Ryle, Gilbert (1900–76)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD060-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

2. The Concept of Mind

In 1947, Ryle became editor of Mind, then the most influential philosophy journal in the English-speaking world, and set about turning its gaze outwards as well. A few years before, in 1945, he was beginning to crystallize his ideas about a number of issues in the philosophy of mind. The outcome of this, in 1949, was The Concept of Mind. As he himself readily admitted, The Concept of Mind was ‘a sustained piece of analytical hatchet-work’ on Cartesian dualism, whose view of mind he gleefully lampooned as an account of ‘the life of a ghostly Robinson Crusoe’ and as ‘the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine’. Strictly speaking, his target was not so much Descartes himself as Cartesian doctrines which he believed had lain more or less unmolested in the philosophy of mind up to that time.

Ryle believed that Cartesian dualism was one large category mistake - an incorrect assignment of the terms of our common-sense psychological vocabulary to one logico-linguistic category or type when they should be assigned to another. After careful philosophical analysis it would be discovered that our mental terms, such as ‘mind’, ‘thought’ or ‘belief’, are not words which refer to or describe an inner private mental world of faculties with their proprietary activities but are mostly to be analysed as dispositional terms whose attribution depends on the ordinary observation of ordinary human behaviour. For dispositions are nothing but an ability, propensity, liability or capacity to do things of a certain type in certain specifiable circumstances (see Dispositions §1). To be intelligent is to be disposed to accomplish successfully such tasks as doing mathematical problems or intelligence tests; it is not to provoke an inner Cartesian faculty, called ‘the intellect’, into producing its private and proprietary mental acts (see Dualism §1).

Even attributions about what seem to be the most ‘inner’ and ‘private’ of mental activities are still to be cashed out in a behaviouristic way. Thus imagining is paradigmatically an outward performance, such as when a boxer imagines, in an afternoon’s shadow-boxing performance, how the fight will go that evening. So imagining in one’s head should also be analysed in relation to ordinary ‘outer’ behaviour. To imagine my childhood nursery is not to engage in inner Cartesian performances, but simply to realize, anticipate or expect what I would be seeing if I were once again in my nursery. It is to be disposed to see something if...

To take another example, to introspect is not to observe inwardly, in some non-sensuous manner with our ‘mind’s eyes’, some item in our streams of consciousness. Rather, it is to ‘retrospect’ in memory some behaviour of our own, covert or public, which we have perceived in the past with our ordinary ‘outer’ senses, and then to make some overall dispositional claims about what we have been able to recall. Indeed, Ryle notoriously asserted in The Concept of Mind that ‘the sorts of things that I can find out about myself are the same as the sorts of things that I can find out about other people, and the methods of finding them out are much the same’ (1949: 155)

It was conclusions such as these which led many to describe Ryle as a logical behaviourist. In The Concept of Mind at least, he seemed to arrive at much the same conclusions as did the psychological behaviourists, but his reasons were logico-linguistic, not methodological. On the other hand, it is probably true to say that both those who assent that Ryle was a logical behaviourist and those who deny it find support for their arguments in The Concept of Mind (see Behaviourism, analytic).

Citing this article:
Lyons, William. The Concept of Mind. Ryle, Gilbert (1900–76), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD060-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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