All posts by Isabelle Falk

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 = <>.

When Do We Need Skepticism?

Chapter 15 of “What Is This Thing Called Knowledge?” by Duncan Pritchard presents a type of skepticism known as radical skepticism.  This idea holds that it is impossible to know much of anything at all (Pritchard, 169).  Most philosophers agree that this form of skepticism is not a philosophical thought, but a way to challenge those in the pursuit of knowledge; a methodological form, which someone uses in order to try and prove that his or her knowledge presented, is skepticism-proof (Pritchard, 169).  Skepticism is a necessary tool in assessing truth-value of an argument, but too much of it creates an impossible task and thus should not be overly used by those trying to uncover knowledge.  Instead of having the mindset that anything could in fact be wrong or misleading, I’d lean towards the contextual response to radical skepticism, stating that different contexts set up different epistemic standards (Black,

The amount of skepticism necessary depends on the context of the situation at hand.  Using an example similar to that of Pritchard, a scientist looking at her tools does not need the same amount skepticism in determining the effectiveness as a person who is preparing herself a snack in the kitchen.  The scientist would need more skepticism in investigating her belief that her microscope and like equipment are in the right condition for her experiment whereas the person looking at her utensils would not need to use as much skepticism in the evaluating the belief that her kitchen tools will be able to make her sandwich.

Although there are situations that require a more in depth evaluation that are labeled high-standard contexts, and thus the use of skeptical arguments are highly regarded, contextualists believe that most contexts have epistemic standards that are relatively low.  And in these low epistemic standards, the necessity of skepticism is not very urgent (Black,   In this sense, we can have cases of knowledge that are free from issues of that radical skepticism brings up without taking the idea of skepticism in other situations.

On the basis of contextualism, one can still use the closure principle which is often times a good way to determine if the argument is valid or invalid.  Contextualism allows for arguments of low-standards to use the closure principle while arguments of high-standards must look further into the beliefs using skepticism as a tool in this process.

One main counter to the contextualist view is that radical skepticism does not need high standards in order to come into play.

“…the skeptical claim is that we have no good grounds at all for thinking that we’re not the victims of skeptical hypotheses, not we have good grounds but the grounds we have aren’t good enough” (Pritchard, 178).

In this argument, there are no standards when it comes to radical skepticism, because no grounds for an argument are good enough.  This counter-argument shows just how radical this much skepticism is.  The idea that someone can’t really be sure of anything is a little frightening and could leave a person with a very unstable mindset.  It’s also a very frustrating take; that nothing could be proven to be valid because there is always room for something crazy; for example, that our brains are floating in a vat and being controlled by outside forces.  Of course, like what was brought up at the beginning of the chapter 15, radical skepticism is not really a position philosophers take, but just a challenge that must be overcome to arrive at knowledge (Pritchard, 169).

So the main questions that remains is when do we use skepticism? And when does skepticism become excessive?  The contextual argument holds that there are times (many times in fact) when skepticism is not necessary and therefore one can use the closure principle and thus find relatively easily if the argument is valid or invalid.  Within this contextual practice, there is room for skepticism but only when absolutely necessary (high-standard situations).  Knowledge comes in varying degrees, so it seems prudent that different methods be used to analyze an argument depending on the specific degree of that argument.

Other Sources:

Black, Smith. “Contextualism in Epistemology”.  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.