Understanding Ryle’s ‘Concept of Mind’

Abu asked:

Sir, I have been reading trying to understand ‘the concept of mind’ by Gilbert Ryle, but I can’t understand it,, so if you can please help me giving me some brief and basic idea on this topic.

Answer by Caterina Pangallo

The Concept of Mind by Gilbert Ryle is a rebuttal of Descartes ‘res cogitans’, which he calls the ‘The Ghost in the Machine’.

Descartes believed we have such a ‘thinking thing’ in our head. Gilbert says that’s impossible; it has never been found and never will, because it is a ghost.

Instead he refers to our inner private experiences that should be seen as dispositions to behave in a certain way. Ryle took a philosophical view that mental states must always translate into physical actions.

The only way we know what people have on their minds is because they behave in a certain way. In that sense, the ‘mind’ is nothing other than the dispositions of people to behave according to what they know, how they feel, what they desire and so on.

Ryle shows that this view of the mind depends on understanding words in a certain way as well. words such as ‘knowing’ reflect a disposition to learn and then to use knowledge for your purposes-which you do by behaving in an appropriate way.

So the mind’s operations are just as visible and just as evident as jumping, skipping, etc. knowing, and believing are dispositions in this sense; Knowing and believing influence the way people act. But this is not a secret operation of a hidden ghost.

Ryle concludes that mind is not separate from the body. Mind is just the sum of all our dispositions, and we know about it because of the way people behave.

He gives a good illustration. Take a visitor to Oxford and show him all the colleges, labs, libraries, galleries, sporting arenas and administration offices.

The visitor may now ask, ‘But where is the University?’ This is like asking, ‘where is the mind?’ All those colleges etc ARE the university. And so all our dispositions to know, believe, feel and act ARE what we call the ‘The Mind’.

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