January 30, 2012

Gilbert Ryle published “The Concept of Mind” in 1942 accusing philosophers of mind of accepting the Cartesian Myth. Descartes myth was this: the mind is an inner sanctum that can only be known through introspection, physically manifested as mental talk. “I’m scared.” “I love my cat.” The myth challenged philosophers to come up with some account that could explain the inner sanctum relation to expression in the public world of people, objects and actions. Ryle’s example of the problem is like that of one being shown around a university campus. Here is the library, here are the lecture halls and the dormitories, and so on. When the tour concludes the man says, “Yes, but where is the university?” The man seeing all these pieces, fails to notice that the university is nothing extra. The buildings are the university.

For Ryle, the mind was simply its behavioral manifestations. Due to the organization of our mind, we have intrinsic behavioral dispositions that express themselves as these behavioral manifestations.

The mental talk, mentioned earlier, is merely a way to pick out behavioral dispositions. It picks out what so and so is likely to do in some particular circumstance, without appealing to any special state within an inner sanctum. Saying that salt is soluble in water is not to say that there is a spirit of solubility in salt. It just says that when salt is added to water, it dissolves. Our mind according to behaviorists is nothing but behavioral dispositions, be they simple or complex.

The Problems of Behaviorism:
1.) Can be seen as infinite or circular. Infinite if we have to predict every action of an individual. Circular if, when predicting actions we make irreducible references to some mental states.
2.) Tries to do away with mental states all together. Don’t we have some inner state? Inner feelings, pain, images, etc.?
3.) Behaviorism may be explanatorily shallow. Though all it says is that salt dissolves in water, can we not still ask how/why salt dissolves in water? Search for the nature of solubility? It seems to commit a “method actors fallacy.” Attributing certain neural states to anyone who displays the usual signs of said feeling while denying it to anyone who is able to suppress the usual signs. Just because I don’t appear to be in pain, doesn’t mean I’m not…


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