostel.
This is far from self-defence against ‘intellectual infection’ – in fact it reaf-
firms the irreducibility of Royaumont into a strict division between two
sides, which would render the ‘infection’ of Oxford philosophy by some
unique continental other impossible.Furthermore, Rée claims that ‘Ayer
earned gratitude for making it clear to van Breda that he was wasting
his time: analytical philosophy as a whole, he explained, had a “nega-
tive attitude ... towards all philosophical work on the continent”’ (p. 15).
Here it is perhaps obscured that it is Van Breda, not Ayer, who is quoted
as speaking. Van Breda inferred this ‘negative attitude’ (Beck, 1962, 344)
from Ayer’s mistaken differentiation (prompted a question by Van Breda
(p. 339)) between philosophy concerned with language (either Russellian
Notes 213

or Oxonian) and Husserl’s non-linguistic phenomenology (which, he

implies following Ryle, leads to a conception of philosophy as ‘surpa-
science’ (p. 340)). Van Breda concludes that the ‘pure and simple truth’
(p. 344) is that neither many continentals are interested in Anglophone
philosophy, nor vice versa. (Note that he does not talk of Anglophone
philosophy but ‘your philosophy’, addressing the Oxonians in the second
person – and one might imagine him turning towards some place where
all the non-continentals were seated together.)
23. See Brandl, 2002, p. 149.
24. Ryle might mislead one into seeing his affair with phenomenology as an
‘early flirtation’ (Urmson, 1967, p. 269) which he soon overcame; yet his
writings on the subject span from his earliest published work to at least
1958; see Thomasson, 2002, p. 118; Brandl, 2002, pp. 144–145.
25. See Chapter 2, §19.
26. See Thomasson, 2002, esp. pp. 123–128.
27. See Chapter 2, §§18–19.
28. This fact only became widely known in the Anglophone world through
the work of Føllesdal (1958), and Ryle may be excused for having, in the
nineteen-seventies, ignored it.
29. Ryle’s expertise on Husserl led to his supervising Theodor Adorno’s crit-
ical study of Husserl, undertaken at Oxford between 1934 and 1937. See
Kramer & Wilcock, 1999; Müller-Doohm, 2005, pp. 190–194.
30. Ryle, 1927, 1932b, 1971b, 1929.
31. Ryle, Hodges & Acton, 1932.
32. See Schuhmann, 1977, p. 340; Moran, 2000, p. 87.
33. See Simons, 1992, p. 155.
34. In the same month, Ryle met and ‘struck up a friendship’ (Monk, 1990, p.
275) with Wittgenstein at the joint session of Mind and the Aristotelian
Society in Nottingham; see also Ryle, 1970a, p. 5. As Beale (2010, p.
15) shows, it is possible that Wittgenstein had become aware of Ryle’s
review of Heidegger, and this may have influenced his own sympathetic
comments on Heidegger, dictated to Schlick later that year.
35. Ryle later unofficially notes (in his correspondence) that he ‘may well
have found in Sein und Zeit (not the Meaning/Nonsense theory that I
wanted), but anti-dualistic cum pro-behaviouristic thoughts which were
later congenial to me’ (Murray, 1992, p. 339).
36. See also Ryle, 1970b, p. 14.
37. In a letter to George Dawes Hicks dated 15 March 1930, Husserl writes:
‘I am acquainted with Mr. Ryle’s careful review in Mind of Heidegger, in
which he also talks about my phenomenology; but he has not grasped
its entire meaning nor its import. Since Heidegger in no way follows my
method, and cannot be said to continue along the lines of my descriptive
and intentional phenomenology as sketched in the “Ideas”, objections
raised against him do not affect my position in the slightest. ... Mr. Ryle is
incidentally very much in the wrong in thinking that phenomenological
idealism is solipsism. He has underestimated the full significance of the
214 Notes

phenomenological reduction, and this through my own fault, since the

“Ideas” have remained a fragment: it was only the second part that was
to deal with the phenomenology of intersubjectivity’ (Mays, 1970, pp.
38. This reservation seems to be withdrawn when Ryle later claims (in a
filmed discussion with Urmson) that ‘a good many philosophers of what
I vaguely call of the English-speaking type ... are rather taken aback when
they find people, say, like Sartre. He picks on some particular emotion for
example Heidegger’s Angst which I vaguely translate as anxiety, or Sartre’s
favourite one, nausea, and you find this particular emotion being built up
into something terribly important, as if everything was really governed
or should be governed or shouldn’t be governed by Angst or by nausea’
(Chanan, 1972).
39. ‘Bankruptcy’ is the term also used by Searle (2001, p. 277) in describing
40. Despite these criticisms, Ryle later (privately) wrote: ‘I did work hard over
my Sein und Zeit review; but don’t think it got as deep under my skin
as did some of the other things. But it is not now for me to say! I’m
pretty sure I never lent (or refused to lend!) my Sein und Zeit copy to any
colleague or pupil. But this could all have been “cover up” for an indebt-
edness that I wanted to keep dark’ (Murray, 1992, p. 339). This statement,
though unofficial, may be added to the long list of ambiguous utterances
made by Ryle regarding his relation to phenomenology.
41. ‘I “went all Cambridge”. It was Russell and not Moore whom I studied,
and it was Russell the logician and not Russell the epistemologist’ (Ryle,
1970a, p. 7).Russell’s feelings were not mutual: ‘I don’t like Oxford philos-
ophers. Don’t like them. They have made trivial something very great.
Don’t think much of their apostle Ryle. He’s just another clever man’
(Russell, interviewed in Mehta, 1962, p. 41).
42. It is important to note here that it was only after Ayer’s return from Vienna
in 1936 that Ryle’s interest in the work of the Vienna Circle manifested
itself in his writings: e.g. Ryle, 1936, 1971c.
43. See Van Inwagen, 2006, pp. 83–64.
44. It is not clear that Ryle was right in thinking that Husserl’s theory of
meaning is Platonistic or quasi-Platonistic; see e.g. Thomasson, 2007, pp.
45. Elsewhere, Ryle notes that Husserl ‘had piled into the second edition
(1913) of his Logische Untersuchungen, what had not been in its first
edition, a load of what he called “Phenomenology”’ (1970b, p. 13), a
doctrine which Ryle (questionably) thought ‘re-Lockeanized’ (p. 13) its
anterior Platonism.
46. For Ryle’s account of the development of philosophy of mind through the
division of psychology from philosophy, see Chanan, 1972.
47. See Thomasson, 2007.
48. Ryle elsewhere describes phenomenology as being ‘from its birth, a bore’
(Ryle, 1946, p. 223).
Notes 215

