In “Descartes’ Myth” by Gilbert Ryle, Ryle focuses on the body and mind being connected to make the body function. Ryle recognizes the difference between mind and body: the body houses the mind but the two are not controlled by the same actions—the correlation is not always understood. One can see the physical aspects of another person’s body but can never truly understand what is going on within a person’s mind. The body takes up space, but does the mind?
When someone claims to know something, the verb denotes an occurrence of a stream of consciousness. This definition is not the same for everyone, though. For example, I can claim to know calculus and the process of Rolle’s Theorem. The way I “know” the Theorem may not be the exact same way that someone else “knows” the Theorem. We could have different learning mechanisms that lead us to the same conclusion, but we reach those conclusions through different thought processes.
This information leads to Ryle’s falsification of Descartes’s idea of ‘The Ghost in the Machine.’ Ryle claims that Descartes makes “one big mistake… a category-mistake.” Ryle rejects Descartes’s idea based off the fact that the idea attempts to describe mental processes through physical ones. Ryle argues that the categorical mistakes stem from people not knowing how to understand specific concepts such as “University, division, and team spirit” (page 27.) These categorical mistakes are often made when a person understands the word (the physical) and can apply the concept of a word, but not in every situation i.e. where is the team spirit? Can you see it? Ryle’s goal is to describe thought processes and thinking and feeling as “counterpart idioms” rather than categorical ideas—they are connected.
What is important to note, is that Ryle rejects idea of free will. He argues that free will stems from the acceptance or rejection of someone’s moral actions. If someone is not able to actually know the exact processes of what is going on in someone else’s mind, then how can the morality of an action be determined? Furthermore, how can we determine what insanity, stupidity or intelligence is if the thought processes and mental states cannot be seen? Psychology aims to connect the widespread ideas of these words, but in an individual, mental states could be very different. Ryle reaches the conclusion that in order for our actions to be considered free, they must be moral (Doyle.)
This idea, therefore, would falsify the idea in court that someone committed a crime due to his or her mental states. If our society rejected the use of mental insanity excuses (for lack of a better word) in court, it would no longer be acceptable to argue against or for someone’s sanity. Instead, legal systems would have to focus on the morality of someone’s actions in order to determine the thought processes of the criminal and the actions that the criminal should be punished for.
Below, I have included a cartoon that shows people in a lounge as “puppets.” The cartoon pokes fun at the idea of free will, or better yet, the lack of free will.
Additionally, please click here to watch a video explaining Ryle’s argument.
Doyle, Robert O. “Gilbert Ryle.” The Information Philosopher. Dr. Robert O Doyle, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/philosophers/ryle/>.