This paper gives a descriptive analysis of what Ryle calls Descartes-Myth and arguments for it. Gilbert Ryle and the Adverbial Theory of W. Which of the following is Ryle’s disparaging name for what he calls “the official doctrine”? a. The dogma of the Unmoved Mover b. The dogma of Immanent. PDF | On Nov 1, , Desh Raj Sirswal and others published Gilbert Ryle on Descartes’ Myth.

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In the past, some have tried to reduce the material to the mental, arguing that physical reality springs from thought. Nowadays, more people are trying to reduce the mental to the material, arguing that mental desacrtes are actually just physical processes that we are just not yet able to completely explain. Gilbert Ryle takes a slightly different approach, arguing that both mental and physical processes exist, but that one is not analogous to the other.

Ryle begins by expositing the official doctrine of Cartesian dualism, namely that a person is both mind and body, harnessed together in life but with the mind continuing its existence after death.

There are a few key distinctions between mind and body.

Bodies are in space and subject to mechanical laws while minds are not. Bodily states and processes are subject to observation, while mental states and processes are private. A person lives two histories simultaneously, a public physical life and a private mental life. The problem that arises is how the two histories converge.

Gilbert Ryle

The philosophical assumption underlying this scheme is that mental and physical are actually two different kinds of existence. What has physical existence is either composed of matter or a function of matter. What has mental existence either consists of consciousness or is a function of consciousness.

As to the question of what knowledge can actually be secured from the inner workings of the mind, there are two basic schools of thought. On one side it is believed that a person has direct and complete access to all the content of his or her mind. On the other side is the Freudian view gilbegt there exist some channels hidden from the stream of consciousness, inaccessible by their owner.

Yet even Freudians maintain that in normal circumstances a person is completely aware of the present state of his or her own mind. Any knowledge gained through introspection, it is believed, is immune to doubt, while there can be no certainty regarding our knowledge of the external world. Yet a person has no direct knowledge of the inner working of the minds of others. When a person is described as knowing, believing, cescartes, or dreading something, these verbs refer to something that only the person himself can verify.

Descartes’ Myth

To regularly and effectively use mental-conduct concepts, they had to fix a logical geography, yet the logical geography of the official doctrine concludes that dedcartes their very nature these concepts could not be used regularly or effectively. Having presented his understanding of the dualist doctrine, Ryle explains why it is based on a fundamental error. Ryle provides several examples of simple category mistakes.


A visitor to Oxford University, after seeing the colleges, libraries, playing fields, etc, would make a category mistake if he is still waiting to see the University.

He does not understand that the University is not just another building, but the way in which all ryoe the buildings he glbert seen are organised. The same error is made by a child who watches a march of battalions, batteries, and squadrons but wonders when he will see the march of the division. Finally, a foreigner watching a game of cricket may see the bowlers, the batsmen, etc, but wonder where the player is who is responsible for team-spirit. All of these mistakes result from an inability to correctly use certain terms in the English language.

Category mistakes of the sort to which Ryle believes dualism belongs arise when people who are perfectly capable of applying concepts in familiar situations attempt to allocate these concepts to items in their abstract thinking. Ddescartes instance, a student of politics may know the difference between the British, French, and American Constitutions as well as the difference between the Cabinet, Parliament, the Judicature, and the Church of England, but cannot answer a question regarding the difference between the Church of England, the Home Office and the British Constitution.

This is simply because the Hilbert Constitution is not an institution in the same sense as the Church of England and the Home Office are institutions.

According to Ryle, the representation often used by dualism of mind and body as that of a ghost in a machine is the same type of error. Mental states and processes do not exist or occur in the same sense as physical states or processes exist or occur. Yet dualism wants to treat them this way. While the physical world is a field made up of mechanical causes and effects, mental phenomena must exist in another field of causes and effects that are not mechanical.

As a man of science, Descartes could not help but accept the tried and tested mechanics of Galileo, but he could not accept that these rigid laws also applied to human nature. The idea that human nature differs only in degree of complexity from clockwork was not a proposition that Descartes wished to accept. So rather than think of mental-conduct terms as indicating mechanical processes, he thought of them as signifying non – mechanical processes.

Since mechanical laws explain the spatial motion of bodies in space, other laws must explain the non-spatial workings of minds.

Gilbert Ryle, “Descartes’s Myth”

Mental processes are causes and effects, but of a different sort than gilbery processes. Naturally, this is how we come to the problem of figuring out how minds and bodies influence each other.


Finally, the assumption was made that if bodies are rigidly governed by mechanical laws, then minds must be rigidly governed by non -mechanical laws. Theorists had already been assuming that one could recognise the difference between a jyth and non-rational utterance or between deliberate and reflexive behaviour.

Yet this explanation presupposes that eyle observers could never make such judgments because they could never know whether or not they were correctly applying their mental-conduct concepts. Under Cartesian dualism, we could not justifiably characterise anyone as intelligent, prudent, virtuous, stupid, hypocritical, cowardly, and so on, because we had no cognitive access to their mental processes.

We could rescartes even characterise ourselves as such because we had no basis for comparison. Yet because we had already been using these concepts for so long, there arose the question of how humans differ from machines. Descartes sought the causal principle that would tell us the difference between intelligent and non-intelligent behaviour, rather than simply looking for the criteria by which such a judgment can be made.

His false assumption was that since mechanics could not explain it, the explanation must lie in some counterpart to mechanics. Ryle does not deny that mental processes occur. He cites doing long division and making a joke as examples. The reduction of the mental world to the physical or vice versa presupposes the legitimacy of the disjunction. Yet these terms are not polar opposites—they are of completely different logical types.

The error of reductionism is the same as the error of the proposition: I do, however, think that Ryle is definitely on to something when he argues that Mind and Matter are not, as has been traditionally believed, polar opposites. I completely agree that it is a gross error to gilbsrt that because bodies are rigidly governed by mechanical laws that minds must also be rigidly governed by non- mechanical laws.

Mental processes hardly seem to be governed by any laws at all. There are certainly causes and effects: I would conjecture that there are no laws governing consciousness itself, and psychological behaviour patterns occur only due to the relationship of minds to the physical structure of the brain.

Because all physical structures adhere to mechanical laws, mental processes adhere to mechanical laws as well—not some other set of laws that apply only to minds. A disembodied mind, if such a thing could exist, might not be governed by any fixed principles whatsoever. At the very least, Ryle is correct to reject the attempt to reduce the mental to the physical, as these phenomena are so wildly different that explaining one in terms of the other is completely impossible.