49. Thomasson (2002, 2007, 2009) and Brandl (2002) construe Ryle’s ambiva-
lent stance towards Husserl as an inheritance of his methods, coupled
with a rejection of his doctrines. Yet this distinction between method
and doctrine does not map onto Ryle’s problematic divorcing of phenom-
enology from Husserl’s theory of meaning.
50. Though ‘partly sympathetic’, these articles did not necessarily effect
sympathy; see Gallagher, 2005, pp. 293–296.
51. Hereby referred to as SME.
52. See Ryle, 1932a, p. 158.
53. See Ryle, 1932a, pp. 142–143.
54. Ryle opens SME with the meta-philosophical argument that to under-
stand the task of philosophers as that of analysing concepts and judge-
ments ‘is only a gaseous way of saying that they are trying to discover
what is meant by the general terms contained in the sentences which
they pronounce or write’ (Ryle, 1932a, p. 139), since ‘concept’ and ‘judge-
ment’ are themselves systematically misleading expressions.
55. As Ayer elsewhere says, the intuition of essences may be better envis-
aged as a study of ‘concepts at work’ rather than ‘as Husserl sometimes
seems to imply, in gazing at concepts like stars in a planetarium’, bringing
phenomenology ‘very close in practice to the linguistic analysts’ (Ayer
and Taylor, 1959, p. 121). (Ayer might have been told by Ryle that
Husserl implies phenomenology is an ‘observational science’.)Ryle’s
insistence on presenting Husserl as a kind of Platonistic geographer of
essences, in contrast to his own ‘logical geography’ of mental concepts is
misleading, given that what Husserl really meant by ‘intuiting essences’
is, precisely, a method of eidetic variation. Ryle may have inherited part
of Husserl’s method of eidetic reduction through imaginative variation;
see Thomasson, 2007.
56. Compare this with Russell’s (1905) views on Meinong.
57. See also Ryle, 1971b, p. 183.
58. Ryle links his early anti-psychologism and his interest in Husserl with his
eventual turn against Cartesianism; see Murray, 1992, p. 339.
59. See Ryle, 1927.
60. See Thomasson, 2007, pp. 281–282.
61. In this passage, Ryle is attributing these words to Brentano, in the context
of describing the kinds of questions particular to descriptive psychology
(i.e. ‘psychognosy’ or ‘phenomenology’), e.g. ‘what is it to be a case of
62. See also Mays, 1970.
63. See Mays, 1970. The phenomenological tradition gave a series of answers to
this threat against Husserl’s approach: (a) for Husserl, relating the problem
to a form of transcendental subjectivity is the key to both preserving
the world and engaging in the epochē, and (b) Heidegger and Merleau-
Ponty retain some form of the phenomenological method while rejecting
Husserl’s Cartesianism; see Glendinning, 2007, pp. 48–58.Perhaps Ryle
may be counted among the latter, insofar as he rejects the existence of
216 Notes

Cartesian ‘mental stuff’ through a methodical analysis of various kinds of

what Husserl calls ‘mental acts’ (which Ryle finds not to be acts at all).
64. This is a poor introduction of the term ‘phenomenology’, particularly in
its simplistic fusion with Cartesianism. Husserl for example stated that
Cartesian phenomenology meant ‘to reject nearly all the well known
doctrinal content of the Cartesian philosophy’ (Husserl, 1960, p. 1).
65. See also Chapter 2, §19.
66. Husserl’s work on categories of meaning is acknowledged as innovative
by Tarski (1936, p. 215) (who claims that Husserl’s ‘semantic categories’
influenced Leśniewski) and Quine (1970, p. 18) (the latter being rather
critical of it). But see Oliver, 1999, pp. 254–255.
67. On Heidegger’s criticism of Husserl’s notion of ‘categorial intuition’, see
Philipse, 1992.
68. See Husserl, 2001, pp. 171–172.
69. Thomasson, 2009, §1.3.
70. See Husserl, 2001, p. 172.
71. The thesis that Ryle had derived the notion of category mistake from
Husserl is also upheld in O’Connor, 2012.
72. See Thomasson, 2002, pp. 125–128.
73. See Thomasson, 2002, p. 118.
74. See Chapter 1.
75. See Rée, 1993, p. 8.
76. See Beaney, 2007, pp. 207–210.
77. The centrality of this claim to phenomenology is highly questionable, even
by Ryle’s account. We have seen that Ryle holds the relation of phenom-
enology to psychology as that of a descriptive a priori investigation to an
empirical one to be ‘true and generalizable’. Yet, having acknowledged
the truth of such a position, he goes on to distort it by claiming that it
makes out philosophy to be superior to the sciences. Ryle is wrong when
he accuses Husserl of assimilating philosophy and science – furthermore,
he is wrong in doing so for reasons which he himself has pointed out; see
Glendinning, 2007, p. 30.
78. ‘Nor were intuitions of essences the sorts of accomplishments of which
any Anglo-Saxon could boast with a straight face’ (Ryle, 1970b, p. 13).
79. See Husserl, 1960, esp. §§3–4.
80. The claim of the Germanic origins of the idea of philosophy as a ‘govern-
ess-science’ was already made in Ryle, 1951, pp. 1–3; here Ryle implicitly
links his differentiation between English and German speaking philos-
ophy to their differences in relation to psychologism.
81. Compare this with an earlier remark about Husserl inheriting Brentano’s
‘Messiasbewusstsein’ (Ryle, 1946, p. 223).
82. Cf. Ryle, 2002, pp. 15–16.
83. Ryle notes on the same page that his account of Husserl is no more than
a caricature ‘intended to show up by contrast some of the predominant
features of recent philosophy and in particular of the philosophy of mind
in the English-speaking world’ (Ryle, 1971b, p. 181).
Notes 217

