Ryle, Gilbert (1900–76)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD060-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 17, 2020, from

3. Dilemmas and ‘Le Penseur’

In 1953, Ryle gave the Tarner Lectures at Cambridge; they were published the following year as Dilemmas. The paradigmatic type of dilemma which Ryle had in mind, and which he believed would yield to the right sort of philosophical analysis, was that which arose when answers to different questions were mistakenly taken to be answers to one and the same questions and so to be in competition with one another. The solution to such dilemmas was to demonstrate that the purported answers cannot in fact be answers to one and the same question because they are of a different logical type or category. Thus, for example, the neurophysiologist’s account of perception, the philosopher’s account and the ordinary person’s account are not in competition with each other, though they might at first appear to be so. When examined closely, each account has been generated in response to quite different questions. The neurophysiologist’s question is ‘What are the mechanisms of perception?’, the philosopher’s ‘What is perception?’, and the ordinary person’s ‘What is perceived?’

Ryle dealt with other dilemmas by analysing them as arising through the misinterpretation of some unproblematic and innocuous proposition, such that the misinterpretation then emerges as a rival to the common-sense view of the matter. For example, a dilemma occurs when the dictum, ‘That whatever is, was to be’ is misinterpreted by the Fatalist as ‘That for whatever takes place, it was antecedently true that it was going to take place’, instead of being given the quite innocuous interpretation, ‘That for everything that happens, if anyone had at any previous time made the guess that it would happen, the guess would have turned out correct’. The misinterpretation occurs, Ryle suggested, when the term ‘true’ is incorrectly assigned to the category of ‘property’ when it should be assigned to the category of ‘verdict’.

Though less spectacular and on the whole less successful than in The Concept of Mind, the Tarner Lectures were a further display of his view that many philosophical problems can be solved by ‘systematic restatement’ through ‘the replacement of category-habits by category-disciplines’. This in turn meant that category mistakes are to be corrected by having misapplied terms and the misunderstood concepts underlying them reassigned to their correct categories or types. It was not an idle comment of Ryle’s when he said that Russell’s Theory of Types had been an important influence on his work (see Categories §2).

Between 1949 and 1954 Ryle wrote a further series of influential papers on philosophical logic, including ‘“If”, “So” and “Because”’ (1950a), ‘Heterologicality’ (1950b), ‘Thinking and Language’ (1951), and ‘Ordinary Language’ (1953). At about the same time Ryle also embarked on the first in the series of papers on the theme which was to occupy him on and off for the rest of his life: the nature of thinking, in particular reflective or contemplative thinking. Indeed, he believed that an inadequate account of this latter aspect was one of the major omissions in The Concept of Mind.

Ryle acknowledged that mental activities such as doing mental arithmetic or composing a tune in one’s head or, in general, doing whatever it was that ‘Le Penseur’ (Rodin’s ‘Thinker’) was doing posed a particular problem for his approach to the analysis of mind. Such activities were circumstance-disengaged and behaviour-free, and thus there was nothing of which a dispositional analysis could take hold. Eventually Ryle toyed with the idea of giving ‘an adverbial account’. Such an account worked well enough in the context of practical thinking. Thinking, Ryle argued, was often doing something, such as playing chess or driving a car, ‘thinkingly’ or ‘wittingly’, that is, ‘with initiative, care, patience, pertinacity and interest’. However, to give an adverbial account of what ‘Le Penseur’ is doing, one must first nominate some inner activity of which thinking is the modification. This, Ryle admitted, he was never able satisfactorily to do, and he was still wrestling with the problem at the time of his death in 1976. The record of his struggles with this problem - in the case of true contemplative thinking, of ‘finding the peg’ on which to hang the adverbial modifications - was published posthumously as On Thinking (1979) (see Mental states, adverbial theory of).

Citing this article:
Lyons, William. Dilemmas and ‘Le Penseur’. Ryle, Gilbert (1900–76), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD060-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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