Archive | February 24, 2008

Why Socrates Kant Get Ryled

Philosophers get some namechecks in DC Comics this week. First, from Simon Dark #5 (author: Steve Niles):

Simon Dark and Red Tornado – So, have you told your dad yet?

– Are you kidding? No way! He’d lock me up!

– I don’t believe that.

– Dad’s cool generally. But he’s a rationalist. You know, like Socrates, Kant? This stuff with Simon is waay out of his framework.

– Kant? How old are you again?

Next, android superhero Red Tornado’s musings in Justice League of America #18 (author Alan Burnett):

The British philosopher Gilbert Ryle did not believe in mind/body dualism. He ridiculed the entire concept, dismissively referring to it as “the ghost in the machine.” And yet, here is my mind, existing in a computer. And there is my body, broken spare parts spread out on a table, irreparable. I am that ghost.

Now I’m not sure why being a rationalist in the tradition of Socrates and Kant should be an obstacle to dealing with Simon Dark. It’s hard to imagine Socrates being phased by much of anything. As for Kant, if Simon were really outside the framework of reason, then he wouldn’t be an object of possible experience, right? I suspect Niles has too narrow a notion of what a ratuionalist’s framework can accommodate.

Gilbert Ryle With regard to the Red Tornado’s predicament, I’m not sure that Ryle (who actually might well count as a dualist by today’s standards, though of course not a substance dualist) would have any problem with Red’s status as Burnett describes it – though Ryle might prefer to say that the computer is (now) Red’s body and that the spare parts on the table are not. (Ryle no doubt would put up some resistance, however, to sorcerer Zatanna’s telling Red, once a new body has been prepared for him: “The Brainiacs will transfer your program, but I have to cast a mystic spell that moves your soul.”)

When people hear that Ryle was against the “ghost in the machine” model of mind and body, they tend to assume that he wanted to eliminate the ghost, leaving only the machine. But Ryle rejects the machine as much as the ghost; he sees human beings as organic unities of mind and body, not as an accidental conjunction of an essentially mental thingy and an essentially mechanistic thingy, and he is as opposed to traditional materialism as to traditional dualism. Despite his sometimes behaviourist-sounding language (and his arguably veering a bit too close to behaviourism itself), Ryle is fundamentally much closer to Aristotle, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, and the phenomenologists than to contemporary materialism – stressing the mutual inextricability of mind and body rather than the ontological or explanatory privileging of one over the other. (Dennett’s contemporary appropriation of Ryle is a confusion, methinks; Dennett and Ryle are not ultimately on the same side.) Ryle’s Concept of Mind, despite its flaws, is still well worth reading.

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