''The Concept of Mind'' is a 1949 book by philosopher
Gilbert Ryle Gilbert Ryle (19 August 1900 – 6 October 1976) was a British philosopher, principally known for his critique of Cartesian dualism, for which he coined the phrase " ghost in the machine." He was a representative of the generation of British or ...
, in which the author argues that "mind" is "a philosophical illusion hailing chiefly from
René Descartes René Descartes ( or ; ; Latinized: Renatus Cartesius; 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) was a French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, widely considered a seminal figure in the emergence of modern philosophy and science. Mathem ...
and sustained by logical errors and ' category mistakes' which have become habitual." The work has been cited as having "put the final nail in the coffin of Cartesian dualism,"Tanney, Julia.
007 The ''James Bond'' series focuses on a fictional British Secret Service agent created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short-story collections. Since Fleming's death in 1964, eight other authors have ...
Gilbert Ryle
(rev.). ''
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy The ''Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy'' (''SEP'') combines an online encyclopedia of philosophy with peer-reviewed publication of original papers in philosophy, freely accessible to Internet users. It is maintained by Stanford University. Eac ...
''. Accessed 30 July 2020.
and has been seen as a founding document in the
philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigmatic issue in philosophy of mind, although a number of other issues are ad ...
, which received professional recognition as a distinct and important branch of philosophy only after 1950.

Ghost in the machine

In the chapter "Descartes' Myth", Ryle introduces "the dogma of the Ghost in the machine" to describe the philosophical concept of the mind as an entity separate from the body:
I hope to prove that it is entirely false, and false not in detail but in principle. It is not merely an assemblage of particular mistakes. It is one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind. It is, namely, a category mistake.

Critique of Cartesian dualism

Ryle rejects Descartes' theory of the relation between mind and body, on the grounds that it approaches the investigation of mental processes as if they could be isolated from physical processes.de Morais Ribeiro, Henrique. 10–15 August 1998.
On the Philosophy of Cognitive Science
''Proceedings of the 20th World Congress of Philosophy''. Boston: World Congress of Philosophy. Accessed 29 October 2012.
In order to demonstrate how this theory may be misleading, he explains that knowing how to perform an act skillfully may not only be a matter of being able to reason practically but may also be a matter of being able to put practical reasoning into action. Practical actions may not necessarily be produced by highly theoretical reasoning or by complex sequences of intellectual operations. The meaning of actions may not be explained by making inferences about hidden mental processes, but it may be explained by examining the rules that govern those actions. According to Ryle, mental processes are merely intelligent acts. There are no mental processes that are distinct from intelligent acts. The operations of the mind are not merely represented by intelligent acts, they are the same as those intelligent acts. Thus, acts of learning, remembering, imagining, knowing, or willing are not merely clues to hidden mental processes or to complex sequences of intellectual operations, they are the way in which those mental processes or intellectual operations are defined. Logical propositions are not merely clues to modes of reasoning, they are those modes of reasoning. The rationalist theory that there is a ''transformation into'' physical acts of some purely mental faculty of "Will" or "Volition" is therefore a misconception because it mistakenly assumes that a mental act could be and is distinct from a physical act, or even that a mental ''world'' could be and is distinct from the physical world. This theory of the separability of mind and body is described by Ryle as "the dogma of the ghost in the machine." He explains that the workings of the mind as it governs the body are neither an independent nor a distinct mechanism, that there is no entity called "Mind" inside a mechanical apparatus called "the body", but that the workings of the mind may be better conceptualized as the actions of the body. Cartesian theory holds that mental acts determine physical acts and that volitional acts of the body must be caused by volitional acts of the mind. This theory, according to Ryle, is "the myth of the ghost in the machine." There ''is'' no contradiction between saying that an action is governed by physical laws and saying that the same action is governed by principles of reasoning. The motives of observable actions are '' propensities'' and ''
disposition A disposition is a quality of character, a habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way. The terms dispositional belief and occurrent belief refer, in the former case, to a belief that is held in the mind ...
s''; these explain why behaviors occur, and not some purely mental process. For example, the disposition to want or not to want something is not explained by an intellectual motive for that thing. The disposition to want something is explained by ''the behaviors that are involved'' in wanting that thing. Thus, the mind does consist of abilities and dispositions that do explain behaviors, for example the learning, remembering, knowing, feeling, or willing behaviors. However, personal abilities and dispositions are not the same as mental processes or events. To refer to abilities or dispositions as if they were purely mental occurrences is to make a basic kind of category-mistake. The nature of a person's motives may be defined by the actions and reactions of that person in various circumstances or situations. The nature of a person's motives in a particular situation may not necessarily be determined by any hidden mental processes or intellectual acts within that person. Motives may be revealed or explained by a person's behavior in a situation. Ryle criticizes the theory that the mind is a place where mental images are apprehended, perceived, or remembered. Sensations, thoughts, and feelings do not belong to a mental world which is distinct from the physical world. Knowledge, memory, imagination, and other abilities or dispositions do not reside "within" the mind as if the mind were a space in which these dispositions could be placed or located. Furthermore, dispositions are not the same as behavioral actions, but actions may be explained by dispositions. Dispositions are neither visible nor hidden, because they are not in the same logical category as behavioral actions. Dispositions are not mental processes or intellectual acts, they are propensities which explain various modes of behavior. Perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and feelings may be understood as observable behaviors which have various modes of production. Ryle admits that his approach to the theory of mind is behavioristic in being opposed to the theory that there are hidden mental processes that are distinct from observable behaviors. His approach is based on the view that actions such as thinking, remembering, feeling, and willing are revealed by modes of behavior or by dispositions to modes of behavior. At the same time, however, he criticizes both Cartesian theory and behaviorist theory for being overly mechanistic. While Cartesian theory may insist that hidden mental events produce the behavioral responses of the conscious individual, behaviorism may insist that stimulus-response mechanisms produce the behavioral responses of the conscious individual. Ryle concludes that both Cartesian theory and behaviorist theory may be too rigid and mechanistic to provide us with an adequate understanding of the concept of mind.