84. Akehurst (2010) links a particular aspect of analytic philosophy with the
rejection of continental philosophy as a theoretical enterprise due to its
belief that it gave rise to, and backing for, Nazism.
85. Obviously Ryle is referring here to Frege and his lack of influence on his
Germanophone contemporaries (see Chapter 1, §5). Gillies (1999, p. 172)
points out that Husserl, by working on the philosophy of mathematics in
a philosophy (not mathematics) department, is the ‘striking’ exception
to the norm. (Other exceptions are the Marburg Neo-Kantians: Cohen,
Natorp and Cassirer).
86. See Glendinning, 2006, pp. 69–74; Glock, 2008, pp. 62–63; Critchley,
2001, p. 35. See also Rée, 1993.
87. His reference to ‘our logical theory’ ignores the contributions of Austrian
thinkers to the development of logic; see Monk, 1996; Textor, 2006.
88. See Thomasson, 2002, p. 123.
89. Ryle refers here to Russell’s insight that expressions such as ‘and’, ‘or’,
‘all’, and ‘some’ are not reducible to Platonic universals such as ‘and-
ness’ and ‘someness’. Yet, this idea goes back to scholastic logic’s notion
of ‘syncategoremata’ (see Ariew & Gabbey, 2003, pp. 445–447), and in
the Fourth Investigation of Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen the distinc-
tion between categorematic and syncategorematic expressions is central to
Husserl’s theory of meaning.
90. See also Ryle, 1970a, p. 9. As Ryle unofficially hints (Murray, 1992, p.
339), it is possible that he was partly responsible for this solitude, as one
can surmise from the parable of his refusal to lend his copy of Sein und
Zeit to his colleagues and pupils.Perhaps the closest that Ryle had come
to encountering an Anglophone phenomenologist was his encounter
with J. N. Findlay three years after Royaumont (Ryle & Findlay, 1961).
Mentions of Husserl in this text are brief and only made in passing in
comparison with ‘analytic’ thinkers; Ryle quickly compares Husserl and
Wittgenstein’s notions of logical grammar, the breach of which is consti-
tutive of nonsense (p. 230), while Findlay mentions Husserl and Broad’s
ideas about memory (p. 239) and also briefly mentions Husserl in the
context of explicating the capacity of ordinary language to reflect upon
its own meanings (p. 240).
91. See Ryle, 1971a, pp. xxiii–xxiv.
92. See Schrift, 2006, pp. 70–71; Sorell & Rogers, 2005.
93. See e.g. Majer, 1997.
94. The fact that Ryle here alludes to the previous Royaumont collo-
quium on Husserl (where Van Breda had presented ‘La Réduction
Phénoménologique’ (1959)) seems to be left out in most references to
Ryle’s rudeness in response to Van Breda, e.g. Glock, 2008, pp. 62–63;
Critchley, 2001, p. 35.
95. Van Breda forgets to mention the Eastern European logicians present
at the colloquium, and the influence of Polish logic (not unrelated to
Husserl) on Quine who questions Ryle after him.
96. See Lapointe, 1979.
218 Notes

97. Translation: ‘When Merleau-Ponty enquired “is our programme not the
same?”, he received the firm and clear response “I hope not”’.
98. Similar versions of the same tale may be found in Glock, 2008, p. 63;
Solomon, 2003, p. 5; Pudal, 2004, p. 75.
99. ‘It was a distance within the analytic movement that he was insisting
on at that point, not a distance between that movement and phenom-
enology’ (Glendinning, 2006, p. 73).
100. Merleau-Ponty read Wittgenstein, and claims to have worked with
Ryle’s Concept of Mind. Yet, he seems to have posed a question which
was the subject of J. O. Urmson’s paper on the history of analysis, previ-
ously presented at the colloquium. Merleau-Ponty had not been present
at Urmson’s presentation, which had clearly differentiated between
various kinds of approaches to analysis, distinguishing among what may
be roughly seen as Russellian, Wittgensteinian, and Oxonian types; see
Urmson, 1992.
101. John Cottingham (2005) claims that because analytic philosophers ‘take
a derogatory attitude to the history of philosophy’ (pp. 26–27), this
implies treating their contemporaries like the historian of philosophy
might have treated the great philosophers of the past; Ryle’s position
here contradicts this claim. See also Ryle, 1971a, pp. xxiii–xxiv.
102. See also Urmson, 1992; Strawson, 1992.
103. For example, Ayer’s logical positivism, in particular his The Foundations
of Empirical Knowledge (Ayer, 1940), was used by Austin as his ‘stalking-
horse’ (Austin, 1962a, p. 1) in Sense and Sensibilia. Ryle (1971c) also
produced an ‘unrepentantly polemical’ (1971a, p. viii) essay against
Carnap’s Meaning and Necessity.
104. But see Husserl, 2001, pp. 184–186.
105. Part of this chapter was originally published in Vrahimis, 2012a.

Chapter 5 Derrida and Searle: The Abyss Stares Back?

1. In 1967, Derrida also simultaneously published three of his major works,
(1967a, 1967b, 1967c). See also Dosse, 1997, pp. 76–87. (‘La Différance’
was published in 1968.)
2. Austin, who in twenty years of philosophical activity had published only
three lectures, four symposium papers, some reviews and a translation,
is perhaps exemplary of a philosophical culture insistent on a quasi-So-
cratic laconism with regards to writing (in almost complete opposition
to Derrida’s prolific publication record); see Rée, 1993, p. 8.
3. Bell (2004, pp. 158–160) even imagines Derrida questioning Austin at
Royaumont in lieu of Jean Wahl.
4. This is not exclusive, of course, to Oxonians: in 1967, few people had
read (in French) the three quite complex and interlinked books which
Derrida had simultaneously published.
5. The impact of Austin’s work on French philosophers after the ‘demise’
of existentialist phenomenology in the nineteen-sixties is another
Notes 219

