Self & Behavior According to Gilbert Ryle

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  • 0:02 Ryle
  • 0:45 Ghost in the Machine
  • 1:33 Category Mistake
  • 2:24 Behavior
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the theories of Gilbert Ryle as they pertain to self and behavior. We'll highlight his idea of the ghost in the machine, as well as category mistakes.

Gilbert Ryle

I have a friend who's in a new relationship. A bit to my annoyance, she says things like, 'Oh, we're so perfect for each other! He can read my mind!' Uggghh.

Despite this gooey proclamation of compatibility and perfection, Gilbert Ryle would tell her she's mistaken. However, before we burst my friend's bubble by diving into Ryle's theories on self and behavior, let's introduce the man.

Gilbert Ryle was a famous 20th century ordinary language philosopher who authored The Concept of Mind. His field, ordinary language philosophy, asserts that problems and false assumptions develop as we distort meanings of words.

Ghost in the Machine

For example, look at the distortion we inflict on the word 'literally'. We say things like, 'I'm literally so hungry I could eat a horse!' Of course, this is not literal at all. However, if an English-speaking alien happened to beam down and hear it, it would definitely give him false assumptions about our stomachs!

In fact, Ryle believed that our constant use of the word 'mind' has caused us to believe that minds actually exist.

Taking this a step further, this erroneous assumption has led to the concept that there is a mysterious entity called the mind that controls the mechanical workings of the body. Not mincing words, Ryle named this misconception the ghost in the machine idea. In other words, he believed the mind fallacy is as ludicrous as saying machines are controlled by ghosts.

Category Mistake

Building on this concept, he called the mystical mind a category mistake. Stated academically, a category mistake is an error in logic in which one category of something is presented as belonging to another category. Lucky for us, Ryle gave an example. It goes something like this:

One day a girl visited a college campus. After seeing buildings, teachers, students, and dorms, she looked at the tour guide and sweetly asked, 'This is all nice, but when do I get to see the university?' With this question, the girl committed a category mistake. Rather than realizing everything she saw made up the university, she thought it existed as a separate category.

In the same manner, those who think the mind exists separately from the body are also committing a category mistake.

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