Category mistakes

As a linguistic philosopher, a significant portion of Ryle's argument is devoted to analyzing what he perceives as philosophical errors based in conceptual use of language. His critique of Cartesian dualism refers to it as a '' category mistake''. Category mistakes, such as the ones Ryle points out, are made by people who do not know how to properly wield the concepts with which they are working. Their puzzles arise from the inability to use certain items in human language. A much-cited example is of a foreign visitor being shown round Oxford (which has no campus) and after having been shown colleges, libraries, laboratories and playing fields asks in puzzlement "But where is the university?" The answer is, of course, all of these. The theoretically interesting category mistakes are those made by people who are perfectly competent to apply
concept Concepts are defined as abstract ideas. They are understood to be the fundamental building blocks of the concept behind principles, thoughts and beliefs. They play an important role in all aspects of cognition. As such, concepts are studied by s ...
s, at least in the situations with which they are familiar, but are still liable in their abstract thinking to relocate those concepts to
logical type In mathematics, logic, and computer science, a type theory is the formal presentation of a specific type system, and in general type theory is the academic study of type systems. Some type theories serve as alternatives to set theory as a found ...
s to which they do not belong.Jones, Roger (2008
"Philosophy of Mind, Introduction to Philosophy since the Enlightenment"
philosopher.org (accessed Oct. 30, 2012)
The dualist doctrine establishes a polar opposition between mind and body. At the language level, the mental properties are
logical negation In logic, negation, also called the logical complement, is an operation that takes a proposition P to another proposition "not P", written \neg P, \mathord P or \overline. It is interpreted intuitively as being true when P is false, and fals ...
s (in the Aristotelian sense) of the physical properties. So they belong, in accordance with the concept of category, to the same logical types, given that the expressions that are used for the descriptions of mental events are always mere negatives of the expressions used for the descriptions of material events. Ryle then says that such use implies a 'categorical mistake' for the descriptions of mental events that do not properly belong to the categories used for describing the corporeal events. Hence, 'mind' and 'matter' cannot be the polar opposites that Dualism suggests. Ryle writes that this would be comparable to claiming that "She came home in floods of tears" and "She came home in a sedan chair" (from the sentence "Miss Bolo came home in a flood of tears and a sedan chair," a zeugmatic sentence from Dickens) to be polar opposites. Such mistakes are, from the Rylean standpoint, the dogma of the mental ghost in the corporeal machine. Then, dualist doctrines are mythic in an analytical sense.Jones, Roger (2008
"Analytic philosophy, Introduction to Philosophy since the Enlightenment"
philosopher.org (accessed Oct. 30, 2012)


Ryle builds on the work of philosophers
Ludwig Wittgenstein Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ( ; ; 26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrians, Austrian-British people, British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy o ...
Arthur Schopenhauer Arthur Schopenhauer ( , ; 22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work '' The World as Will and Representation'' (expanded in 1844), which characterizes the phenomenal world as the pro ...
, among others. According to Bryan Magee, the central thesis of ''Concept of Mind'' and the essentials of its subsidiary theses were derived from Schopenhauer, whose works Ryle had read as a student, then largely forgotten. Ryle, who believed that he had expounded an original theory, did not realize what he had done until someone pointed it out to him after the book was published.


