LANGUAGE' ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY
Gilbert Ryle was born
in Brighton, the son of a doctor, and was educated at Brighton College and
Queen's College, Oxford, where he read both Greats and P.P.E. In 1924 he was appointed lecturer in
philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford. In
1945 he was elected Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy and a Fellow
of Magdalen. He succeeded Moore as editor
of Mind in 1947.
PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE AND LOGIC
 Throughout his writings Ryle was
concerned with what he sees as our tendency to be seduced into making errors by the grammatical form
of many of the expressions of 'ordinary'
or everyday language which we use when we begin to philosophize. In his early writings he argued that it is the philosopher's job to
detect such mistakes and to reformulate the offending expressions so that we
are no longer misled [a]. He is thinking of, for example, "quasi ontological statements" such as
'Mr Pickwick is a fiction', which may encourage us to suppose the world
contains fictions in the way that it contains
statesmen (as recorded by, say, 'Mr
Baldwin is a statesman') [see "Systematically Misleading Expressions"]. The proposition is really about Dickens or the Pickwick Papers. Similar considerations apply
to quasi-Platonic statements (or statements about universals) such as 'Virtue
is its own reward'. We might think the
meaning of this is analogous to that of 'Smith has given himself the prize' and conclude that the world contains
two kinds of objects, namely, particulars (like Smith) and universals (like
Virtue). We should therefore reformulate
the expression as something like 'Whoever is good, gains something by being good'. It is not literally true that Virtue is a recipient of rewards. Ryle goes on to apply his analysis to
quasi-descriptions and quasi-referential 'the'-phrases.
He develops his thesis in later writings. Thus [in 'Categories'] he introduces a notion
similar to what he was later to call
a 'category mistake'. Incomplete expressions such as '...is in bed'
can be completed if we insert a word into the gap. But while some words (for example,
'Socrates') are appropriate, others (for example, 'Saturday') are not. 'Socrates' and 'Saturday' belong to different categories. It is the using of words of the wrong category
that gives rise to contradictions. To distinguish categories we
must engage in philosophical argumentation or ratiocination and in particular
make use of reductiones ad absurdum as
a means of discovering the limits of applicability of our expressions. The job of philosophy is thus "to determine and rectify the logical
geography of our concepts" [The Concept of Mind, Introduction] in
effect to show that our theories often give an incorrect account of the way we
our concepts are ordinarily used and to remedy this situation. He suggests [Dilemmas, I] that many problems in philosophy take the form of
dilemmas; and again the
role of philosophy is to show that apparent conflicts between pairs of
conclusions each seemingly correct and validly drawn have arisen as a
result of conceptual confusion [b]. Thus, for example, in our everyday lives we suppose reality to consist
of objects such as tables and chairs, which are coloured, have a particular
shape, and so on. The physicist, on the other hand, tells us they are but
collections of particles in space and do not really possess colour, solidity,
and so on. But there is no genuine
conflict, says Ryle, because the scientist and the layman are engaged in
different activities. The scientist's
aims are narrower; he is interested only in particular aspects of the
world. Its descriptions are thus
incomplete. We might say the ordinary
person, however, is less interested in the physical nature and structure of a
table than in whether it is suitable for the dinner party he is holding next
use vehicles of highly intricate constructions and of very different makes for
all the varying purposes of their very dissimilar journeys, and yet are alike
in using the same public roads and the same signposts as one another. Somewhat so, thinkers may use all sorts of
specially designed concepts for their several purposes, but still have also to
use the same highway concepts [Dilemmas I].
is no incomptibility between the truths
of physical theory and the truths of daily life [ibid. V]. And similarly with the apparent conflicts
between, for example, common sense and fatalism, formal and informal logic, or common sense
and Zeno's paradox of
Achilles and the Tortoise [c] which turns out to be a conflict
between factual questions about the length and duration of a race (decided by
measurement) and arithmetical questions (decided by calculation). "Two separate skills do not, in the
beginning, intertwine into one conjoint skill" [ibid. III].
