Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 291

According to Gilbert Ryle, it is not the function of philosophy to furnish information about minds. Teachers, magistrates, historians, and plain people of all sorts already know the kinds of things that can be known about them, and knowing more is merely a matter of extending one’s experience. Philosophers have access to no special facts; however, if they ply their trade properly, they can help “rectify the logical geography of the knowledge which we already possess.”

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As Ryle sees it, most people know how to make correct use of concepts that apply to mental situations but cannot state the “logical regulations governing their use.” Consequently, they do not know how to correlate such concepts with one another or with concepts that refer to matters other than mental facts. The philosopher has the task of clearing up confusions and correcting mistakes that have their source in this kind of ineptness.

It is particularly incumbent on philosophers to do this because, in Ryle’s opinion, most of the difficulties that occur in talking about these matters—for example, the mind-body problem, solipsism, and knowledge of “other minds”—have their origin in the errors of philosophers. In particular, modern European thinkers have great difficulty in throwing off the two-substance doctrine so forcibly stated by French philosopher René Descartes, according to which a person has immediate knowledge of his or her own mind by a kind of interior illumination, greatly superior to the kind of knowledge—never more than an inference—that the individual has of material things. According to this view, which Ryle calls “the official doctrine,” minds dwell in bodies but share none of the characteristics of material things. He frequently stigmatizes it as “the dogma of the ghost in the machine.”

The Logic and Meaning of Statements

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

In attacking this dogma, Ryle carries over into epistemology the battle that the logical positivists previously waged against metaphysics. The lines of his attack, if not the weapons, are familiar. The first line of attack has to do with the logic of statements: whether the expressions are related to one another in a coherent fashion. The second has to do with the meaning of the statements: under which conditions they can be verified or confirmed. For the purpose of carrying through the former of these attacks, Ryle sets up a series of “categories,” deliberately reviving the Aristotelian term but relating the discovery of categories to linguistic analysis.

Ryle explains “the official doctrine” in terms of what he calls a “category mistake.” To suppose that “the university” is an entity in the same sense that its component colleges, libraries, laboratories, and so forth are entities, would be to make a category mistake. Another would be to suppose that “team spirit” has the same kind of reality that batters, fielders, and umpires do. These extreme examples to one side, the danger is ever present, Ryle says, that people who know how to apply terms correctly in familiar situations will fall victim to the fallacy of mixing up terms of different orders when they try to think in abstract ways. In his opinion, most mistakes in thinking about “mind” are of this sort.

The Nature of Mind

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371

The categories people use in describing the physical world are “thing,” “stuff,” “attribute,” “state,” “process,” “change,” “cause,” and “effect.” The error of philosophers, and of ordinary people when they try to theorize, consists of supposing that there are “things” called “minds” comparable to...

(The entire section contains 3489 words.)

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