The Body and Mind: A Blended Whole

In “Descartes Myth”, Ryle suggests the origins of the official doctrine regarding the relationship between the body and mind comes from Descartes’ attempt at fitting human nature into the newly developing ideas of science.  Descartes assumed that the body and mind are negatives that parallel each other.  Because of this, a systematic design is formed and free will becomes impossible; “…bodies are rigidly governed by mechanical laws, it seemed to many theorists to follow that minds must be similarly governed by rigid non-mechanical laws… Bodies cannot help the modifications that they undergo, so minds cannot help pursuing the careers fixed for them. Responsibility, choice, merit and demerit are therefore inapplicable concepts” (Ryle, 28). However, Ryle counters this by arguing that it is too quickly assumed that the mind and body are separate, naming it a “category-mistake”.

A category mistake persists when a person is not able to recognize a whole but just the parts that make it up.  For example, a person was told that they were going to be shown a beautiful multimedia collage and then is subsequently shown the different pieces of fabric and other materials that make up the collage.  After, the person asks, “But where is the collage?”, not understanding that all of those pieces that she was just shown was actually what made up the collage.  Ryle believes that instead of jumping to quickly to the assumption that the mind and body are two separate entities, they should be analyzed in terms of how they are correlated.  As follows, a person is not simply the sum of two parts but a blend of both mind and body, which does not necessarily act according to a predetermined system, but has morals that also drive and mold them.

The mind and the body can both have processes; however, the word “process” is equivocal.  “I am not, for example, denying that there occur mental processes. Doing long division is a mental process and so is making a joke. But I am saying that the phrase ‘there occur mental processes’ does not mean the same sort of thing as ‘there occur physical processes’, and, therefore, that it makes no sense to conjoin or disjoin the two” (Ryle, 30).  The mind may include processes, but strict scientific laws do not set these processes, they are processes that are adapted through a course that is unique to the person and their individual characteristics.  This idea of different types of systems opens the door for free will.

This distinction between free will and the idea that a person does not have control over how they act in Ryle’s “Descartes Myth” is similar to the distinction set forth by A.J. Ayer in his essay Freedom and Necessity.  In Ayer’s essay he contrasts the arguments of predestination with that of freedom of will.  Predestination is the idea that all acts have already been decided and people do not the ability to change them.  In both predestination and Descartes’ theory of how the body works, a person is not able to implement personal choice, which the opponent, free will, offers.

Gilbert Ryle is identified as a behaviorist.  “A behaviorist, so understood, is a psychological theorist who demands behavioral evidence for any psychological hypothesis” (  Behaviorism adheres to the claim that psychology is the science of behavior, not the science of mind.   Behavior is what exists externally and is evidence of mental events.  This aligns with “Descartes Myth”, both disputing the idea that the events of the mind are private.  More specifically, Gilbert Ryle is classified as an analytical behaviorist.  The idea of analytical behaviorism is that mental concepts can be evident through behavior.  This plays back to the idea that a person can be governed by morals and merit and other characteristics that are choices of the person, as mentioned by Ryle.  All these concepts that a person believes in can be reflected through their behavior.  This idea again leads to the conclusion that the body and the mind are intermingled and reflective of a person and what they value.

Additional Sources:

Graham, George, “Behaviorism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

3 thoughts on “The Body and Mind: A Blended Whole

  1. I would like to touch on your statement about analytical behaviorism. I agree with the analytical behaviorists which you say “analytical behaviorism is that mental concepts can be evident through behavior. This plays back to the idea that a person can be governed by morals and merit and other characteristics that are choices of the person” (Falk, Post). While I agree with this claim in our reality, I must once again broach the subject of living in a simulated reality as first touched on by Bostrom. I argued in a previous post last week that through Bostrom’s argument, it is evident that there is little to no free will in a simulated environment. Actions and thoughts and behaviors will be deterministic in this ‘reality.’ Therefore it can be extended to include your statements about the analytical behaviorists claims of moral, behavioral governance. This claim all hinges on the fact that these morals/merits are “choices of the person,” but if we live in a simulated reality, then our choices are predetermined before we are ‘created.’ This would mean we don’t actually have any true choice in our actions or thoughts and thus cannot be governed by morals and merits. This also means that mental concepts cannot be evidenced by behavior since our behavior has no real basis in this simulated reality, so we cannot base any knowledge of an individual’s thought process on their behavioral language given that it is highly likely we are simulated

  2. I would like to piggy back off the earlier comment and specifically tackle the nature of the aforementioned simulation. While it may in fact be true that Bostrom’s simulations are based entirely on calculated personality programs and leave little to no room for free will, this issue is not present in a simulation like the Matrix. If the inhabitants of the simulation are in fact real people who were introduced to the simulated world at birth, then the direction of the simulation from that point forward can in fact be influenced by the inhabitants. For this to be true we must also accept that the simulation also has the capacity to evolve.

    However, if the inhabitants are in fact real people in a simulated world, and the simulated world is able to change based on the actions of its inhabitants, then we cannot make any reasonable argument against the nature of free will even in a simulated world. In addition to this, if we accept the argument of the ghost in the machine, and that mental states and physical states are inherently different. We are then able to reason that our simulated bodies would have the same degree as disconnect as real bodies. Based on these aforementioned factors, a simulation populated by organic minds would have the same degree of freedom of will as that of organic beings. Moreover, since our bodies and simulated bodies would have the same degree of disconnect to our minds the simulated existence and organic existence would therefore be identical.

    1. When discussing behaviorism and simulated realities, it is important to consider the debate behind free will. I will suggest the radical argument that free will does not exist. Humans can pretend that they make their own choices; however, each person’s choices are simply dictated by their biology and environment. It is impossible to have complete free will if all of our choices are only a product of our environmental stimuluses.

      Furthermore, history should be considered when understanding free will. It can be pretty easily seen that all of our actions are based off the situations of all of the preceding events. To have an action that just doesn’t follow any previous events and doesn’t fit on any time of timeline seems pretty outlandish. In a sense, all human actions during his life have causal relationships to prior events. Because of this, all humans do not have true free will.

      Tying this back to dualism, if body is dictated by mind, and there is a causal relationship between the two, there can not be a separation of each. The mind and the body must work together and build of each other in order for a human to make choices.

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