Saturday, 21 May 2016

Ryle’s The Concept of Mind, Chapter 2 – Knowing How, Knowing That

In this chapter Ryle seeks to convince us that there is no Ghost in the Machine. The intuition that there is some mental ‘inner’ precursor to external actions is wrong. “…When we describe people as exercising qualities of mind, we are not referring to occult episodes which their overt acts and utterances are effects; we are referring to those overt acts and utterances themselves” (Ryle 2000, p26).

Ryle seeks to move us from thinking about an inner mental life, some of which leads to or initiates external behaviour. Instead, the view (as I understand it) that he wants us to develop is that our mental life is either expressed in a way observable to an external observer, or in a way that is not. When we talk we are vocalising our thoughts, and when we merely think (in words at any rate) we are doing the same activity a talking but not vocalising it. The introduction of the Category Mistake in the previous chapter was intended to prepare us for this move. Ryle gave an example of the visitor to Oxford University seeing the colleges and libraries, but wondering where the university is. Public thought (e.g. talking to someone) and private thought (e.g. talking to yourself without vocalising) are like the colleges and libraries, and the mind is the university.

Knowing How and Knowing That

Ryle draws a distinction between knowing how and knowing that. This distinction appears to map onto declarative and procedural knowledge.

Misunderstandings and Feints

“Misunderstanding is a by-product of knowing how. Only a person who is at least a partial master of the Russian tongue can make the wrong sense of a Russian expression” (Ryle 2000, p58). Feinting also requires knowing how. It is the “art of exploiting”, or provoking, your opponent’s premature conclusion of what course of action you are following (Ibid.).

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