important factor to be taken into consideration here. Besides Derrida’s

use of Austin’s speech-act theory, other examples of Austin’s influence
in France following Royaumont might include such central figures as
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (see e.g. Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, p. 96;
Deleuze, 2005, pp. 216–251) or Michel Foucault (2002, pp. 89–99).
6. ‘A Plea for Excuses’ was presented to the Aristotelian Society in 1956.
7. See e.g. Urmson, 1992; Strawson, 1992.
8. See also Arrington, 1975; Harris, 1976; Lock, 2005. See also Ricoeur, 2003,
p. 380.
9. See Spiegelberg, 1981.
10. See e.g. Manger, 1975; Mulligan, 1987; Laugier, 2005.
11. Austin had originally written and subsequently presented this paper at
Royaumont in French.
12. Phatic acts are, according to Austin, series of words constructed with a
certain grammatical order; therefore, phemes in themselves are nonsen-
sical (1962b, p. 98) prior to being seen in their rhetic dimension, i.e. as
having a certain sense and reference (although, as Austin points out, not
all rhemes necessarily name or refer to something, as for example in the
case of ‘a triangle has three sides’ (p. 97)). Austin distinguishes phatic
acts as acts of language from rhetic acts as speech acts (p. 98). Phemes and
rhemes are mimetically reproducible, and the difference between phemes
and rhemes can be seen in the case where the mimesis of a pheme may
produce different rhetic acts.
13. In the Logische Untersuchungen, from which the last two ‘parts’ are derived
(2001, pp. 118–119, 192–193), Husserl considers the latter two together,
while it is not clear that he considers the three parts which Derrida refers
to as interlinked, or forming together a greater phenomenon of a ‘crisis of
14. See Derrida, 1989.
15. Husserl, 2001, p. 118.
16. See also White, 1987.
17. See Schmalfuß-Plicht, 2009.
18. Stanley Cavell (1996), looking at Derrida’s relation to Austin, points to
the affinity between Derridean deconstruction and positivism (pp. 83–85)
in what he perceives as their insistence on metaphysics (in contrast to
Austin or Wittgenstein’s insistence on the ordinary).
19. Husserl’s interest in logical grammar is logical/epistemological in that it
pertains to a certain anti-psychologistic conception of logic as a theory of
science (as we have seen in Chapter 1, §4b); but ultimately Husserl moves
from categories of meaning to ontological categories.
20. Husserl claims that nonsense (Unsinn) occurs when violating the rules of
a priori universal grammar whose laws are non-psychological and prior
to any linguistic convention. Yet, he distinguishes between nonsense
(Unsinn) and absurdity (Widersinn) precisely by his contention that
absurdity (Widersinn) results from breaking the contingent linguistic habits
of a community. Materially-absurd statements, according to Husserl, are
220 Notes

not nonsensical but refer to some meaning, precisely because they do not
break any a priori rules of logical grammar. Yet, their objects are, as Derrida
would say, necessarily absent, they are impossible, and therefore these
statements are absurd.
21. This is what Carnap calls ‘designative meaning’, which he distinguishes
from expressive components of meaning (1959, pp. 80–81).
22. Derrida claims that ‘the green is either’ could make sense when placed
in quotation marks and uttered as an example of nonsense in Husserl’s
theory of meaning. As we shall see, Searle objects to this, claiming that
Derrida fails to acknowledge the distinction between use and mention.
23. The original paper, written in French, had been first presented in Montreal
at the Congrès international des Sociétés de Philosophie de Langue Francaise in
1971, and published in Marges de la Philosophie (1972); it was then trans-
lated and published in the first issue of Glyph in 1977.
24. Searle’s alliance with Foucault further undermines the claim that the
Searle-Derrida exchange exemplifies some gulf that exists between Anglo-
American and Continental philosophy; Derrida does not speak in the
name of Continental philosophy.
25. Nevertheless, Derrida later points out that Searle must have read the
English version of the text (1988b, p. 38).
26. Although Searle does not use the term, his charge of misunderstanding
coupled with his subsequent construction of Derrida’s claims into argu-
ments point to the implication that Searle considers Derrida’s Austin to be
a straw-man.
27. Derrida clearly thinks there is no such thing as a meaningless expression
by itself, since for him expressions are always related to a context.
28. For a reply, see Derrida, 1988b, pp. 80–83. See also Richmond, 1996, pp.
29. Searle and Derrida both fail to mention the relation between Husserl’s
account and Austin’s in their exchange. Though Husserl’s account is
mentioned here because cited by Derrida, a number of other thinkers
could have been used (e.g. Carnap or the early Wittgenstein).
30. This is perhaps due to Derrida’s dismissal of Searle’s reply as having misun-
derstood his text (1988b, p. 47). Derrida assumes that a reply is already to
be found in ‘Sec’, if only one were to look at it closely enough.
31. This does not preclude their successful rational reconstruction into logi-
cally well-formed arguments. See e.g. Richmond, 1996; Moore, 2001.
32. Derrida (1998, p. 31) justifies this by citing Searle’s acknowledgement of
the help of other people who had discussed his paper with him. Derrida
notes that one of these people is his own friend Hubert Dreyfus, with
whom Derrida had various discussions in the past. Derrida thus concludes
that he also is included in ‘Sarl’.Interestingly, in 1951 Bataille had also
used Ayer’s name as a pun, confusing ‘d’Ayer’ with ‘d’hier’ (Bataille, 1986,
p. 80).
33. Searle (1983) connects his attack on Derrida (and Culler (1983), or ‘decon-
struction’) with a defence of enlightenment values against postmodernist
Notes 221