Ryle has been characterized as an "
ordinary language Ordinary language philosophy (OLP) is a philosophical methodology that sees traditional philosophical problems as rooted in misunderstandings philosophers develop by distorting or forgetting how words are ordinarily used to convey meaning in ...
" philosopher, for which the book's style of writing has attracted comment. Stuart Hampshire remarked in a review in ''
Mind The mind is the set of faculties responsible for all mental phenomena. Often the term is also identified with the phenomena themselves. These faculties include thought, imagination, memory, will, and sensation. They are responsible for variou ...
'' that:
There is only one property which I can discover to be common to Professor Ryle and
Immanuel Kant Immanuel Kant (, , ; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers. Born in Königsberg, Kant's comprehensive and systematic works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and a ...
; in both cases the style is the philosopher - as Kant thought and wrote in dichotomies, Professor Ryle writes in
epigram An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. The word is derived from the Greek "inscription" from "to write on, to inscribe", and the literary device has been employed for over two mille ...
s. There are many passages in which the argument simply consists of a succession of epigrams, which do indeed effectively explode on impact, shattering conventional trains of thought, but which, like most epigrams, leave behind among the debris in the reader's mind a trail of timid doubts and qualifications.
John Searle John Rogers Searle (; born July 31, 1932) is an American philosopher widely noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy. He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959, and was Willis S. and Mari ...
, who has often said that no great work of philosophy contains many footnotes and that philosophical quality varies inversely with the number of bibliographical references, considers the absence of footnotes in ''The Concept of Mind'' as a sign of its quality.
Iris Murdoch Dame Jean Iris Murdoch ( ; 15 July 1919 – 8 February 1999) was an Irish and British novelist and philosopher. Murdoch is best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious. Her ...
has compared ''The Concept of Mind'' to
Jean-Paul Sartre Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (, ; ; 21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism (and phenomenology), a French playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and lit ...
's '' Being and Nothingness'' (1943), with the view that English analytic philosophy shares the same general orientation as
continental philosophy Continental philosophy is a term used to describe some philosophers and philosophical traditions that do not fall under the umbrella of analytic philosophy. However, there is no academic consensus on the definition of continental philosophy. Prio ...
. Ryle has been interpreted by David Stannard as maintaining that the psychoanalytic idea of the unconscious is rooted in the Cartesian conception of a body-mind dichotomy and as such is one version of the " Ghost in the Machine" fallacy. According to Stannard, Ryle views the dogma as a logical error based on a category mistake. Richard Webster praises Ryle's clarity and strength of argument, but suggests that while his arguments effectively dissolve the mind-body problem, they have failed to bring about a revolution in human knowledge. Webster attributes this to the fact that Ryle's case that subjective aspects of experience such as sensation, memory, consciousness and sense of self are not the essence of "mind" has not been universally accepted by contemporary philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists. Webster believes that Ryle's willingness to accept the characterization of ''The Concept of Mind'' as behaviorist misrepresents its more nuanced position, writing that Ryle's acceptance of that description is not harmless, as Ryle himself suggested. Webster stresses that Ryle does not deny the reality of what are often called internal sensations and thoughts, but simply rejects the idea that they belong to a realm logically distinct from and independent of the external realm of ordinary human behaviour. The book's style of writing was commented on more negatively by
Herbert Marcuse Herbert Marcuse (; ; July 19, 1898 – July 29, 1979) was a German-American philosopher, social critic, and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Born in Berlin, Marcuse studied at the Humboldt Universit ...
, who observes that the way in which Ryle follows his presentation of "Descartes' Myth" as the "official doctrine" about the relation between body and mind with a preliminary demonstration of its "absurdity" which evokes "John Doe, Richard Roe, and what they think about the 'Average Taxpayer'" shows a style that moves "between the two poles of pontificating authority and easy-going chumminess," something Marcuse finds to be characteristic of philosophical
behaviorism Behaviorism is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and animals. It assumes that behavior is either a reflex evoked by the pairing of certain antecedent stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual ...

See also

* Hard problem of consciousness * Logical behaviorism * Mens sana in corpore sano *
Qualia In philosophy of mind, qualia ( or ; singular form: quale) are defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience. The term ''qualia'' derives from the Latin neuter plural form (''qualia'') of the Latin adjective '' quālis'' () ...


External links

Read or download "The Concept of Mind" by Gilbert Ryle
on archive.org {{DEFAULTSORT:Concept Of Mind, The 1949 non-fiction books Books about consciousness Books by Gilbert Ryle Cognitive science literature Contemporary philosophical literature English-language books English non-fiction books Philosophy books Philosophy of mind literature University of Chicago Press books