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Mind-Body Dualism and the Category Mistake

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अप्रैल 2008
सोम मंगल बुध गुरु शुक्र शनि रवि
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The problem of the relation between mind and body is one of the most vexed question of western philosophy. The problem gained importance in the thinking of Rene Descartes. Since his days no philosopher worth the name has avoided considering this problem.1
In his famous work Meditations, Rene Descartes admits two distinct and independent substances mind and matter. Mind is active and conscious substance with the qualities of thinking and reflection. The mind is self-evident, free and uncontrolled by mechanical laws. It is conscious, immaterial, simple, invisible, eternal and entirely different from the material body. Knowing, desiring, feeling and other mental activities have been attributed to the mind. The mind is unextended and beyond time and space. It is unique, dynamic and beginingless. It is the substance whose attributes are the different forms of thinking. “The mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body.”2 Whatever is in the body is not in the mind and on the other hand, mind is entirely different from the body. Thus, Descartes advocates dualism of mind and body as supported by Christian religion.
Descartes admits the mind to be free, non-physical, unextended and simple, yet he maintains that the body is the substratum for the mind, which exists in pineal gland. In the words of Descartes, “Let us then conceive here that the soul has its principal seat in the little gland which exists in the middle of the brain, from whence it radiates forth through all the remainder of the body …..”3
The question of the substratum of the mind begins from the mind-body relation. If the mind has no relation with the body how is interaction between mind and body possible? In fact, “the soul is really joined to the whole body and we cannot, properly speaking, say that it exists in any one of its parts to the exclusion of others, because it is one and in the same manner indivisible.”4
This idea of Descartes is not in keeping with the characteristics of the mind pointed out by him. One the one hand, he considers the soul to be non-physical and, on the other hand, he gives it a physical abode, in the pineal gland. It is difficult to understand how the non-physical soul is really joined to the whole body.
Descartes establishes a dualism without explaining the cause of the creation of the two. If they are self-caused, what is the relation between them? If their cause is something else, is it one or two? If the causes are two, there is again the difficulty of dualism. He gives us the teleological and mechanical conception of mind and body respectively.
Ryle in his book, The Concept of Mind, chapter-1 titled, “Descartes’ Myth,” starts argument with the description of a myth of “the dogma of the ghost in the machine ” or ” the official doctrine”. He is not giving us any new knowledge with the reference to mind-body theory. For Ryle the objective of his analysis is to study the concept of mind in a logical way. Ryle says that his interest lies drawing in the “logical geography” of mental conduct concepts, not in the construction of a theory involving such concepts.5 Ryle defines myth as the presentation of facts belonging to one category, in the idioms appropriate to another. He further says, “To explode a myth is accordingly not to deny the facts but to re-allocate them. And this is what I am trying to do.”6
Describing dualism Ryle says, “It is assumed that there are two different kinds of existence or status. What exists or happens may have the status of physical existence, or it may have the status of mental existence.”7
This dualism is a product of language distortion, which led to “Descartes’ Myth”. He argues that the Cartesian is guality of a serious category-mistake, Roughly a category is a range of items of which the same sorts of things can be meaningfully asserted. He explains category mistake by an analogy of a university.8
Here we are taking another example: you can take a nap, take control, or take my wallet. But naps, control and wallets do not belong to the same category. Someone misled by English grammar might not realised this and think that nap is a very mysterious, invisible thing. So too, when we talk about “keeping things in mind” or using “mind over matter,” we might be led to think that the mind is a very mysterious thing.
Ryle’s solution is to argue that the correct use of words like. “mind”, “thought,” “sanity”, “pain” etc. is in connection with human behaviour. A thought or a mind is no more a mysterious, ghostly thing than a nap is, such concepts relate primarily to behaviour. Having an idea mean behaving in certain ways or being disposed to behave in such ways, not having something intangible, invisible etc. floating through your head.
