Gilbert Ryle: Mind-Body Distinction and Category Error

Gilbert Ryle: Mind-Body Distinction and Category Error

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Terms that we have no problem using in everyday language (consciousness, matter, understanding, sign, etc.), problems arise when philosophers start to deal with them. Why is that?

Here, Ryle tries to identify the source of the problem by comparing philosophers and experts. Experts in any subject develop their own expertise by dealing with and dealing with materials and objects in their field. Ryle asks: When it comes to concepts such as “cognition, sensation, secondary qualities and essences”, what specific work do philosophers do to gain expertise (“Ordinary Language”, p.123-4). Ryle claims that there is no such private business or activity, and that the concepts used by philosophers, after all, never point north, like a compass that always turns in vain and points in different directions.

Ryle puts all the ideas he has developed regarding the method of philosophy into the discussion regarding the concept of “mind”. Ryle takes the concept of mind as used by Descartes. In his work The Concept of Mind, he calls Cartesian Dualism (the presentation of mind and body as two separate substances) as Descartes’ myth. After presenting the basic theses of Cartician dualism, Ryle expresses his views as follows:

This is the official theory in outline. I will often speak of him, deliberately using a bad word, “Ghost Dogma in the Machine.” I hope to be able to show that it is completely wrong, not just in detail but in principle. It is a big mistake and a special kind of mistake. It is a category error, if I have to name it. It represents the phenomena of mental life as if they belonged to a certain logical type or category (or succession of types and categories) while in reality they belonged to someone else. Therefore, this dogma is a myth of a philosopher (The Concept of Mind, p.15-6).

Ryle explains what he means by the category error, with an example:

A foreigner visiting Oxford or Cambridge for the first time is shown the many colleges, libraries, playgrounds, museums, scientific departments and administrative offices. When asked by that visitor, he asks: ‘But where is the university? I saw where the members of the colleges lived, where the Registrar worked, where the scientists experimented, and more. But I have yet to see the university where the members of your university live and work.’ He is then told that the university is an institution alongside the others, nothing more than the offices, laboratories, colleges he sees. The university is a certain arrangement of all that it sees. When they are seen, when the coordination between them is understood, the university has been seen” (The Concept of Mind, p.16).

With a similar thought, Ryle says that the mind is not another “thing” outside and beyond the body, and that when we speak of a person’s mind we are talking about a certain arrangement of his behavior and activities.

According to Ryle, the mind is not an object in itself, but a certain arrangement of human behavior and activities.

Although only the word “mind” is mentioned in the title of the book, Ryle has a lot of ideas about knowing, learning, exploring, dreaming, hoping, wanting, feeling pain or pleasure, feeling depressed, etc. states that he discussed the concepts in this book (“Phenomenology versus ‘The Concept of Mind’”, p.188). In accordance with the mapmaker analogy we have mentioned above, it deals with all these concepts together with their interrelationships and implications.

The book tries to expose the “type errors” or “category errors” that philosophers influenced by the Cartesian understanding of mind are prone to make based on words related to mental acts.

Descartes’ understanding of two worlds (two substances) leads to different engagements on ontological, epistemological and semantic planes, and each of them produces its own philosophical puzzles.

The view that binds thinkers in an ontological sense is that there are two different things (substance) and that they interact in some way. One of these two things takes place in spacetime and moves according to the laws of mechanics. The other does not take place in space-time and constitutes its essence thinking. Somehow these two substances interact with each other. The goal of a philosopher of mind who adheres to this view is to clarify the relationship between mental and physical properties. This problem is briefly referred to as the “mind-body problem” and although different theories have been developed until today, it has not been resolved.

The view that there are two different things (substance) also connects philosophers epistemologically. The problem (riddle) that arises this time is referred to as “the problem of the mind of the other person”. Since bodily processes are physical, they can be observed externally. However, mental processes cannot be observed because they are “internal” (that is, they have no specific place in the external world) and are private. The inner states in question are directly known by the subject who has them.