 Meaning. Ryle rejected denotation theories of meaning, according to which
the meaning of a word or expression is "the thing, process, person or entity of
which the expression is the proper name", in much the same way as 'Fido' stands
to the dog Fido (Ryle called this the "'Fido' Fido" theory) [see Review of Carnap and 'Theory of
Meaning']. For him knowing what an expression means
is to know how to use it. But it does
not follow that the meaning of a sentence consists in its use. [See 'Use, Usage and Meaning'.] This is because he thinks of sentences as the units of
speech, whereas words are the 'atoms' of a language. To master a language we have to learn words
and constructions; and strictly speaking it is words which are bearers of meaning. Sentences
are what we have to produce in saying something: indeed they are our saying it. Some
philosophers, he says, have confused this distinction and have assimilated
their accounts of what sentences mean to their account of what words mean, and
therefore have continued to cause philosophical difficulties [a].
KNOWLEDGE/ PHILOSOPHY OF MIND
 Ryle's theory of knowledge is best
understood in the context of his wider considerations of 'mental concepts' in
general [see The Concept of Mind]. To produce a 'map' of these concepts to
determine their geographical boundaries, as it were he must first destroy a
'myth', what he calls the
dogma of the "ghost in the machine". According to this (approximately Cartesian) myth, words like 'knowing',
'believing', 'imagining', 'sensing', and so on refer to a private, non-spatial
'mind' which we can know only by 'looking within' ourselves. Philosophers have been led to such a view,
Ryle argues, because of a category
mistake [a]. The error is similar to
that made by a visitor to Oxford who, having looked at the various colleges and
knowing nothing about their organization, asks where the University is. The University, however, is not an entity
which can be looked at in the way its constituent colleges can. Likewise when we look at human bodies we
must not suppose there is some internal non-corporeal controlling entity, the
'mind'. There is no need to postulate a
'ghost' to account for the workings of the body, any more than we need to think
of the body as just a machine. Rather
we must think of ourselves as human beings who behave in a variety of ways.
What then, given such a position, does Ryle have to say about mental concepts? His arguments turn on a distinction between categorical
statements (about episodes or occurrences) and hypothetical statements (about
dispositions). To say, for
example, that glass is brittle is to say that if you drop glass or hit it with
a stone, and so on, it will break. In
the same way, statements
about knowing that something is the case believing, willing, feeling, and the like
are not about some supposedly inner thought 'processes' or strivings but are
dispositional: they attribute a pattern
of behaviour that is law-like. To
say that someone is intelligent is then to say that in given circumstances he
would behave observably in ways we call intelligent. There is no reference here to some inner cognition knowing some piece of
information, or 'knowing that' something is the case, which we are supposed to
run through our 'mind' before we act. For Ryle 'knowing
that' is thus assimilated to 'knowing how' [b], that
is, the possession of some skill or capacity. Likewise to say an
action is voluntary is not to appeal to any prior inner conscious act of
'volition'. It is simply to say only that
the agent could have acted differently. (It follows that for Ryle there is no problem with the notion of freedom
of the will) [c]. Similar considerations apply to
motives, emotions, perceptions, and 'imagings', none of which entails
commitment to any occult 'mental processes'. Thus in his account of perception Ryle attacks both the
sense-datum theory and aspects of phenomenalist theories [d]. The sense-datum theory,
he claims, rests on the 'logical howler' of assimilating the concept of
sensation to the concept of observation. When we use our eyes and ears we see and hear things around us. We do not see or hear sensations or
sense-data. We may talk of 'having'
them, but this is already implicit in our perceiving things. 'Seeing' and 'hearing', and the like are what
Ryle calls achievement words: when we
observe we have already succeeded in a task. We do not need any 'private theatre' to provide stages for any extra
'objects' such as 'private' sensations or sense-data though he allows we may
use 'round', 'green', 'loud', and so on to describe the way already perceived objects appear to us; or we may
utilise them in situations where normal perception has broken down. As for supposedly inner 'imagings', while it
is true that we can talk of 'having' images and sounds 'in our heads', we are
not seeing or hearing copies or pictures of things. What we are really doing is imagining, in the
sense of pretending what it would be like actually to see, say, a mountain, or
hear a tune being played perhaps as a kind of rehearsal, a prelude to the
performance of intelligent action.