Ryle argues that the Cartesian has failed to notice that our mental and physical concepts belong to different categories. Realizing that to talk about the mind is not talk about a physical entity. The Cartesian who concludes that it must be talk about a non-physical entity, failds to realize that it is not to talk about an entity of any kind.9
Here, Ryle gives the cause why people do this types of mistakes. He says, “The theoretically interesting category mistakes are those made by people who are perfectly competent to apply concepts, at least in the situations which they are familiar, but are still liable in their abstract thinking to allocate those concepts to logical types to which they do not belong.”10
Ryle’s positive thesis, which assigns mentalist talk to what is regarded as the correct category of the mind is the talk about the way in which we behave. In describing the workings of a mind, he tells us, “In opposition to this entire dogma, I am arguing that in describing the working of a person’s mind we are not describing a second set of shadowy operations. We are describing certain phases of his one career; namely we are describing the ways in which parts of his conduct are managed.”11
According to Ryle it is not realistic to think about the existence of mind and body as a same category. ‘Existence is always a subject, it can never be a predicate.’12 We use the word ‘existence’ in so many ways. For example:
There is an existence of number.
There is an existence of navy.
There is an existence of public-opinion.
Here we are using the ‘existence’ in different way. So, there are three different meaning of the word existence. Then it is a category mistake to think them as one category. “The theory of the ghost in the machine” is also a result of this type of category-mistake. In real sense, there is no existence of it at all.
Ryle’s thesis solves the contradiction of mind-body, because contradiction arises, when we find difference between two things, which are related to same category. Mind and matter are different things belonging to different categories. We cannot create any similarities and difference between them. By this point of view, we also find out the solutions for mechanism and teleology.
This extreme dualism of Descartes performed the great service of laying a solid foundation for the development of modern physical sciences and does no violence to the religious prepossession concerning the mind. Rationalism and scientific method are the great gifts of Descartes to philosophy. He also stressed the practical aspects of knowledge and attached great importance to philosophy being useful from the practical standpoint. He wrote, “Philosophy is a perfect knowledge of all that man can know as well as for the conduct of his life as for preservation of his health and the discovery of all the arts.”13 For this reason, between the times of Aristotle and Kant, Descartes’ philosophy known as a revolution. But on the other hand, it brings up difficulties, which have been the storm-centers of controversy for the last three centuries. One the other hand, Ryle’s theory of category-mistake is so important, by this we find the solutions of some problem like dualism, mechanism and teleology.
In The Concept of Mind, Ryle intended to demonstration of the proper task of philosopher. As we know that most people have no problems making sense with the concept like right, wrong, mind and body etc. But for a philosopher it takes special care and skill to make sense of these concepts. This later use, reflective use of language, the talk about talk is, philosophy. It can be done well with some awareness of exactly what sort of thing one is doing. Ryle also add note in the end of the chapter. “It would also not be true to say that the two-worlds myth did no theoretical good. Myths often do a lot of theoretical good, while they are still new.”14

-Desh Raj Sirswal
Research Scholar(ICPR-JRF),
Department of Philosophy,
Kurkshetra University,Kurkshetra.

1. G.T.W. Patric: Introduction to Philosophy, Revised Edition, Ruskin House, George Allen and Unwin Ltd. Museum Street, London, 1958, p.248
2. Descartes: Selections, Charles Scribners Sons, New York, 1927,p.161
3. Ibid, p.374
4. Ibid, p.371
5. G.Ryle: The Concept of Mind, Reprinted, Penguin Books, 1978, p.9
6. ibid, p.10
7. ibid, p.14
8. ibid, p.17-18
9. Staurt Brown, Diane Collinson, Robert Wikinson (ed) One Hundred Twentieth-Century Philosopher, Rotledge, London and New York, 1998,p.177
10. G.Ryle: The Concept of Mind, p. 19
11. ibid. p.49
12. Srivastava,J.S., Paschatya Darshan ki Darshnik Parvartiyan,1998,p. 420
13. Frank Thilly: A History of Philosophy, p. 302
14. G.Ryle: The Concept of Mind, p.24

NOTE: this paper is present as a Pre-Regtistration requirement in the department of Philosophy, Kurukshetra University.


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