Mind body dualism

Asian Philosophy 24 (2014)
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Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949/2002. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press) is generally considered a landmark in the quest to refute Cartesian dualism. The work contains many inspirational ideas and mainly posits behavioral disposition as the referent of mind in order to refute mind–body dualism. In this article, I show that the Buddhist theory of ‘non-self’ is also at odds with the belief that a substantial soul exists distinct from the physical body and further point out similarities between the Buddhist outlook and Ryle’s ideas in three parts. First, I illustrate that Ryle’s ‘category mistake’ has certain points in common with the Buddhist refutation of ‘self’. Within the Buddhist framework, referents such as ‘mind’ and ‘self’ are merely imputed terms. The presumed existence of an independent substance such as a ‘soul’, when considered in isolation from the expedient usage of the term ‘mind’, can therefore also be viewed as a ‘category mistake’. Second, attempting to solve the questions of ‘what mind is’ and ‘how mind operates’ are two entirely different approaches to the study of mind. I argue that it is necessary to focus on ‘knowing-how’ rather than ‘knowing-that’, if we are to gain a more comprehensive understanding of mind and avoid any kind of category mistake such as those that follow from isolating the physical properties of brain or drawing inferences from a mystical soul. Third, I aim to show why investigating mind from the perspective of ‘dispositions’ of behavior is a valid approach. The Buddhist concept of karma-vāsanā elucidates the habitual tendency to act or not act in various situations. Based on this theory, I argue that the workings of the human mind bears strong links to the formation of karma and as such have important axiological implications that cannot be ignored. I conclude by pointing out that Ryle’s insightful ideas could in certain ways be complemented by the Buddhist theory of mind. In my view, his philosophy is not only a mediator between Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology, but could perhaps also be seen as a mediator between traditional Eastern systems of thought and contemporary philosophies of mind.


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