Category Mistake?

Firstly, I wanted to give you guys a quick hello as this is my first post (I’ve already become familiar with the boards), and there’s alot talked about here which I value greatly, I guess that’s a indirect thanks as well.

Anyhow, I recently had the pleasure to look into Ryle, not as in depth as I’d like to, but one thing jumped forth as interesting. Ryle refuted Descartes’ ambitious attempt to make the mind seperate from a physical entity, claiming that Descartes might be making a “category mistake” (errornerously putting something into the wrong category).

Now, I’m not so sure of that claim. The ideas/thought we indulge in seem to me to be a manefestation of what we encounter throughout our lives, through what we consciously observe/learn. Those things are dealth with by the brain, but it ends where the physicality of it ends. It seems to me that this information is then dealth with by the mind, where we then form thoughts involving all the information our brain collects through time. Now, being that this is a relatively new idea to me, and I always like to get others perspectives to build upon mine, feedback would be appreciated.


This is a good thing to raise, because I have never known what a “category mistake” is, and Ryle’s argument has entered the intellectual consciousness without much question.

I think it is a part of the analytic doctrine that philosophical problems come from linguistic confusions. This main doctrine seems to have declined, but some of the dogmas remain - Ryle’s “refutation” of dualism is one example.

Hi S_s: Welcome to the forum, I’m fairly new here myself. I wouldn t be so quick to try to re-separate the mind from the body. How do we know where the body ends and the mind begins? We receive sensory stimulii and it’s processed further and becomes incorporated somehow as thought and memory. If you’re given a powerful drug, it can alter your moods, functions, destroy memory and have a whole range of other effects. Yet the drug is a physical substance.

I don’t have any strong views regarding the nature of mind other than I believe that they’re not quite distinct features, that whatever mind is, it is one end of a continuum that begins with the physical world, that is, the sensory impulses received and encoded from our so-called external environment.

When we shut out, more or less, environmental factors around us and begin pondering on ideas/thoughts/memories, does not the mind in some sense now treat those internal thoughts as if ‘they’ were environmental factors rather than the physical realm which we have temporarily shut out from our conscious attention. Yes, we can still obviously distinguish attention between the external and internal but perhaps on some level, a deeper level, the mind doesn’t really distinguish. Maybe whatever we happen to be focussing our attention upon, is on a fundamental level treated as ‘substantial,’ whether it be external sensory stimulii or an internal idea we happen to be analyzing. Thus all or most mental features are somehow converted into integrated, discrete features, such as concepts, objects etc… And just maybe that’s where our notions of ‘thing-ness’ come from there, our tendencies to reify and hypostasize.

I know I gotten away from your question here, I’m just musing. But in any case, I don’t presently believe that mind and body are truly separate.

Cheers, MRJ

Hmm…I agree that our linguistic systems are often a root of misunderstanding, but I’m quite certain that Ryle refutation was intentional and very specific. He intently states that Descartes was wrong (as in incorrect) to put the mind and body seperate.

However third-eye, you raised the point I wanted to lead this towards. Our linguistic mistakes, the confusion that is caused because our system of identifying and communicating ideas prehaps beyond our capability often results in confusion, which in turn can be a domino effect of sorts. I’ve recently been wrestling with this, along with the fact that because it’s all so very ambiguous, I think it eventually discourages people from attempting to understand, themselves and others.

It is often difficult to get a clear argument of the Ryle “refutation” of dualism. But I will try to give one.

Ryle’s argument rests on the definition of “mind”. For Ryle, what we call “mind” is a reference to “intelligent acts” of organisms. Then, because of this, it is a “category mistake” to give “mind” the status of substance, like we wouldn’t say that blue is a substance.

But the “category mistake” only hides his theory of the mind, disguised as a definition. This is the basic problem of analytic philosophy - it does not seem to know the difference.

Instead of using a so-called philosophy of language where it doesn’t belong, we should discuss whether behaviourism is a plausable theory compared to Cartesian dualism, or any other metaphysical theory of the world.

“Beyond our capability” I’m not so sure. I think of “category error” as an artifact of our use of metaphor, i.e., treating one phenomenon as if it had all the properties of something else instead of just the properties we have likened it to. The human mind is very good at making metaphors, and they can be arbitrary.