Ryle`s The Concept of Mind – A Reading Note

UPDATE:Of course it is `can’t`, and not `can` in the fourth paragraph –  “he points that it can’t be the mere observable differences”

In his book The Concept of Mind Ryle criticizes the so called ‘ghost in the machine’ view. Part of that is the attack on what he calls ‘intellectualist legend’.

The intellectualist legend is that “whenever an agent does anything intelligently, his act is preceded and steered by another internal act of considering a regulative proposition appropriate to his practical problem” (p.31). According to the legend, the act itself can’t be intelligent but “inherits all its title to intelligence from some anterior internal operation of planning what to do” (p.31). However Ryle is negating this and he says that “When I do something intelligently, i.e. thinking what I am doing, I am doing one thing and not two. My performance has a special procedure or manner, not special antecedents” (p.32).

After that Ryle gives us examples showing how those assumed internal acts can’t be found, or when we can point to some ‘private acts’ like reading silently or doing math ‘in ones head’ those are abilities that come only through training, and which follow the acts of reading aloud or calculating on paper. Further Ryle points that lot of people that do some acts intelligently, might not be able to tell us any regulative propositions on base of which they act so. People didn’t start to argue logically and intelligently only after Aristotle gave the theory of logic, nor do intelligent people normally recite in their heads the syllogisms in order to argue rightly.

Having attacked the dichotomy, Ryle turns to give a positive account of the intelligent acting. As a central issue which should be solved he points that it can’t be the mere observable differences of the acts that make them intelligent, because…

…there need be no visible or audible differences between an action done with skill and one done from sheer habit, blind impulse, or in a fit of absence of mind. A parrot may squawk out ‘Socrates is mortal’ immediately after someone has uttered premises from which this conclusion follows. One boy may, while thinking about cricket, give by rote the same correct answer to a multiplication problem which another boy gives who is thinking what he is doing. Yet we do not call the parrot ‘logical’, or describe the inattentive boy as working out the problem. (p.40)

And Ryle’s solution is to change the talk of acting to talk about dispositions…

In judging that someone’s performance is or is not intelligent, we have, as has been said, in a certain manner to look beyond the performance itself… But in looking beyond the performance itself, we are not trying to pry into some hidden counterpart performance enacted on the supposed secret stage of the agent’s inner life. We are considering his abilities and propensities of which this performance was an actualisation. Our inquiry is not into causes (and a fortiori not into occult causes), but into capacities, skills, habits, liabilities and bents. (p.45)

But there in one of the next examples he gives, I think that the weirdness of the Ryle’s solution is made obvious:

A drunkard at the chessboard makes the one move which upsets his opponent’s plan of campaign. The spectators are satisfied that this was due not to cleverness but to luck, if they are satisfied that most of his moves made in this state break the rules of chess, or have no tactical connection with the position of the game, that he would not be likely to repeat this move if the tactical situation were to recur, that he would not applaud such a move if made by another player in a similar situation, that he could not explain why he had done it or even describe the threat under which his King had been.

Can you spot the issue(s)? Here are few comments on what I think are the issues:

1. It is not impossible that in one moment drunkard to see some inter-relatedness of the figures on the board. He can in that moment become aware that moving of certain piece would “upset his opponent’s plan of campaign”. Even if in the previous or next moves, or really never in his following life the drunkard makes another good move, IF the drunkard in that moment did became aware of the inter-relatedness of the figures, and how certain moves would give him tactical advantage, that move would be intelligent.

2. That other people might not believe or see that move as intelligent, and might say that it was due to sheer luck has nothing to do with the issue if the drunkard saw the right move. This is not something occult, nor it is talking about something private. It is merely that the drunkard saw or not the actual inter-relatedness of the chess pieces on the board. In same way, there is a possibility for good chess player to make a good move by sheer luck. Say that there are two “complications” (A and B) present in a given chess position. And that A is hard to see, but that B is even harder to see. And say that it is true that a move M is good in the given position, but that complication A makes it bad move, however that complication B makes it good move. The chess player didn’t see both complications A and B, so he played M. However it can’t be said that he made the move intelligently – it was sheer luck that it was good move, as the player failed to see both complications A and B. However the people who see the chess game would be inclined to think that it as very intelligent move. The people would be wrong.

3. This previous comment is connected to another part of that quote. Namely Ryle as one of the dispositions names “he could not explain why he had done it”. But if good chess playing is merely a disposition to play chess good, wouldn’t the only possible answer for good chess players be – “I played good move, because I’m good chess player – I’m naturally disposed to make good moves”. But surely that is not what is had in mind when somebody asks – “Why did you make this move?”. And surely what I said in the first comment, and which is answer why did he make that move, is the sole factor if the move was played intelligently or not. It doesn’t matter how much is one disposed to play good moves in chess. It is not what makes the moves intelligent or not. What makes them intelligent are the reasons why the move is done – a bad chess player might on specific occasion make intelligent move (intelligently), and good chess player might on occasion make stupid move (stupidly).

So, while I agree with the Ryle’s attack on the dichotomy, I think he goes too far and putss along with ‘the occult causes’ in the same bag any possibility for a subjectivity of the access (which in my thinking can be used to give the positive account without assuming ‘occult causes’). The subjectivity of the access is not something ‘private’ in the sense that it happens in some ghostly place, nor it is something magical – it is just about the simple fact that sometimes some people see what others don’t, that some people know what others don’t.  And a special case of this is the case of ‘privileged access’, where one person might be aware of something that others aren’t (including e.g. being aware of the fact of what WAS one aware of when one performed some chess move).  And that not in the sense that those other people could not in principle become aware of that, but just as a contingent fact.

I guess it can be seen what my own thoughts are of how the positive account would go, but probably will try to analyze to more details in some next post.