attacks. Although the term ‘postmodernism’ was employed in American

academia to cover a range of ‘French thinkers’ who wrote in the late
nineteen-sixties and seventies, it would be highly inappropriate within a
French context to have called Derrida a ‘postmodernist’; see Schrift, 2006,
pp. 54–55. See also Mackey & Searle, 1984.
34. Searle, a self-pronounced ‘analytic philosopher’, rarely employs the term
‘continental philosophy’ in any of his writings (and in some of the few
cases in which he does, he prefaces it with a ‘so-called’, e.g. in Searle, 1992,
p. 249). Searle seems to have less difficulty in employing terms such as
‘postmodernism’ in describing some general trend against Enlightenment
35. In Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976), Woody Allen plays the leading role of
Howard Prince, a cashier who becomes a ‘front’ for a number of screen-
writers who have lost their jobs due to the McCarthy purges (which
were particularly forceful in Hollywood). Prince becomes a star writer
by presenting the work of these writers as his own, since his name is
not on the McCarthyites’ lists. (Coincidentally, Searle was secretary of
the Wisconsin (McCarthy’s home state) group called ‘Students against
McCarthy’; see Searle, 1971.)By using the term front, Derrida might be
taken to imply (once again) that Searle’s authority is somehow not his
own, but only a ‘front’ for Sarl, and perhaps also for something else called
‘analytic philosophy’, which in turn is a ‘front’ for continental writing.
36. A similar claim is made by Hubert Dreyfus, who lumps together Searle’s
views with those of Husserl in his attempt to show how Heidegger may
dispute the various Husserl-Searle positions (see e.g. Dreyfus, 1993). In
his discussion of Dreyfus’ 1991 Being-in-the-World, Searle (2000) attributes
Dreyfus’ bundling of his views with those of Husserl to misunderstanding;
Searle claims that Dreyfus is mistaken in his attempt to fuse his analytic
approach with a phenomenological one.
37. See also Derrida, 2001, pp. 36–76. It is perhaps ironic that Searle later
uses a term he borrows from Foucault (obscurantisme terroriste) against
38. See Derrida, 1998.
39. As Alan Schrift notes (2006, p. 56), there is a shift in the late nineteen-
sixties and seventies (i.e. during Derrida’s emergence as a prominent
theorist) from the early anti-philosophical climate which characterised
structuralism, towards a reclaiming by structuralist theorists of the title
40. See e.g. Hare, 1960. See also Chapter 4.
41. See e.g. Hacker 1996, pp. 183–227; Corradini, Galvan, & Lowe, 2006.
42. See e.g. Sacks, 2006; Pihlström & Siitonen, 2005. See also Rorty, 2008, pp.
43. See Brandom, 2008, pp. 201–202.
44. From the parallel movements which today go under the banner of ‘conti-
nental philosophy’ it is Critical Theory which was perhaps the most
contested import in the US, particularly as is attested to in the case of
222 Notes

Marcuse (and his being forced out of the University of California by the
then governor Ronald Reagan). See e.g. Cobb, 2004.
45. For example, the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy was
founded in 1962, while the British Society for Phenomenology was founded
in 1967. See also McCumber, 2001, pp. 83–85; Mays, 1971, pp. 262–263.
46. See e.g. Koestenbaum, 1971; Van Peursen, 1972; Mays & Brown, 1972;
Pivčević, 1975; Durfee, 1976.
47. Marcello Dascal observes that the Derrida-Searle exchange is seen as an
altogether different sort of entity by Derrida and Searle. Dascal empha-
sises the fact that the type of exchange is perceived differently between
the two parties involved, with Searle starting out by engaging Derrida in
a form of discussion, to which Derrida responds as if it were a controversy,
leading to the violent dispute which ensues. See Dascal, 2001.
48. The catastrophic continuation of the Derrida-Searle dispute, with Searle’s
comments on Derrida published in the New York Review of Books (Searle,
1983), leads to the notorious 1992 ‘Cambridge affair’, i.e. the dispute
over the granting of an honorary doctorate to Derrida by Cambridge
University. Although the event may be conceived as yet another clash
between analytic and continental philosophers, a mere glance at the
list of signatories of the letter sent to the Times will allow its reader to
find among the names present there those of a number of philosophers
whose work (in the history of analytic philosophy) has contributed to the
breakdown of the ‘analytic-continental barrier’, e.g. Peter Simons, Kevin
Mulligan and Barry Smith. But see Smith, 1997 on his views of ‘conti-
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abyss, 1, 103–5, 108, 149, 181, and Sartre, xii, xiii, 1, 89, 91–5,
184, 211 96, 97, 101, 105, 108, 109, 206,
Acton, Harry B., xiii, 112, 208, 211, 207–8, 209, 211
212, 213 and Vienna Circle, xi, 89–91,
Adorno, Theodor, xii, 186, 213 108, 119–20, 165, 185, 193,
Allen, Woody, 221 206, 214, 218
Alquié, Ferdinand, 112, 212 at Royaumont, 148, 153, 156–7,
Ambrosino, Georges, 87, 99, 182, 209, 211, 212
105, 205
Anglo-Saxon, 29, 111, 128, 138–40, back to Kant, 33, 38, 194
145, 147, 148, 154, 157, 158, 159, back to things themselves, 194
179, 181, 212, 216 Badiou, Alain, 180
anti-Semitism, 41 Bar-Hillel, Yehoshua, xiv, 7, 186,
Apostel, Leo, 111, 212 204, 205
Aquinas, Thomas, 27 Bataille, Georges, xii–xiv, 6, 87–8,
archē, 65–7, 72–3, 75, 85, 94, 98–9, 103–9, 149, 161, 182,
201, 202 184, 186, 205, 211, 220
Aristotelian Society, 101, 118, 122, Bauhaus, 196, 200–201
123, 211, 213, 219 Beck, Leslie, 110, 111, 114, 149–50,
Aristotle, 21, 27, 73, 145, 188, 189, 152, 156, 212
196, 199, 202 Bentham, Jeremy, 4
Austin, John L., xiii, xiv, 5, 6, 153, Berger, Gaston, 112, 212
161–6, 168–77, 181, 184, 212, Bergson, Henri, ix, 7, 35, 48
218–20 Berlin, Isaiah, xiii, 211
Avenarius, Richard, 34 Beth, Evert Willem, 111, 212
Ayer, Alfred J. Bocheński, Józef Maria, 111, 212
and Austin, xiii, 165, 218 Bollnow, Otto Friedrich, 32
and Bataille, 87–8, 99, 104–9, 161, Bolzano, Bernard, 114, 115, 118,
182, 220 126, 189, 191
and Camus, 205 Brentano, Franz, x, 14, 114, 115, 118,
and Carnap, 89–91, 94–5, 105, 126, 128, 163, 184, 186, 190,
108, 109, 206, 218 191, 192, 215, 216
and Derrida, 160–2, British Idealism, 4, 190
165, 206 British Society for Phenomenology,
and film criticism, 206 xiv, 222
and Heidegger, 89–91, 94, Brun, Jean, 112, 212
206, 207 Brunschvicg, Léon, 32, 197, 209
and Merleau-Ponty, xii, xiii, 6, Bühler, Karl, 47
87–8, 96, 99–103, 109, 148–9,
161, 182, 192, 205, 207, 208, Camus, Albert, 89, 205
209, 210, 211 Cantor, Georg, 145, 191

