Reading Response: Ryle

Descarte’s Myth

I am fond of the argument posed by Ryle in this article, for two reasons. First, it actively illustrates what he calls category mistakes, and I am grateful; second, it explains why philosophers seem so intent on having a non-physical mind: to make humans different from animals.

The category mistake provides me a framework in which to argue about one of our previous readings Shaffer’s Consciousness and the Mind-body problem. In it, he argues against the identity theory with the perplexing argument that thoughts cannot have a physical location, and thus they cannot be physical so there must be a separate mental realm. I struggled to refute this argument even though I knew it was wrong, because it is a category mistake. Thoughts cannot have a location, but they are states of mind (and, in identity theory, the brain). That does not make them non-physical, any more than my speech is non-physical because it has no location. My speech is a moving state of the air around me, and identity theory holds that my thoughts are states of my brain.

Second, the motivation behind this problem helps me to understand why it holds relatively little interest to my mind. It is entirely possible that we have both a body and a separate mental existence, but by the terms of the theory itself this is unprovable. The theory’s advocates seem to hold this theory merely as a tool to make humans more important than and separate from animals. But if, like me, you do not see the need to make humans fundamentally different in nature from animals (or even would like very much if we could give animals some of our own unique characteristics) the theory is useless, since it isn’t predictive of anything that can impact our existence.

Finally, I must reject the editor’s interpretation of this piece. It’s entirely possible that Ryle has other writings which make clear he is a behaviorist, but this piece seems to remain relatively neutral since it explicitly holds that the debate is invalid. If anything, it seems to endorse the identity of mind and body. For instance, if the mind is a state of the brain (or a sequence of states, the processes accompanying them, etc) then humans have both a mind and a body. Mental events and processes exist, and it so happens that the processes we have “internally observed” as mental are in fact physical workings of our brains, so we have both a mind and a body, but the question of how the mind connects to the body is nonsensical in the same way that asking how the government connects to the body is nonsensical. Asking the doctor to take away the pain is asking the doctor for a drug that will prevent certain states and processes of the brain from existing. This is how I interpret Ryle’s writing, and I find it to be distinctly non-behaviorist.