Ryle was born in Brighton, England in 1900. The young Ryle grew up in an environment of learning. His father was a generalist who had interests in philosophy and astronomy, and passed on to his children an impressive library. Ryle was initially educated at Brighton College. In 1919, he went to Queen's College at Oxford, initially to study Classics but was quickly drawn to Philosophy. He would graduate with first class honours in 1924 and was appointed to a lectureship in Philosophy at Christ Church, Oxford. A year later, he was to become a tutor. Ryle remained at Christ Church until World War II.
A capable linguist, he was recruited to intelligence work during World War II, after which he returned to Oxford and was elected Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy and Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. He published his principal work, "The Concept of Mind" in 1949. He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1945 to 1946, and editor of the philosophical journal Mind from 1947 to 1971. Ryle died on 6 October 1976 at Whitby, North Yorkshire.
Traditional philosophy believed that the task of a philosopher was to study mental as opposed to physical objects. Ryle believed it was no longer possible for philosophers to believe this. However, in its place, Ryle saw the tendency of philosophers to search for objects whose nature was neither physical nor mental. Ryle believed, instead, that "[p]hilosophical problems are problems of a certain sort; they are not problems of an ordinary sort about special entities."
Ryle offers the analogy of philosophy as being like cartography. Competent speakers of a language, Ryle believes, are to a philosopher what ordinary villagers are to a mapmaker. The ordinary villager has a competent grasp of his village, and is familiar with its inhabitants and geography. However, when asked to consult a map for the same knowledge he has practically, the villager will have difficulty until she is able to translate her practical knowledge into universal cartographal terms. The villager thinks of the village in personal and practical terms while the mapmaker thinks of the village in neutral, public, cartographical terms.
By "mapping" the words and phrases of a particular statement, philosophers are able to generate what Ryle calls "implication threads." In other words, each word or phrase of a statement contributes to the statement in that, if the words or phrases were changed, the statement would have a different implication. The philosopher must show the directions and limits of different implication threads that a "concept contributes to the statements in which it occurs." To show this, he must be "tugging" at neighbouring threads, which, in turn, must also be "tugging." Philosophy, then, searches for the meaning of these implication threads in the statements in which they are used.
In The Concept of Mind (1949), Ryle admits to having been taken in by the body-mind dualism which permeates Western philosophy, and claims that the idea of Mind as an independent entity, inhabiting and governing the body, should be rejected as a redundant piece of literalism carried over from the era before the biological sciences became established. The proper function of Mind-body language, he suggests, is to describe how higher organisms such as humans demonstrate resourcefulness, st
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