Ideas of Gilbert Ryle, by Theme

[British, 1900 - 1976, Born in Brighton. Professor at the University of Oxford. Taught A.J.Ayer and Daniel Dennett.]

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1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / a. Philosophy as worldly
Philosophy aims to become more disciplined about categories
     Full Idea: Philosophy is the replacement of category-habits by category-disciplines.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], Intro p.8), quoted by Ofra Magidor - Category Mistakes 1.2
     A reaction: I rather like this. It fits the view the idea that metaphysics aims to give the structure of reality. If there are not reasonably uniform categories for things, then reality is indescribable. Improving our categories seems a thoroughly laudable aim.
2. Reason / F. Fallacies / 8. Category Mistake / a. Category mistakes
We can't do philosophy without knowledge of types and categories
     Full Idea: We are in the dark about the nature of philosophical problems and methods if we are in the dark about types and categories.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Categories [1938], p.189), quoted by Ofra Magidor - Category Mistakes 1.2
     A reaction: Magidor and others take this to be an assertion about language and logic, but I take it to be an assertion about reality. It is an early assertion of Schaffer's claim that ontology concerns the structure of existence, and not just what exists.
3. Truth / C. Correspondence Truth / 2. Correspondence to Facts
A true proposition seems true of one fact, but a false proposition seems true of nothing at all.
     Full Idea: Whereas there might be just one fact that a true proposition was like, we would have to say that a false proposition was unlike any fact. We could not speak of the fact that it was false of, so we could not speak of its being false of anything at all.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], 'Objections')
     A reaction: Ryle brings out very nicely the point Russell emphasised so much, that the most illuminating studies in philosophy are of how falsehood works, rather than of how truths work. If I say 'the Queen is really a man' it is obvious what that is false of.
3. Truth / C. Correspondence Truth / 3. Correspondence Truth critique
Two maps might correspond to one another, but they are only 'true' of the country they show
     Full Idea: One map of Sussex is like another, but it is not true of that other map, but only of the county.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], 'Objections')
     A reaction: One might question whether a map is in any sense 'true' of Sussex, though one must admit that there are good and bad maps of Sussex. The point is a nice one, which shows that there is no simple account of truth as correspondence.
5. Theory of Logic / A. Overview of Logic / 1. Overview of Logic
Logic studies consequence, compatibility, contradiction, corroboration, necessitation, grounding....
     Full Idea: Logic studies the way in which one thing follows from another, in which one thing is compatible with another, contradicts, corroborates or necessitates another, is a special case of another or the nerve of another. And so on.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], IV)
     A reaction: I presume that 'and so on' would include how one thing proves another. This is quite a nice list, which makes me think a little more widely about the nature of logic (rather than just about inference). Incompatibility isn't a process.
5. Theory of Logic / G. Quantification / 4. Substitutional Quantification
The values of variables can't determine existence, because they are just expressions
     Full Idea: Ryle objected somewhere to my dictum that 'to be is to be the value of a variable', arguing that the values of variables are expressions, and hence that my dictum repudiates all things except expressions.
     From: report of Gilbert Ryle (works [1950]) by Willard Quine - Reply to Professor Marcus p.183
     A reaction: I have a lot of sympathy with Ryle's view, and I associate it with the peculiar Millian view that we can somehow replace a name in a sentence with the actual physical object. Objects can't be parts of sentences - and maybe they can't be 'values'.
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 8. Facts / c. Facts and truths
Many sentences do not state facts, but there are no facts which could not be stated
     Full Idea: There are many sentences which do not state facts, while there are no facts which (in principle) could not be stated.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], 'Substitute')
     A reaction: Hm. This seems like a nice challenge. The first problem would be infinite facts. Then complex universal facts, beyond the cognizance of any mind. Then facts that change faster than thinking can change. Do you give up yet? Then there's....
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 6. Dispositions / e. Dispositions as potential
A dispositional property is not a state, but a liability to be in some state, given a condition
     Full Idea: To possess a dispositional property is not to be in a particular state; is to be bound or liable to be in a particular state, or undergo a particular change, when a particular condition is realized.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], II (7))
     A reaction: Whether this view is correct is the central question about dispositions. Ryle's view is tied in with Humean regularities and behaviourism about mind. The powers view, which I favour, says a disposition is a drawn bow, an actual state of power.
