Gilbert Ryle: What is the Subject of Philosophy?

Gilbert Ryle: What is the Subject of Philosophy?

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

At the beginning of the 20th century, with the exclusion of philosophical understandings based on psychology, the belief that the mental as opposed to the physical constitutes the subject of philosophy no longer accepted.

Ryle argued that in this period, philosophers were looking for some objects that were neither physical nor mental, and that many such objects, from Platonic ideas, propositions, logical forms, sense data and intentional objects, were subjects for philosophers working on this subject. According to Ryle, what makes philosophy a philosophy is not that it talks about a particular set of objects. Philosophy deals with some problems in a unique way. According to Ryle, the relationship between those who speak a language competently and philosophers is like the relationship between a villager who knows a particular area because he has lived there for many years, and a cartographer who maps that area. The native in question knows the region through his own experiences and memory. They have personal ideas about where to go and how. However, the expert who wants to map the region has to abandon these personal perspectives and deal with the subject from a more general point of view. He has to use units of measurement, tools such as ruler, compass. If the native of the area in question is asked to draw a map or give a description using an existing map, that person is expected to start talking with the tools and units used by the cartographer.

Our learning of the everyday language is similar to learning the region where that native lives. When we learn to speak the language, we do not need to learn to express the rules that determine the language. On the other hand, when we replace one word or phrase with another while learning to speak the language, we learn that the meaning of the expression and its implications differ. This situation is similar to the situation of the native, who follows different paths while going from one place to another in his own region and arrives at different points by some chosen path. That person also knows these differences, on the other hand, he does not feel the need to think about these differences while acting in his own region. However, when I use different expressions in everyday language, we also realize that the contents of these expressions lead us towards some opposite meanings (opposite directions).

To make this point, Ryle gives as an example the tensions between words that describe a weary sailor’s action in a storm. The sailor struggles in the storm voluntarily (Eng. voluntarily) but reluctantly (Eng. Reluctantly) (“Abstractions”, p.443). The two words used here cause some confusion. The seafarer does what he does “voluntarily”, not because of coercion. But whatever he is doing, he does it “involuntarily”. Where the inclusions of both statements carry me (Eng. implication threads) are opposite to each other.

In order to resolve the complex situation I am facing here, I must first be convinced that the conflict in question is only apparent. It will suffice for me to do a conceptual analysis to figure out how the contents of both statements can be combined. But in order to do that, I no longer need to make a reference to the seafarer or situation he is in. Now I begin to speak in a general style of more general concepts such as action, motive, choice, will.

Ryle thinks that philosophical problems arise from such conflicts that we encounter again and again. To use another example given by Ryle, we speak of people being free and their behavior being predictable and explainable within a network of causality at the same time. We treat human behavior as both mechanical and non-mechanical, with the different expressions we use (“Abstractions”, p.444). This is the conflict in which a philosophical question arises in which the tension between freedom and determinism arises. The question of how we came to use these two different forms of expression falls within the field of study of philosophy. We now need a theory of a space in which we walk comfortably on a daily basis.

Systematic Ambiguity

Ryle’s determination of the subject of philosophy in this way makes it impossible to form general philosophical theories from another point of view. Words and more complex expressions have different meanings and references in different contexts, and this cannot be limited to a particular group of ambiguities. The fact that different words and expressions have different implications in different contexts creates a systematic ambiguity. Philosophy has to take into account and monitor these differentiations and deviations of meanings. On the other hand, not being aware of these systematic ambiguities is at the root of many philosophical problems. In other words, some spurious problems arise due to the inability to resolve these ambiguities.

Concepts, Propositions and Meaning

Ryle’s understanding of the ambiguities of language is that the words “meaning” and “meaning”