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Encyclopedia > The Concept of Mind

In his prominent work, The Concept of Mind (1949), the philosopher Gilbert Ryle describes the 'fundamental mistake' made by Descartes' dualism and much of western philosophy of the 17th and 18th centuries. 1949 (MCMXLIX) is a common year starting on Saturday. ... Gilbert Ryle Gilbert Ryle (1900–1976), was a philosopher, and a representative of the generation of British ordinary language philosophers influenced by Wittgensteins 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... René Descartes René Descartes (IPA: , March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650), also known as Cartesius, worked as a philosopher and mathematician. ... It has been suggested that Combative dualism be merged into this article or section. ... Western philosophy is a line of related philosophical thinking, beginning in Ancient Greece, and including the predominant philosophical thinking of Europe and its former colonies, and continues to this day. ...

The error lies in the category mistake of assigning mind and the brain as coexisting. While there is a mind and a body, the two have distinct existences and the dualist view cannot explain how one affects the other. A category mistake is a semantic or ontological error by which a property (or some category of being) is incorrectly ascribed to a particular ontological type or token in a proposition and therefore is meaningless or nonsense. ...

This concept is illustrated by one of Ryle's examples in the text. When a prospective student visits a university, s/he will see the library, the labs, the sports arena, but then many very well ask the tour guide, "but where is the university?", having been under the assumption that it is a different place altogether. The same is done by Descartes, according to Ryle, and it becomes necessary to alter the way in which we describe the entities of mind and brain.

Another illustration of a category mistake is that of the Average Taxpayer. One can have a discussion about the Average Taxpayer but you won't come across him in the streets. The mistake is in thinking that the Average Taxpayer is a fellow citizen as real as yourself. With this mindset the Average Taxpayer becomes an elusive insubstantial man, a kind of ghost. A ghost that Ryle argues Descartes is mistakenly looking for.

Publication details

  • The Concept of Mind, by Gilbert Ryle. University Of Chicago Press: New Univer edition (2000). ISBN 0226732967

  Results from FactBites:
20th WCP: Mind, Intelligence and Spirit (3165 words)
The attribution of mind to frogs, bees or eels is accomplished by analogy with the human mental processes; for instance, if we observe in an animal a behaviour showing reception of information, then we can attribute some type of sensation or even some type of perception to it.
Likewise the attribution of mind to computers or robots is made by analogy with the human mental processes; for example, if we observe in a robot a behaviour indicating a plan of activity, then we can attribute to it some type of planning.
The philosophy of mind, that should be philosophy of psychology as well as philosophy of artificial intelligence, must distinguish different kinds of mind, diverse kinds of intelligence, but also the existence of spiritual processes in human beings as specific properties.
Rene Descartes and the Legacy of Mind/Body Dualism (998 words)
While the great philosophical distinction between mind and body in western thought can be traced to the Greeks, it is to the seminal work of René Descartes (1596-1650) [see figure 1], French mathematician, philosopher, and physiologist, that we owe the first systematic account of the mind/body relationship.
In Descartes' conception, the rational soul, an entity distinct from the body and making contact with the body at the pineal gland, might or might not become aware of the differential outflow of animal spirits brought about through the rearrangement of the interfibrillar spaces.
It is either beyond our ability to understand how body and mind are united, or, at best, we are forced back to the common sense conception of their mutual interaction.
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