252 Index

Carnap, Rudolf and Carnap, 169, 220

and Austin, 165, 170 and ‘Continental philosophy’,
and Ayer, 89–91, 94–5, 105, 108, 176–81, 185, 220, 221
109, 206, 218 and Foucault, 172, 177, 185, 221
and Derrida, 169, 220 and Heidegger, 169, 196
and Frege, ix, xiii, 14, 26, 190, and Husserl, 5, 6, 162, 166–71,
201, 202, 203–4 174, 219, 220
and Husserl, x, xiii, 14, 29, 66, in 1967, xiv, 160–2, 218
78–84, 168–9, 171, 189, 191, and phenomenology, 5, 166–71,
198, 202, 203, 204–5, 209, 220 177–80, 186
and Neo-Kantianism, 49, 63, 76–7, and Searle, xiv, 1, 6, 171–80,
83, 90, 193, 199 184, 220–2
and Quine, 197, 199, 203, 208 at Oxford, xiv, 6, 160–2
and the Royaumont colloquium, Devaux, Philippe, 111, 212
111, 116, 117 Dilthey, Wilhelm, 35, 186, 200
and Wittgenstein, 79, 82–3, 195, Dreyfus, Hubert, 16, 180, 220, 221
203–4 Duhem, Pierre M. M., 148
Carroll, Lewis, 94–5, 208 Dummett, Michael, 2, 12–13, 29, 78,
Cassirer, Ernst, xi, xii, 5, 31–3, 184, 185, 187, 188, 192
35–42, 59, 66, 104, 186, 193,
194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 217 empiricism, 101, 103, 209, 211
Cassirer, Toni, 40–1, 197 enlightenment, 36, 176, 178, 187,
Cavaillès, Jean, 32, 148, 191, 220, 221
193, 197 epistemology, xi, 78, 142, 169, 170,
Chomsky, Noam, 7, 186 186, 189, 191, 194, 196, 199,
Cohen, Hermann, ix, 35, 199, 217 200, 214, 219
Coleridge, Samuel T., 4, 186 Eucken, Rudolf, 10, 35
Collingwood, Robin G., 185 European Union, 150
Condillac, Etienne de, 166 existentialism, 3, 4, 77, 89, 91–2,
Couturat, Louis, 148 94–7, 104, 111–13, 118, 162, 179,
Critchley, Simon, 3, 149–50, 185, 190, 193, 206, 207
211, 217
Croce, Benedetto, xiii, 211 Fichte, Johann G., 48–9
Culler, Jonathan, 161, 220 Findlay, John N., 148, 217
Fink, Eugen, 32
Dascal, Marcello, 222 First World War, ix, 4, 11, 25, 29, 31,
Dawes Hicks, George, xi, 213 35, 78, 192, 194
deconstruction, 3, 162, 169, 171, Føllesdal, Dagfinn, xiii, 14–15, 17,
176, 219, 220 185, 187, 188, 213
Deleuze, Gilles, 112, 180, 196, 212, 219 Foucault, Michel, 7, 172, 177, 185,
Delmer, Isabel, 88, 205 186, 191, 219, 220, 221
Delors, Jacques, 150 Frankfurt school, 3, 7, 104, 221
Dempsey, Peter J. R., xiii, 208 Frege, Gottlob, ix, x, xiii, 1, 3, 5,
Derrida, Jacques 11–22, 25–30, 34, 53–4, 77,
and Austin, 6, 161–2, 166–71, 78, 79, 114, 115, 117, 121, 126,
218, 219 140, 182, 187–92, 199, 201–5,
and Ayer, 160–2, 165, 206 208, 217
Index 253

Freud, Sigmund, 175 humanities, 7, 23, 34, 76, 77, 135,

Friedman, Michael, 38, 40, 46–7, 177, 181
85, 193, 194, 197–200, 202, Hume, David, 102, 201, 208
205, 206 Husserl, Edmund
and Adorno, xii, 213
Gandillac, Maurice de, 32, 41 and Austin, 163, 164, 166, 170–1,
Gewirth, Alan, 112, 212 174, 220
Glendinning, Simon, 2, 3, 113, 150, and Ayer, 96, 156, 207, 208, 215
155, 160–1, 177, 184, 186, 191, and Carnap, x, xiii, 14, 29, 66,
205, 207, 209, 215, 216, 217, 218 78–84, 168–9, 171, 189, 191,
Gomperz, Heinrich, 47 198, 202, 203, 204–5, 209, 220
gulf, 1, 4, 138, 147, 148–51, 154, 176, and Derrida, 5, 6, 162, 166–71,
181, 183, 184, 220 174, 219, 220
in England, x, 29, 192–3
Habermas, Jürgen, 7, 185, 186, 187 and Frege, ix, xii, 1, 5, 11–18, 21,
Hahn, Hans, 47, 191, 195, 202 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 126, 182,
Hampshire, Stuart, xiii, 206 187–8, 189, 190, 205, 208, 217
Hare, R. M., xiii, 3, 221 and Heidegger, x, xi, 5, 26, 27, 28,
Hartmann, Nicolai, 33 30, 31, 40, 54–5, 58, 66, 78,
Hegel, Georg W. F., 48, 63, 97, 148, 83–4, 184, 194, 197, 198, 205,
185, 186, 193, 196, 199 207, 209, 210, 213, 215, 216, 220
Heidegger, Martin and Lebensphilosophie, 36, 40
and Ayer, 89–91, 94, 206, 207 on logic, 21–4, 28, 54, 58, 140,
and Derrida, 169, 196 189, 219
and Frege, 25, 190, 199, 205 and Merleau-Ponty, 5, 27, 96, 150,
and Husserl, x, xi, 5, 26, 27, 28, 184, 210, 215
30, 31, 40, 54–5, 58, 66, 78, and Neo-Kantianism, x, 10, 25–6,
83–4, 184, 194, 197, 198, 205, 34, 54, 188, 190, 194
207, 209, 210, 213, 215, 216, 220 and psychologism, ix, x, 5, 10,
and Neo-Kantianism, 4, 32, 33, 11–18, 20–7, 134–5, 187–8, 189,
35–41, 59, 76–7, 83, 193, 196 190, 207, 215, 219
and Russell, 199 response by Tarski and Quine,
and Ryle, 118–19, 121, 213–14 216, 217
and Wittgenstein, xi, 203, 213 and the Royaumont colloquium,
Hempel, Carl, 111 112, 113, 128, 136–48, 152–6,
hermeneutics, 3, 59, 75, 76, 77, 84, 213, 217
177, 196 and Russell, ix, x, 96, 120, 153,
Hilbert, David, 145, 191, 204 192, 204, 208
history of and Ryle, x, xi, xii, 6, 29, 113–18,
analysis, 184, 218 120–9, 131–48, 152–5, 163, 168,
analytic philosophy, 2, 111, 184, 222 171, 189, 192–3, 208, 213, 214,
ideas, 191 215–16, 217
metaphysics, 66 and Schlick, x, 25, 29, 190, 191
philosophy, 30, 66, 135, 144, 184, theory of meaning, 5, 6, 79–83,
186, 196, 218, 223 115–17, 121, 131–3, 140–1, 164,
Horkheimer, M., xii, 7, 205 167–71, 174, 189, 204, 214, 216,
Hulme, Thomas E., ix, x, 192, 208 217, 219, 220
254 Index

Ingarden, Roman, 126 logical positivism, 34, 40, 74, 77, 89,
intentionality, 98, 101–2, 126–7, 92, 105, 106, 111, 184, 194, 202,
207, 211 206, 210, 218
logicism, 19–20, 26, 77, 188
Jaensch, Erich R., 35 Lvov-Warsaw school of Logic,
Jaspers, Karl, 27 29, 185

Kant, Immanuel Mace, Cecil A., xiii, 208

interpretation of, 5–6, 31, 32–4, Mach, Ernst, 34, 209
37–40, 41–6, 49, 59, 66, 76, 194, Mandelbaum, Maurice, xiii
196, 198 Marx, Karl, 175
Kantian consensus, 179 Marxism, 85, 111, 195, 205
and logic, 23, 188–9 McCarthyism, 221
Platonism (quasi-Platonist, McCumber, John, 222
semi-Platonic) McDowell, John, 179
and psychologism, 20, 187 Meinong, Alexius, x, 90, 114–16,
schematism, 42–6, 197, 198 118, 124, 126, 190, 191, 192,
on the term ‘phenomenon’, 128 206, 215
Kaufmann, Felix, 29, 191 Meister Eckhart, 119
Kierkegaard, Søren, 63, 112, 118 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice
Kraft, Viktor, 47 and Ayer, xii, xiii, 6, 87–8,
Kusch, Martin, 9, 11, 186, 187, 189, 96, 99–103, 109, 148–9, 161,
190, 194, 195, 197, 205 182, 192, 205, 207, 208, 209,
210, 211
Lange, Friedrich Albert, 63, 201 against empiricism, 101–3,
Lask, Emil, ix, 33, 54 209, 210
Lebensgefühl, 62–3, 72, 74, 195 and phenomenology, 5, 27, 97–8,
Lebensphilosophie, 5, 35, 36–9, 77, 83, 112, 209, 210, 215
90, 193, 194, 195, 200 and Ryle, 114, 149–54, 180, 218
Levinas, Emmanuel, 27, 32, 104, against Sartre, 97–8, 209, 210
193, 196, 197, 198 on temporality, 99–103, 208, 210
Liebmann, Otto, 194 and Wittgenstein, xiv, 211, 218
Lipps, Gottlob F., 35 metalogic, 73–4, 139
logic meta-philosophy, 2, 4, 18, 30, 33,
Aristotelian, 19, 58, 37, 70, 74, 113, 119–21, 133–7,
188, 197 139, 142, 215
logical grammar, 82, 115, 140, metaphysics
169, 217, 219, 220 as Begriffsdichtung, 62–4, 201
logical syntax, 50, 64, 68, 79, 115, ‘Continental’, 177
116, 201 of Dasein, 46
modern, 8, 11, 19, 25, 49, 64, 82, and deconstruction, 169, 177, 219
83, 84, 117, 188 descriptive, 48
non-Aristotelian, 19 Destruktion of, 39, 45, 47, 51, 60,
post-Aristotelian, 200 72, 76
logical idealism, 33 elimination of, 32, 51, 90, 91, 95,
logical objectivism, 118 193, 195
Index 255

as an expression of Lebensgefühl, on the interpretation of Kant,

62–3, 72 33–4, 194
as first philosophy, 73 and Lebensphilosophie, 5, 35–8,
laying the ground for, 38, 39, 43, 193
44, 46, 66 not a unified school, 25, 34–5, 37,
meaninglessness of, 49, 50, 60–6, 76, 196
70, 73, 74, 76, 91, 94 and psychologism, 25, 34, 121,
and modernism, 200 187
naturalistic ontology, 48 Neo-Thomism, 3
and Neo-Kantianism, 49, 63, Neurath, O., x, xii, 7, 36, 191,
84, 199 195, 202
overcoming of (Überwindung), 5, Nietzsche, Friedrich W., 35, 63, 90,
6, 47, 48, 49, 62, 64, 76, 117, 175, 185, 186, 201
193, 202 nonsense
and poetry, 62–4, 75–6 Sinnlosigkeit, 80, 116, 131, 167,
and politics, 85, 200, 205 168, 169
post-Kantian, 48, 91 Unsinn, 80, 81, 116, 131,
traditional, 49, 50, 75, 168, 219
85, 91 and Widersinn (absurdity), 80, 81,
under attack, 47, 50, 75 116, 131, 167, 168, 219
Verwindung of, 202 Nowell-Smith, Patrick H., xiii
Mill, John Stuart, 4, 20, 21, 115,
186, 187 obscurantism, 50–1, 53, 101, 106,
Mohanty, Jitendra Nath, 15–16, 17, 172, 194, 206, 221
187, 200 Ockham’s razor, 123, 125
Montefiore, Alan, 161
Moore, George E., ix, xiii, 3, 4, 13, Paton, Herbert J., 114
96, 114, 115, 184, 190, 192, 193, Perelman, Chaïm, 111, 212
208, 214 petition against experimental
Mora, José Ferrater, 111 psychology, ix, 10, 35
Murdoch, Iris, 95, 208 Pfänder, Alexander, 126, 163
music, 63–4, 201 Planck, Max, 145
mysticism, 107, 118–19 Plato, 27, 147, 160, 193, 201, 208
poetry, 62–4, 74–6, 201
Nagel, Ernest, xii, 185 Poincaré, Henri, 123, 148
National Socialism, 31, 41, 47, 85, polemics, ix, xiii, 7, 28, 30, 35, 62,
143, 206, 217 84, 90, 91, 109, 110, 111, 114,
Natorp, Paul, 10, 25, 26, 33, 187, 121, 138, 139, 141, 146, 150,
190, 217 152, 172, 174, 181, 182, 185,
Neo-Kantianism 191, 192, 205, 207, 208, 218
and Carnap, 49, 63, 76–7, 83, 90, Pos, Hendrik, 41, 46, 198
193, 199 Positivismusstreit, xiv, 7
in France, 195, 197, 209 postmodernism, 176, 178, 220–1
and Heidegger, 4, 32, 33, 35–41, pragmatism, 100, 112, 209, 210
59, 76–7, 83, 193, 196 Pre-Socratics, 66, 201
and Husserl, 25, 84, 190 psychoanalysis, 3, 177
256 Index

