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” (http://plato.stanford.edu). 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.
Graham, George, “Behaviorism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/behaviorism/>.