Grete Henry's "The Significance of Behaviour Study for the Critique of Reason," Ratio, Volume XV, No. 2, December 1973

What follows is a facsimile of Grete Henry's article "The Significance of Behavior Study for the Critique of Reason," from the December 1973 issue of Ratio, whose cover is shown at right. Henry, or Henry-Hermann, was the principal editor of Leonard Nelson's Gesammelte Schriften and thus was one of the principal people responsible for the perpetuation of Nelson's memory and work. This period in the 1970's saw the completion of the great project of publishing the Schriften and the beginning of an effort to promote Nelson's thought, at first with a Prize Essay competition. This article represents Henry-Hermann's mature thought about Nelson's epistemology. Unfortunately, it is also the expression of a fundamental break with the principles of Kant-Friesian epistemology. We find her, on pages 208 and 209, rejecting the very idea of immediate knowledge, whose loss takes with it the unique Friesian doctrine of non-intuitive immediate knowledge. The result is to reduce Friesian epistemology to precisely the kind of psychologism that Jakob Fries had always been accused of, even by Karl Popper. Nelson had spent his whole life refuting the charge and pursuing the attack on any kind of psychologism. Henry-Hermann, of course, was doing no more than repeating what had become conventional wisdom in academic philosophy by 1973, that there was no such thing as "immediate knowledge." How it is that this would serve to recommend Nelson's work to contemporary philosophy is something that I have never understood, and I said as much in my own contribution to the Prize Essay contest. My essay did not win, but in 1975 it did lead to a brief correspondence with Henry-Hermann and Gustav Heckmann, who, more than anything, simply seemed astonished that anyone would actually still believe this stuff -- i.e. Friesian theories about immediate knowledge. I find this inexpressibly sad. I had an exchange with Sir Karl himself about it at late as 1992. As it happened, the effort to recommend Nelson to contemporary philosophers failed, and by the late 1980's the English editions of his books were out of print and the series of Ratio with a Nelsonian connection was brought to an end. There is no point in promoting Nelson unless he was right, and he was. To readers unfamiliar with the argument elsewhere at this site, "immediate knowledge" is not to be found by examining one's thoughts, impressions, reflections, convictions, or feelings. In a Kantian theory, intuitive "immediate knowledge" consists of the real empirical objects with which we are directly acquainted in perception. Since these are phenomenal objects, they are also mental contents, which is why they are knowledge, but they are not "subjective" or psychological in some Cartesian or Berkeleyan sense. This is a paradoxical doctrine, with loose ends left by Kant, Fries, and Nelson, but it is fundamentally correct and the proper solution to the Cartesian Problem of Knowledge. I owe it to Grete Henry-Hermann, however, as someone whose practical contribution to Nelson's cause is all but incalculable, to allow her her own say in this matter, as follows.


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Copyright (c) 1973 Grete Henry; 2000 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved