Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Concept of Mind

The Concept of Mind


The Concept of Mind (1949) by Gilbert Ryle  is a rejection of the theory that mental states are searable from physical states. According to Ryle, the classical theory of mind, as represented by Cartesian rationalism, asserts that there is a basic distinction between mind and matter.


Ryle rejects Descartes’ theory of the relation betwen mind and body, on the grounds that it approaches the investigation of mental processes as if they could be isolated from physical processes. According to Ryle, mental processes are merely intelligent acts. There are no mental processes that are distinct from intelligent acts. The operations of the mind are not merely represented by intelligent acts, they are the same as those intelligent acts. Thus, acts of learning, remembering, imagining, knowing, or willing are not merely clues to hidden mental processes or to complex sequences of intellectual operations, they are the way in which those mental processes or intellectual operations are defined. Logical propositions are not merely clues to modes of reasoning, they are those modes of reasoning.


The theory of the separability of mind and body is described by Ryle as "the dogma of the ghost in the machine." He explains that there is no hidden entity called "the mind" inside a mechanical apparatus called "the body." The workings of the mind are not an independent mechanism which governs the workings of the body. The workings of the mind are not distinct from the actions of the body and may be better conceptualized as a way of explaining the actions of the body.

Cartesian theory holds that mental acts determine physical acts and that volitional acts of the body must be caused by volitional acts of the mind.  According to Ryle, there is no contradiction between saying that an action is governed by physical laws and saying that the same action is governed by principles of reasoning. The motives of observable actions are not hidden mental processes; they are propensities or dispositions that explain why these behaviors occur. For example, the disposition to want or not to want something is not explained by an intellectual act of wanting or not wanting that thing. The disposition to want something is explained by the behaviors that are involved in wanting that thing. Thus, the mind consists of various abilities or dispositions that explain such behaviors as learning, remembering, knowing, feeling, or willing. However, personal abilities or dispositions are not the same as mental processes or events. To refer to abilities or dispositions as if they were mental occurrences is to make a basic kind of category-mistake.

The nature of a person’s motives may be defined by the actions and reactions of that person in various circumstances or situations. The nature of a person’s motives in a particular situation may not necessarily be determined by any hidden mental processes or intellectual acts within that person. Motives may be revealed or explained by a person’s behavior in a situation. 

Dispositions are neither visible nor hidden, because they are not in the same logical category as behavioral actions. Dispositions are not mental processes or intellectual acts, they are propensities which explain various modes of behavior. Perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and feelings may be understood as observable behaviors which have various modes of production.

Ryle admits that his approach to the theory of mind is behavioristic in being opposed to the theory that there are hidden mental processes which are distinct from observable behaviors. His approach is based on the view that actions such as thinking, remembering, feeling, and willing are revealed by modes of behavior or by dispositions to modes of behavior.

Other Interesting Sources

Re-Introducing The Concept of Mind
Daniel C. Dennett
Department of Philosophy and Center for Cognitive Studies,
Tufts University

Review - Descartes's Concept of Mind
by Lilli Alanen
Harvard University Press, 2003
Review by Sean Crawford, Ph.D.
Sep 3rd 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 36)

International Seminar on Mind, Brain and Consciousness

Mind, Brain and Consciousness

Thursday, 14th and Friday, 15th January, 2010 


In association with
Mens Sana Monographs

Concept of Mind according to Philosophical Behaviorism

Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind: The Nyaya Dualist Tradition. (Book Review).
Article from:Philosophy East and West Article date:January 1, 2002 Author: Perrett, Roy W.


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