Gilbert Ryle

Gilbert Ryle books and biography


Gilbert Ryle

Name: Gilbert Ryle
Birth: August 19, 1900
Death: October 6, 1976
School/tradition: Analytic
Main interests: Language, Ordinary language philosophy, Philosophy of mind, Behaviourism, Meaning, Cognition
Notable ideas: Ryle's Regress, Ordinary language philosophy, The Ghost in the machine
Influences: Descartes, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein
Influenced: J. L. Austin, A. J. Ayer, R.M. Hare, Wilfrid Sellars, Daniel Dennett

Gilbert Ryle (Brighton, 19 August 1900–Oxford, 6 October 1976), was a philosopher, and a representative of the generation of British ordinary language philosophers influenced by Wittgenstein's insights into language, and is principally known for his critique of Cartesian dualism, for which he coined the phrase "the ghost in the machine". He referred to some of his ideas as "behaviourism" (not to be confused with the psychological behaviourism of B. F. Skinner and John B. Watson).

He was born in Brighton, England in 1900 and educated at Brighton College, like his brothers John and George (In later life, Gilbert was a governor of Brighton College and the school named a dayboy house in his honour). A capable linguist, he was recruited to intelligence work during World War II, after which he became Wayneflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford, and published his principal work, "The Concept of Mind" in 1949. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1945 to 1946.


The Concept of Mind

In The Concept of Mind (1949), Ryle admits to having been taken in by the body-mind dualism which permeates Western philosophy, and claims that the idea of Mind as an independent entity, inhabiting and governing the body, should be rejected as a redundant piece of literalism carried over from the era before the biological sciences became established. The proper function of Mind-body language, he suggests, is to describe how higher organisms such as humans demonstrate resourcefulness, strategy, the ability to abstract and hypothesize and so on from the evidences of their behaviour.

He attacks the idea of 17th and 18th century thinkers (such as Descartes and La Mettrie) that nature is a complex machine, and that human nature is a smaller machine with a "ghost" in it to account for intelligence, spontaneity and other such human qualities. While mental vocabulary plays an important role in describing and explaining human behavior, neither are humans analogous to machines nor do philosophers need a "hidden" principle to explain their super-mechanical capacities.

Ryle asserted that the workings of the mind are not distinct from the actions of the body. They are one and the same. Mental vocabulary is, he insists, merely a different manner of describing action. He also claimed that the nature of a person's motives are defined by that person's dispositions to act in certain situations. There are no overt feelings, pains, or twinges of vanity. There is instead a set of actions and feelings that are subsumed under a general behavior-trend or propensity to act, which we term "vanity."

Novelists, historians and journalists, Ryle points out, have no trouble in ascribing motives, moral values and individuality to people's actions. It is only when philosophers try to attribute these qualities to a separate realm of mind or soul that the problem arises. Ryle also created the classic argument against cognitivist theories of explanation, Ryle's Regress.

Legacy and influence

"The Concept of Mind" was recognized on its appearance as an important contribution to philosophical psychology, and an important work in the ordinary language philosophy movement. However, in the 1960s and 1970s the rising influence of the cognitivist theories of Noam Chomsky, Herbert Simon, Jerry Fodor and others in the neo-Cartesian school became predominant. Chomsky even wrote a book entitled Cartesian Linguistics. In philosophy the two major post-war schools in the philosophy of mind, the representationalism of Jerry Fodor and the functionalism of Wilfrid Sellars posited precisely the 'internal' cognitive states that Ryle had argued against. However as influential modern philosopher and former student Daniel Dennett has pointed out, recent trends in psychology such as embodied cognition, discursive psychology, situated cognition and others in the post-cognitivist tradition have provoked a renewed interest in Ryle's work. Ryle remains a significant defender of the possibility of lucid and meaningful interpretation of higher-level human activities without recourse to an abstracted soul.

Aspects of Ryle's work have been an important influence on cultural anthropologists like Clifford Geertz who approvingly quote his notion of 'thick description.'

Other writings

His other books are Plato's Progress (1966) and Dilemmas (1954), a collection of shorter pieces. He was also editor of the philosophical journal Mind from 1947 to 1971.

A text which has influenced anthropologists is 'The Thinking of Thoughts: What is 'Le Penseur' Doing?' [1]

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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