Gilbert Ryle


Gilbert Ryle
(19 August 1900 – 6 October 1976)
 was a British philosopher.
He was a representative of the generation

of British ordinary language philosophers
who shared Wittgenstein's approach to philosophical problems,
and is principally known for his critique of Cartesian dualism,
for which he coined the phrase
"the ghost in the machine."

 Ryle's best known book is
The Concept of Mind (1949).

    In The Concept of Mind (1949), Ryle admits to having been taken in by the body-mind dualism which permeates Western philosophy, and claims that the idea of mind as an independent entity, inhabiting and governing the body, should be rejected as a redundant piece of literalism carried over from the era before the biological sciences became established. The proper function of mind-body language, he suggests, is to describe how higher organisms such as humans demonstrate resourcefulness, strategy, the ability to abstract and hypothesize and so on from the evidences of their behaviour.

    He attacks the idea of 17th and 18th century thinkers (such as Descartes) that nature is a complex machine, and that human nature is a smaller machine with a "ghost" in it to account for intelligence, spontaneity, and other such human qualities. While mental vocabulary plays an important role in describing and explaining human behaviour, neither are humans analogous to machines nor do philosophers need a "hidden" principle to explain their super-mechanical capacities.

    Ryle asserted that the workings of the mind are not distinct from the actions of the body. They are one and the same. Mental vocabulary is, he insists, merely a different manner of describing action. He also claimed that the nature of a person's motives is defined by that person's dispositions to act in certain situations. There are no overt feelings, pains, or twinges of vanity. There is instead a set of actions and feelings that are subsumed under a general behaviour-trend or propensity to act, which we term "vanity."

    Novelists, historians and journalists, Ryle points out, have no trouble in ascribing motives, moral values and individuality to people's actions. It is only when philosophers try to attribute these qualities to a separate realm of mind or soul that the problem arises. Ryle also created the classic argument against cognitivist theories of explanation, Ryle's Regress.

    One theme of The Concept of Mind is that dualism involves category mistakes and philosophical nonsense. Category mistakes and nonsense as philosophical topics continued to inform Ryle's work. Students in his 1967-8 Oxford audience would be asked rhetorically what was wrong with saying that there are three things in a field: two cows and a pair of cows. They were also invited to ponder whether the bung-hole of a beer barrel is part of the barrel or not.
A category mistake, or category error, is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category, or, alternatively, a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property. An example is the metaphor "time crawled", which if taken literally is not just false but a category mistake. To show that a category mistake has been committed one must typically show that once the phenomenon in question is properly understood, it becomes clear that the claim being made about it could not possibly be true.

The term "category-mistake" was introduced by Gilbert Ryle in his book The Concept of Mind (1949) to remove what he argued to be a confusion over the nature of mind born from Cartesian metaphysics. Ryle alleged that it was a mistake to treat the mind as an object made of an immaterial substance because predications of substance are not meaningful for a collection of dispositions and capacities.

The phrase is introduced in the first chapter. The first example is of a visitor to Oxford. The visitor, upon viewing the colleges and library, reportedly inquired “But where is the University?" The visitor's mistake is presuming that a University is part of the category "units of physical infrastructure" or some such thing, rather than the category "institutions", say, which are far more abstract and complex conglomerations of buildings, people, procedures, and so on. Ryle's second example is of a child witnessing the march-past of a division of soldiers. After having had battalions, batteries, squadrons, etc. pointed out, the child asks when is the division going to appear. 'The march-past was not a parade of battalions, batteries, squadrons and a division; it was a parade of the battalions, batteries and squadrons of a division.' His third example is of a foreigner being shown a cricket match. After being pointed out batsmen, bowlers and fielders, the foreigner asks: 'who is left to contribute the famous element of team-spirit?'

He goes on to argue that the Cartesian dualism of mind and body rests on a category-mistake. In the philosophy of the mind, Ryle's category mistake argument can be used to support eliminative materialism. By using the argument, one can attack the existence of a separate, distinct mind. The argument concludes that minds are not conscious, but a collective predicate for a set of observable behaviour and unobservable dispositions.



In Progress====================

---Gilbert Ryle