Ryle’s “Intellectualist Legend” in Historical Context

Michael Kremer


Gilbert Ryle’s distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that emerged from his criticism of the “intellectualist legend” that to do something intelligently is “to do a bit of theory and then to do a bit of practice,” and became a philosophical commonplace in the second half of the last century. In this century Jason Stanley (initially with Timothy Williamson) has attacked Ryle’s distinction, arguing that “knowing-how is a species of knowing-that,” and accusing Ryle of setting up a straw man in his critique of “intellectualism.” Examining the use of the terms “intellectualism” and “anti-intellectualism” in the first half of the 20th century, in a wide-ranging debate in the social sciences as well as in philosophy, I show that Ryle was not criticizing a straw man, but a live historical position. In the context of this controversy, Ryle’s position represents a third way between “intellectualism” and “anti-intellectualism,” an option that has largely gone missing in the 21st century discussion. This argument illustrates how history can inform the history of philosophy, and how the history of philosophy can inform contemporary philosophical inquiry.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15173/jhap.v5i5.3204

Michael Kremer
University of Chicago