Underpinning Ryle's rejection of all such
supposed mental processes is the argument that any appeal to them must involve
an infinite regress. Take images. If we appeal to them to identify some object,
the images themselves must be identified. How can this be done other than by
comparison with another image? If we say
that an action is preceded by an act of volition, are we not also responsible
for that act? So do we not need a
further prior act?
 Given that Ryle rejects 'Cartesian'
accounts of the mind, what of the problem of our knowledge of the self? He says that both consciousness and introspection, as understood by
psychologists, do exist. But these are not avenues to occult mental
entities [a]. The word 'I', Ryle argues, indicates directly the
person who can be called by 'my' name. It is not in itself a name; and indeed it can be used in different ways [b], as in, for example, 'I thought hard', 'I
weigh ten stone', 'I crossed the road'. To learn about ourselves we do
not require introspection; the sorts of things I can find out about myself are
the same as the sorts of things I can find out about other people by
observing their behaviour, though there may be some difference of degree [c]. And to understand or
explain the kind of critical monitoring of circumstances that characterizes our
preparation or state of readiness for action (or refraining from it) we do not
require the postulate of 'Privileged Access' proposed by dualists.
Ryle is notable for two interconnected contributions to
(l) The thesis that philosophical errors may arise as a result of the
misleading grammar of informal or 'ordinary' language, especially when we use
words belonging to one category as if they belonged to another. He sees it as the philosopher's function to
detect and rectify such philosophical mistakes.
(2) In the philosophy of mind, his rejection of Cartesian-type theories
in favour of the view that so-called 'inner' mental life should be understood
in terms of sets of dispositional statements about publicly observable
Against these theses many criticisms have been made.
(1) It might be said that category mistakes are mistakes only on the assumption that at least some concepts belong to certain well-defined
categories. This raises the question
whether these categories pertain to or reflect the actual structure of the
world (realism), or whether they are in some sense relativistic and pragmatic
and therefore contingent on our needs and purposes. If the latter is the case, then the notion of
rectifying the logical geography of our concepts to avoid putative category
mistakes becomes much more flexible than Ryle would wish. As for the former, many philosophers of
dualist persuasion would argue that, at least so far as mind-body problems are
concerned, there is no such category mistake. Others might question the paradigmatic primacy given to 'ordinary'
(2) On the specific issue
of mind, it is a matter of debate whether Ryle's position should be described
as 'behaviourist'. Nevertheless it seems
that it is his primary aim to present an account of our talk about 'mental'
life in at least quasi-behaviourist terms. It is, however, questionable whether our thinking, perceiving,
imagining, and so on can be eliminated or by-passed in this way. At the same time Ryle's achievement his
powerful arguments against the Cartesian substance dualistic model should not
Ryle: [of many writings] "Systematically Misleading Expressions"
(1932) in Logic and Language I, ed. A. G.
N. Flew; "Categories" (1938) in Logic and
Language, II, ed. A.G.N. Flew; The
Concept of Mind (1949) see Penguin edn (2000) with Introduction by D.
Dennett; Review of Carnap's Meaning and Necessity (1949), in Philosophy XXIV; Dilemmas (1954); 'The Theory
of Meaning' (1957), in British Philosophy at
Mid-Century, ed. Mace C. A.; "Use, Usage and Meaning" (1961), in The
Theory of Meaning, ed. G. H. R. Parkinson.
W. Lyons, Gilbert Ryle: An Introduction to his Philosophy.
Collections of Essays
O. P. Wood and G.
Pitcher (eds), Ryle: A Collection of Critical Essays.
||Paradoxes of motion
||Rejection of denotation theory of meaning; meaning and use; words as bearers of meaning but sentences as units of speech; assimilation of accounts of sentence meaning to word meaning leads to error
|[3b; cf. 3c d]
||Reference to mental processes leads to
distinction between categorial
(episodic) and hypothetical
(dispositional) statements; R. assimilates 'knowing-that'
||Voluntary action mistaken to appeal to conscious acts of volition; freedom of will no problem
||'I' not a name; indicates person directly; has variety of uses