Sunday, April 3, 2016

1 Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of Mind

I finished the first draft of my essay on ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ on March 27 and marked the event on my blog with ‘A cursory glance at Parmenides’ propaedeutic training’. I needed a break before revising the text and so I devoted three posts on my blog to ‘My recent Prague venture’. Having done that, I felt I needed two more days of doing something completely different. And I still felt that my month in Prague somehow estranged me from my English. And so I thought that two days with Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind would do me good. Two days turned into five days, for once I started reading it, I could not stop before reading it all through.

Ryle opens his book with a chapter on ‘Descartes’ Myth’: ‘There is a doctrine about the nature and place of minds which is so prevalent among theorists and even among laymen that it deserves to be described as the official theory. Most philosophers, psychologists and religious teachers subscribe … The official doctrine, which hails chiefly from Descartes, is something like this. With the doubtful exceptions of idiots and infants in arms every human being has both a body and a mind (1973 edition, p. 13) … I shall often speak of it, with deliberate abusiveness, as ‘the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine’. I hope to prove that it is entirely false, and false not in detail but in principle (p. 17).’

It is sixty seven years since Ryle published the book; it was first published in 1949, republished in 1963, reprinted in 1966, 1968, and 1970; reissued in 1973. Can there be nowadays found a religious teacher, let alone a philosopher, who subscribes to the Cartesian dualism? What a change!

Since I believe that body and mind are two distinct though functionally closely interrelated entities, I cannot return to Plato without having an argument with Ryle.

What does Ryle mean when he says that the Cartesian dualism is false not in detail but in principle? He explains: ‘It is one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind. It is, namely, a category-mistake. It represents the facts of mental life as if they belonged to one logical type or category (or range of types or categories) when they actually belong to another. The dogma is therefore a philosopher’s myth. In attempting to explode the myth I shall probably be taken to be denying well-known facts about the mental life of human beings, and my plea that I am at doing nothing more than rectify the logic of mental-conduct concepts will probably be disallowed as mere subterfuge.’ (p. 17)

After reading Ryle’s book attentively, I cannot think of a single instance where I could point my finger at his ‘denying well-known facts about the mental life of human beings’. But that’s not the problem. The problem is his conviction that he can explode the notion that body and mind are two distinct entities by rectifying the logic of mental-conduct concepts.

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