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 7. Against Powers
No physical scientist now believes in an occult force-exerting agency
     Full Idea: The old error treating the term 'Force' as denoting an occult force-exerting agency has been given up in the physical sciences.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], V (1))
     A reaction: Since 1949 they seem to have made a revival, once they are divested of their religious connotations. The word 'agency' is the misleading bit. Even Leibniz's monads weren't actual agents - he always said that was 'an analogy'.
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 3. Representation
Representation assumes you know the ideas, and the reality, and the relation between the two
     Full Idea: The theory of Representative Ideas begs the whole question, by assuming a) that we can know these 'Ideas', b) that we can know the realities they represent, and c) we can know a particular 'idea' to be representative of a particular reality.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], 'Objections')
     A reaction: Personally I regard the ideas as immediate (rather than acquired by some knowledge process), and I am dimly hoping that they represent reality (or I'm in deep trouble), and I am struggling to piece together the reality they represent. I'm happy with that.
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 3. Mental Causation
Can one movement have a mental and physical cause?
     Full Idea: The dogma of the Ghost in the Machine maintains that there exist both minds and bodies; that there are mechanical causes of corporeal movements, and mental causes of corporeal movements.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], I (3))
     A reaction: This nicely identifies the problem of double causation, which can be found in Spinoza (Idea 4862). The dualists have certainly got a problem here, but they can deny a conflict. The initiation of a hand movement is not mechanical at all.
16. Persons / C. Self-Awareness / 3. Limits of Introspection
Reporting on myself has the same problems as reporting on you
     Full Idea: My reports on myself are subject to the same kinds of defects as are my reports on you.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], Ch.6)
     A reaction: This may be true of memories or of motives, but it hardly seems to apply to being in pain, where you might be totally lying, where the worst I could do to myself is exaggerate. "You're fine; how am I?"
We cannot introspect states of anger or panic
     Full Idea: No one could introspectively scrutinize the state of panic or fury.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], Ch.6)
     A reaction: It depends what you mean by 'scrutinize'. No human being ever loses their temper or panics without a background thought of "Oh dear, I'm losing it - it would probably be better if I didn't" (or, as Aristotle might say, "I'm angry, and so I should be").
16. Persons / F. Free Will / 5. Against Free Will
I cannot prepare myself for the next thought I am going to think
     Full Idea: One thing that I cannot prepare myself for is the next thought that I am going to think.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], VI (7))
17. Mind and Body / A. Mind-Body Dualism / 1. Dualism
Dualism is a category mistake
     Full Idea: The official theory of mind (as private, non-spatial, outside physical laws) I call 'the dogma of the Ghost in the Machine'. I hope to prove it entirely false, and show that it is one big mistake, namely a 'category mistake'.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949], I (2))
     A reaction: This is the essence of Ryle's eliminitavist behaviourism. Personally I agree that the idea of a separate 'ghost' running the machine is utterly implausible, but it isn't a 'category mistake'. The mind clearly exists, but the confusion is about what it is.
17. Mind and Body / B. Behaviourism / 2. Potential Behaviour
Behaviour depends on desires as well as beliefs
     Full Idea: Another problem for Ryle (from Chisholm and Geach) is that no mental state could be defined by a single range of behavioural dispositions, independent of any other mental states. (Behaviour depends upon desires as well as beliefs).
     From: comment on Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949]) by David J.Chalmers - The Conscious Mind 1.1.2
     A reaction: The defence of behaviourism is to concede this point, but suggest that behavioural dispositions come in large groups of interdependent sets, some relating to beliefs, others relating to desires, and each group leads to a behaviour.
You can't explain mind as dispositions, if they aren't real
     Full Idea: Ryle is tough-minded to the point of incoherence when he combines a dispositional account of the mind with an anti-realist account of dispositions.
     From: comment on Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949]) by Josť A. Benardete - Metaphysics: the logical approach Ch.22
     A reaction: A nice point, but it strikes me that Ryle was, by temperament at least, an eliminativist about the mind, so the objection would not bother him. Maybe a disposition and a property are the same thing?
17. Mind and Body / B. Behaviourism / 4. Behaviourism Critique
How can behaviour be the cause of behaviour?
     Full Idea: A problem for Ryle is that mental states may cause behaviour, but if mental states are themselves behavioural or behavioural dispositions, as opposed to internal states, then it is hard to see how they could do the job.
