PHL471: Ryle and Behaviorisms
Ryle and Behaviorisms
Ryle's The Concept of Mind
- Published in 1949, this book is a classic of analysis,
and of philosophical behaviorism.
- The Official Doctrine is the received Cartesian dualism
- Ryle ridicules this as the idea of the Ghost in the machine.
- The Official Doctrine rests on a category mistake: it
confuses physical objects and processes (one category or kind
of thing) with behaviors (another category or kind of thing).
- Ryle claims that our ordinary behavioral language for
mental activities describes not objects but behaviors:
....when we describe people as exercising qualities of
mind, we are not referring to occult episodes of which
their overt acts and utterances are effects; we are
referring to those overt acts and utterances themselves.
- This position is Philosophical Behaviorism: mental
state talk describes behaviors or increased probabilities of
behaviors. Here are some possible examples (which I made up --
they are not Ryles!):
- x fears y: x is more likely to flee y
- x believes that P: x is more likely to assert P
and to assent to P and to act as if P is true
- Note some important things:
- There is no thing that is a mind, but ordinary
language about mental activity is correct and can be
- There is no other apparent commitment to method
- Behaviorism in psychology is instead a methodology coupled
with some ontological presuppositions.
- At its simplest, the method was
- to expunge as much as possible reference to
internal states and replace these with only reference
to measurable behavior or with references to conditioning
- use the notion of reflex and conditioning as
the basic explanatory tool for learning and behavior
as often as practically possible.
- This was a much needed reaction to rampant "introspectionism."
- This is then a combination of eliminativism and something
like philosophical behaviorism (but psychological behaviorism
came first -- I don't mean to say there was an influence).
- Eliminativism about x: x is a fiction and can and should
be eliminated from our theories and discourse.
- Thus, in psychological behaviorism, some mental state
talk is superstition and should be eliminated, and some will
be retranslated and revised to refer to behaviors or increased
likelihoods for behaviors.
- It is very unclear whether anyone was a simple
behaviorist. Behaviorism is often characterized in this way,
but the behaviorists in practice did often refer to other
forms of explanation, like evolution and evolved traits for
kinds of bheavior; and sometimes they just refered to internal
events that are not conditioning. For example, Skinner argued
thinking was talking to oneself, and so allowed for a kind of
"internal behavior." This is why I characterize
psychological behaviorism as just requiring a primacy for
behavior and conditioning in explanation.
Criticisms of Behaviorism
- The simplistic version of psychological behaviorism is
easily crushed. We need to refer to internal states to
explain most behavior; and reflexes and conditioning are not
sufficient to explain most behavior (especially language).
- The cognitive revolution has wholly displaced behaviorism.
However, it is little recognized that cognitive psychology looks
far more like psychological behaviorism than like introspectionism.
- Criticisms of philosophical behaviorism have included
- The behaviorist translations are not what
- Putnam's super-spartan.
- Scientific realism about mental states and