Spring 2024

Seminar: Does Philosophy of Mind Rest on a Mistake?

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-481


Joseph G. Moore (Section 01)
Nishiten Shah (Section 01)


 Philosophers have often found it natural to hear our ordinary talk of “minds” as naming a singularly mysterious type of object, with special properties such as thought, sensation, consciousness, perception, emotion, imagination and will. And so, they set out to investigate the nature of this object in order to unravel its mysteries. Some philosophers—most famously René Descartes—claimed to have discovered that this object, this ghostly soul, is radically different from any physical object, while others countered that this object could be understood as entirely physical—as a brain, or as some fancy composite of physical parts. Both sides agreed, though, that "mind" names a special object or substance. This consensus was shattered 75 years ago by the publication of Gilbert Ryle’s revolutionary (and witty) The Concept of Mind (1949)Ryle argued that traditional theories of mind make a massive category-mistake: "mind" does not name an object, or at least not in the same sense that "body" names an object, and thus the philosophy of mind does not have a subject matter in the way that the natural sciences do. Ryle took himself to have exorcised the “ghost in the machine”; at the very least, he had transformed the theoretical landscape. We will carefully examine Ryle’s arguments for this radical thesis, along with various philosophical reactions, running from Ryle’s own ingenious suggestions right up to contemporary accounts of how we should properly understand our ordinary talk of minds.  

Required two courses in Philosophy. Spring Semester. Co-taught by Professors N. Shah and J. Moore

How to handle overenrollment: Preference to majors, then by class and to those who attend first class.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: emphasis on written work, readings, independent research, oral presentations, group work.