     From: comment on Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind [1949]) by David J.Chalmers - The Conscious Mind 1.1.2
     A reaction: I strongly approve of this, as an objection to any form of behaviourism or functionalism. If you identify something by its related behaviour, or its apparent function, this leaves the question 'WHY does it behave or function in this way?'
18. Thought / A. Modes of Thought / 6. Judgement / a. Nature of Judgement
If you like judgments and reject propositions, what are the relata of incoherence in a judgment?
     Full Idea: Those who find 'judgments' everywhere and propositions nowhere find that some judgments cohere whereas others are incoherent. What is the status of the terms between which these relations hold?
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], IV)
     A reaction: Ryle is playing devil's advocate, but this strikes me as a nice point. I presume Russell after 1906 is the sort of thinker he has in mind.
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 1. Meaning
Husserl and Meinong wanted objective Meanings and Propositions, as subject-matter for Logic
     Full Idea: It is argued by Husserl and (virtually) by Meinong that only if there are such entities as objective Meanings - and propositions are just a species of Meaning - is there anything for Logic to be about.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], IV)
     A reaction: It is presumably this proposal which led to the scepticism about meanings in Wittgenstein, Quine and Kripke. The modern view, which strikes me as right, is that logic is about inference, and so doesn't need a subject-matter.
19. Language / A. Nature of Meaning / 3. Meaning as Speaker's Intention
When I utter a sentence, listeners grasp both my meaning and my state of mind
     Full Idea: If I have uttered my sentence aloud, a listener can both understand what I say or grasp my meaning, and also infer to my state of mind.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], I)
     A reaction: This simple observations seems rather important. If we shake written words onto the floor, they might add up to a proper sentence, but half of the point of a sentence is missing. Irony trades on the gap between meaning and state of mind.
19. Language / D. Propositions / 1. Propositions
'Propositions' name what is thought, because 'thoughts' and 'judgments' are too ambiguous
     Full Idea: As the orthodox terms 'thoughts' and 'judgments' are equivocal, since they may equally well denote 'thinkings' as 'what-is-thought', the 'accusatives' of acts of thinking have come to be called 'propositions'.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], I)
     A reaction: I have understood propositions to be capable of truth or falsity. 'What is thought' could be a right old jumble of images and disjointed fragments. Propositions are famous for their unity!
19. Language / D. Propositions / 4. Mental Propositions
Several people can believe one thing, or make the same mistake, or share one delusion
     Full Idea: We ordinarily find no difficulty in saying of a given thing that several people believe it and so, if they think it false, 'make the same mistake' or 'labour under the same delusion'.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], IV)
     A reaction: Ryle is playing devil's advocate, but this (like 13980) strikes me as quite good support for propositions. I suppose you can describe these phenomena as assent to sentences, but they might be very different sentences to express the same delusion.
We may think in French, but we don't know or believe in French
     Full Idea: Although we speak of thinking in French, we never talk of knowing or believing or opining in French.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], 'Substitute')
     A reaction: Once again Ryle is playing devil's advocate, but he does it rather well, and offers good support for my belief in propositions. I love this. 'I know, in French, a bank where the wild thyme blows'.
19. Language / D. Propositions / 6. Propositions Critique
There are no propositions; they are just sentences, used for thinking, which link to facts in a certain way
     Full Idea: There are no substantial propositions...There is just a relation between grammatical structure and the logical structure of facts. 'Proposition' denotes the same as 'sentence' or 'statement'. A proposition is not what I think, but what I think or talk in.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], 'Conclusions')
     A reaction: The conclusion of Ryle's discussion, but I found his support for propositions much more convincing than his critique of them, or his attempt at an alternative linguistic account. He never mentioned animals, so he self-evidently hasn't grasped the problem.
If we accept true propositions, it is hard to reject false ones, and even nonsensical ones
     Full Idea: All the arguments for the subsistence of true propositions seem to hold good for the subsistence of false ones. We might even have to find room for absurd or nonsensical ones like 'some round squares are not red-headed'.
     From: Gilbert Ryle (Are there propositions? [1930], 'Objections')
     A reaction: A particularly nice example of a Category Mistake from the man who made them famous. Why can't we just make belief a proposition attitude, so I equally believe 'sea is blue', 'grass is pink' and 'trees are bifocal', but the status of my belief varies?