The Semantics of Ryle’s The Concept of Mind

Jason Wakefield, University of Cambridge.

During the Hilary term of January 2013, the Ockham Society invited me to speak to them in the Ryle Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building, University of Oxford – in a 20:20 format. As ‘The Pragmatic Methodology of Modal Logic’ chapter of my book The Question of Non-Being? A Pragmatic Methodology of Casino Contingency (2013) lasts for 40 minutes, it was too long to be read out loud to the Ockham Society. Discussions of my work (especially that on semantics supervised at the University of Cambridge) has led to logicians currently supervising Professorial candidates at the University of Oxford to gently demand that more minutes be allocated for the Fellows to hear me speak; for example, in a series of John Locke Lectures. Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949) has found stark opposition in Mellor’s ‘How To Believe a Conditional’ , Journal of Philosophy 90 (1993: 233 – 48); thus my reception recently at the University of Oxford from the University of Cambridge has been one of sensitive caution. Mellor’s current focus is on Ryle’s view that ‘dispositional statements are neither reports of observed or observable states of affairs’ (1949: 125). As an objection to his causal functionalism as a method to show how the contents of contingent beliefs are given by the conditions in which the actions they make desires fulfil desires. Thus this is a very short, succinct, lucid transcript of a talk about semantics, intended to read to Oxbridge clubs who favour clarity and precision. To clarify, my book The Question of Non-Being? A Pragmatic Methodology of Casino Contingency (2013) is a strictly focused analysis of only ten words extracted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This analysis of these ten words (or single sentence) only, stretches to a sustained 80, 000 word thesis; which guaranteed its automatic conversion in to a single – authored monograph for publication. The psychoanalytical dimension of my book’s ontology can be found in Ryle’s (1949) project of describing mental states by identifying them with dispositions and from his ‘inference-ticket’ view of laws of nature. Mellor objects to this semantics and ontology of dispositions by Ryle because of the differences in some factual respects. As a pragmatist, my intervention is similar to the Davidsonian causal criterion of actual identity, not of counter-factual identity, which has sympathy for both Ryle, as well as, Mellor’s rejection of Ryle. Mellor clearly damages Ryle’s The Concept of Mind in terms of ‘reduction sentences’ where factual predicates can be stated by conditionals, however Mellor could have strengthened his attack further with Quine’s Word and Object (1960) instead of his predictable synthesis of Kripke’s Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982) with Counterfactuals (1973) by Lewis. As a pragmatic methodologist, Mellor perhaps should join my pragmatic methodology of analysing Ryle’s functional orientation – where we focus on the Deleuzian differences in content by clarifying the multiplicity of Deleuze’s rhizome with a singular logico – syntactic device of existential quantification.


Ryle can thus be read as a man who uses the terms ‘true’ and ‘exists’ in a non – ambiguous, univocal way. This clarity allows us to continue using the Rylean metaphor ‘that truth supplies factual dialogue with its essential spirit de corps.’ This opens up the space for speakers, in a Deleuzo – Lacanian sense, where a realist / normative notion of truth starts to govern speech, to talk without a metaphysical confirmation of the norm. The Lacanian input here psychoanalyses the behavioural role of truth, which is lacking in how Ryle establishes semantic relations between words and the world. In conclusion, Mellor’s attack on Ryle has been so acute and razor sharp, that it has led to Ryle’s The Concept of Mind being omitted altogether from talks between Fellows of New College, Oxford in their debates about non – plural interpretations of higher- order modal logic. The controversy most serious Oxonian academics in 2013 are disputing is now about compositional semantics; homophonic semantics; chunky – style contingentism; higher-order contingentism; minimalist contingentism; ultra-minimalist contingentism and the technical progress of the semantics of quantified modal logic. Kripke and Lewis have now lost their analytic charisma; the most important argument in the philosophy of literature and language today is now between Brandom’s book Articulating reasons; An Introduction to Inferentialism (2000) and my journal article Philosopiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (2013) about language as a tool. Price suggests that Brandom argues so language has no purpose; my counter – argument is that language does have a function or multiple functions. Myself and Brandom are not as far removed from each other’s argumentation as some analytic thinkers might suggest. The semantic inferentialism and logical expressivism where inference is privileged over reference we find in Brandom is not an anti-thesis to the differentiation of the conceptual in my methodological road of Deleuzian continuities and discontinuities.

Bibliography Ryle, G. (1949) The Concept of Mind London: Penguin Classics. Quine, W.V. (1960) Word and Object Cambridge, Mass: M.I.T Press. Wakefield, J. (2013) The Question of Non-Being? A Pragmatic Methodology of Casino Contingency Cambridge: Avello Publishing. Wakefield, J. (2013) Philosopiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica Avello Publishing Journal: ISSN 2049 498X. 1.3.


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