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Descartes vs. Ryle

Updated on October 15, 2010

Comparitive Article- Descartes and Ryle

This is a comparative article regarding the two philosophers Descartes and Ryle. These two philosophers have very different view points and ideas about the mind and body; and the relation between the two.

Of the two philosophers, I will write about Descartes first. Descartes is a dualist. He believes that the mind and the body are two separate things that interact with each other. He explains that the body is a mechanical thing that’s in the physical world; this mechanism is then controlled by the mind which is not in the physical world. He goes on to say that the mind is who a person really is and the body is only a vessel of which we use to interact with the material world. If this vessel is impaired in any way, the mind remains the same and thus, the person is the same. For example, if one were to lose their leg, the mechanism that the person uses is now damaged, but the person (the mind) remains the same. Descartes believed that even in death of the body, the mind could continue to exist without it. This theory is difficult to wrap the brain around. If one was to die, and yet still have a conscience mind, where exactly would it be? Would it be aware of its existence without a body and if so, what would it do? All are questions that Descartes has difficulty with.

The second philosopher, Ryle, was a logical behaviorist. In many of Ryle’s writings, he focuses his attention on disproving dualism. He begins by explaining the foundations of dualism. At his time, this foundation was the most largely accepted philosophy and thus he refers to it as the “Official Doctrine.” After explaining the official doctrine, Ryle says that dualism makes a “category mistake.” A category mistake is very simply, a mistake in the categorization of things. For example, if one was going to show a young man a university, you would take him to see the classrooms, the library, the offices, and the dorms. If the young man, after seeing all of this said, “Well, I have seen the classrooms, the library, the offices and the dorms, but where is the university?” Very clearly, the young man is mistaken, for he has put “the university” in the same category as its parts. In fact, the classrooms, the library, the offices and the dorms are what make up the university as a whole. Similarly, Ryle says that dualism makes the mistake of referring to the mind and the body as two separate parts when in fact, they are both “one.” He says that they both, in togetherness, make up a person. He goes on to say that because of this, one can understand what’s going on in another persons mind, as well as his own by observing bodily behavior. Whereas, the dualist believes that no one can understand what is going on in another persons mind, that it is completely sealed and private to the person. Ryle makes a compelling argument. If in fact, the mind and the body are one, then it seems only logical that through behavior of ones body, a person can also see the behavior of ones mind.

This is very different then the dualists idea of a person being he mind and controlling the body. Ryle makes an excellent point. People seem to do this all the time. When you look at someone you know, you can identify what kind of mental state and mood the person is in by paying attention to bodily actions and expressions.

I encourage readers to look deeper into what these two philosophers are saying. Research their ideas for yourself and I assure you, your mind will be opened and expanded to new ideas and levels of thinking.


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      Julianna Trinkle 6 months ago

      Very beautifully written and is the only thing that has helped me understand both of their views. I was very unclear on the catagory mistake and this has helped immensely. Thank you so much for this. SO helpful!!!

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      Rajeeb Singh 13 months ago

      Thank you for this beautiful article. It is very helpful

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      Haven 4 years ago

      This helped me incredibly for my paper. Thank you! Very very clear and infact true. Beautiful writing :)

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      secret:) 6 years ago

      Thank you so much this helped me tons!!

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      Jennifer V. 7 years ago

      Hello, I am currently writing a paper on the subject "philosophy of the mind" and we are currently learning Descartes Dualism and Ryle's response. I would just like to thank you for clearing it all up for Descartes isn't very easy to understand...