British philosopher, Gilbert Ryle attacks the whole notion of a split between the public, observable world of matter, and the ‘private’ inner theatre of the mind. Ryle states that our mind acts with our bodies, while our mind is incarnated by our body. However, our mind is not totally hidden with the body and we cannot keep our mind totally to ourselves. In this way, he says, it is a public mind. Further, he argues that talking of the mind as a separate realm existing alongside the bodily realm is confusion – what he calls a ‘category mistake’. Mental events and properties are not separate events over and above bodily events and properties; any more than a university is a separate item existing alongside the libraries, laboratories, administration, students and so on, that make it up. To say that someone is in a mental state, is for Ryle, to say how he is disposed to behave and react in certain circumstances, not a statement about private, inaccessible occurrences going on in the subjective theatre of the mind.
Ryle’s approach of the mind may be called a kind of ‘behaviourism’, since it holds that mental language can be analyzed in terms of dispositions to behave in various ways. However, his approach is not clear. It may not be able to cope successfully with what is happening when for example, some one sits in an armchair for half an hour, jut thinking intensely about a problem. The influential work of Ludwig Wittgenstein has shown that beliefs, desires, and mental terms in general must be applied on the basis of public rules of language, and hence that the mind cannot be constructed as an entirely private arena accessible only to the subject. An approach called, ‘functionalism’, the dominant theory among most philosophers holds that mental states are formal or organizational states. Such states are to be identified not by some hidden ‘inner’ property, but by their casual links to one another and to sensory inputs and behavioural outputs. These modern accounts offer the hope of a new framework for understanding the mind which leaves behind the intractable problems of Cartesian dualism. Some critics have argued that none of them can explain the subjective dimension – ‘what it is like’ for the experiencing subject to touch an ice cube, or to smell a rose. Therefore, from Ryle, the philosophical quest for understanding the nature of our mental life, and how it relates to the structures and functioning of our brains and bodies, is far from concluded.
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