Psychologismus-Streit, 5, 6, 8–11, 14, and Merleau-Ponty, 114, 149–54,

16–18, 24, 26, 34–5, 70, 77–8, 180, 218
83, 146, 190, 192 and Sartre, 139, 185, 214
descriptive, 190, 215, 216 Sartre, Jean Paul
distinct from logic, 15, 21–3, 189 and Ayer, xii, xiii, 1, 89, 91–5, 96,
distinct from mathematics, 190 97, 101, 105, 108, 109, 206,
distinct from philosophy, 8–11, 207–8, 209, 211
21–3, 30, 59–60, 70–1, 120, against Bataille, 107, 108
134–5, 200, 214 and phenomenology, 5, 27, 97,
empirical, 60, 134 101, 184, 207–8, 210
experimental, ix, 4–5, 8–11, 14, and Ryle, 139, 185, 214
19, 30, 146, 192 Scheller, Max, 36, 195, 196
Gestalt, 98, 101 Schelling, Friedrich W. J., 48
important to mathematics, 14 Schlick, Moritz, x, xi, xii, 25, 28–9,
important to philosophy, 186 34, 190, 191, 195, 203, 213
Pythagoras, 198 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 63
Schröder, Ernst, 15–16
Quine, Willard V. O., xi, 14, 48, 89, Schütz, Alfred, 126
153, 179, 184, 197, 199, 203, science
208, 216, 217 advances of, 32, 33, 37,
49, 120
rapprochement, 150–1 conditions of possibility of, 23, 33
Rawls, John, 7, 186 critical relation to philosophy, 28,
realism, 4, 98, 100, 101, 112, 70, 121, 134
184, 209 exact, 34, 135
Reinach, Adolf, x, 126, 163–4 inductive, 48
Rickert, Heinrich, 10, 25, 26, 33, 35, and logic, 22, 53, 54, 72, 73, 84,
36, 38, 54, 187, 190, 195 115, 199
Riehl, Alois, 10, 34, 187 and metaphysics, 48–9, 51, 52, 60,
Ritter, Joachim, 32 72, 76, 84, 202, 209
Rosenzweig, Franz, 193 Mistress Science, 136–8, 142,
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 161 145, 216
Russell, Bertrand, ix–xiv, 3, 4, 7, 13, natural, 48, 76
18, 19, 26, 53–4, 82–3, 90, 111, and nothing, 52
114, 115–17, 119–20, 126, observational, 124, 215
139–41, 147, 151–5, 184, 186, philosophy as a rigorous science,
190, 191, 192, 199, 203, 204, 27, 28, 136, 137, 141, 191, 192
206, 208, 212, 214, 215, 217, 218 science of, 27, 54, 137
Russell’s paradox, 19, 26, 201 social, 24, 177
Ryle, Gilbert special, 59, 60, 66, 70
and Heidegger, 118–19, 121, theory of, 22, 24, 27, 84, 174, 219
213–14 unified, 22, 23, 48
and Husserl, x, xi, xii, 6, 29, scientific Weltauffassung, 32, 76,
113–18, 120–9, 131–48, 152–5, 191, 195
163, 168, 171, 189, 192–3, 208, scientism, 7, 176
213, 214, 215–16, 217 Scotus, Duns, 33, 194
Index 257

Searle, John, xiv, 1, 5, 6, 29, Twardowski, Kazimierz J. S., 29

162, 171–8, 180–2, 214,
220, 221, 222 Urmson, James O., 153, 184, 213,
Second World War, xiii, 1, 4, 87, 89, 214, 218, 219
92, 104, 120, 135, 165, 205, 211
Sellars, Wilfrid, 179 Vaihinger, Hans, 34, 194
Snow, Charles P., 181 Van Breda, Herman L., 6, 112, 117,
Society for Phenomenology and 143–8, 151, 154, 212, 213, 217
Existential Philosophy, xiv, 222 Vienna Circle, 25, 26, 29, 36, 47,
Sokal hoax, 7, 186 89–91, 93, 148, 184, 191, 195,
Solomon, Robert, 15, 218 204, 209, 214
Special Operations Executive, 87
speech-act, xiv, 6, 7, 162–5, 170, Wahl, Jean, x, xiii, 87, 108, 111–12,
171, 176, 189, 219 149, 155, 205, 210, 212, 218
Spengler, Oswald, 36, 195 Waismann, Friedrich, xi, xiv, 184,
Spinoza, Baruch, 112, 198 191, 203
Stoicism, 19, 188 Warnock, Mary, 95, 208
Strawson, Peter F., 48, 153, 160–2, Weimar Republic, 35–6
179, 185, 218, 219 Whitehead, Alfred N., 26, 53, 111,
structuralism, 3, 179, 221 147, 204, 212
Stumpf, Carl, 186, 190 Williams, Bernard, 112, 185, 212
subjectivism, 98, 119 Windelband, Wilhelm, ix, 10, 25,
subsumption, 40, 41, 42, 46, 102, 33, 187, 195
130, 188, 197 Wisdom, John, 184
Wissenschaftslehre, 22–3, 27,
Tarski, Alfred, 111, 216 48, 189
Taylor, Charles, xiii, 101–3, 110, Wittgenstein, Ludwig, x, xi, xiii, xiv,
209, 211, 215 3, 26, 79, 82–3, 115–16, 119–20,
Thatcher, Margaret, 150 139–41, 150–7, 184, 186, 191,
Thomasson, Amie L., 133, 204, 195, 203–4, 205, 206, 211, 213,
213–17 217–20
Trakakis, Nick, 88, 206 Wundt, Wilhelm, 9, 19, 186, 190