An analysis of Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind
Master of Arts
The nature of mind Is not an Issue new to those In philosophical circles. It has long been a controversial problem and no entirely satisfactory solution has been proposed to date. In this thesis, the problem has been taken up again, with the views and arguments contained in Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind as a main focus. Much of Ryle's book is devoted to an attack on the Cartesian view that mind and body are two distinct substances having different kinds of qualities. The operations of the mind are unobservable and unwitnessable, while those of the body are observable. On the Cartesian view, therefore, mental concepts seem to function as names of mysterious entities or processes, Ryle has strong objections to this position. Moreover, he argues for treating mental concepts as more or less dispositional in character, thus enabling us to understand mental phenomena without invoking the mysteries of the Cartesian view. The first part of this thesis is devoted to Ryle's analysis of some mental concepts. When we use various mental concepts, we are frequently talking about the various activities people are disposed to engage in. To say someone is Intelligent is to say that if certain situations arise, he will perform in a certain manner. This applies to other mental concepts such as being vain, etc. Ryle’s treatment of introspection, memory, and volition are discussed to show how we might understand these notions without resorting to unexplainable processes of mysterious entities. The second part of the thesis is an attempt to analyze Ryle's concept of a disposition, "Disposition" is a word applied freely both to living beings and non-living things as well. Not all dispositions are alike. A rough characterization can, however, be given. Ryle distinguishes single-track dispositions, the manifestations of which are unique and definite, and many-track dispositions, the manifestations of which are complex and sometimes undefinable. Besides these differences, the sentences containing mental concepts have different logical structures. Ryle classifies these into three types. Categoricals function simply to narrate what has taken place or what is now taking place, Hypotheticals function in a manner similar to a law in the sense that they are "inference tickets" which license their possessor to move from asserting certain factual statements to asserting other factual statements. Such hypothetical statements, therefore, do not primarily describe what people are doing or have done but rather enable us to explain, predict, and retrodict people's behavior. Mongrel-Categoricals are the last type, and they function not only to explain and predict behavior but also to describe or narrate what has occurred. The final part of the thesis is devoted to the analysis and evaluation of certain objections to Ryle's treatment of mental concepts. He has been accused of identifying mental concepts with overt acts. The accusation is not without point. Yet, according to Ryle, to admit the distinction between overt and covert acts is to adopt a form of dualism. Another famous objection is that contrary to Ryle, mental concepts can not be unpacked into any list of hypothetical statements. Ryle, however, has already conceded this point. His distinction between single-track and many-track dispositions and his characterization of many-track dispositions enables him to account for the complex and indefinite ways in which certain dispositions manifest themselves. It is quite obvious that Ryle's dispositional account removes much of the mystery that previously clouded the concept of mind. It also suggests a new direction for further investigation of the nature of the mind-body problem.