In this essay I will be discussing behaviourism and whether or not it offers a clear and satisfactory solution to the mind/body problem. I will begin with a quick definition of dualism referring to René Descartes (1596-1650) and state what this means for the mind/body argument. Then I will move onto Gilbert Ryle’s (1900-1976) attack on this view and the resulting philosophical position that stems from that attack: Behaviourism. I will then mention David Hume’s (1711-1776) views on the self which bring dualism into question, removing its foundation, and why Ryle would not be satisfied with Hume’s account. I will briefly go over objections of behaviourism and problems with that position, including Hilary Putnam (1926). I will then move onto Freud’s views on the subconscious and show how, much like Hume, such a view results in materialism. And finally, I will make a conclusion of all of these accounts and what it means for the mind/body debate, and for behaviourism.
Before I begin, I need to define dualism in order to move onto Gilbert Ryle’s challenge to it. René Descartes put forward dualism (1) when he supposed that the body and mind are distinct from each other, so distinct in fact that they must be separate substances. Body (Matter) being in space and time and the mind (Usually called spirit) being something utterly immaterial within time alone. He supposed that the body and mind worked together as the mind’s substance was intertwined with the body’s. Although, why or how is never put forward. Nor is a solution to how an immaterial substance can interact, and be a part of a material substance ever put forward by Descartes.
By making this distinction Descartes made the mind immaterial, and separated it from the body. Thus the mind is the controller of the body, and the body merely a machine. Ryle mockingly referred to this himself by calling dualism: “The Ghosts in the Machine.” (2) Which leads me onto Ryle’s challenge to dualism.
While making refutations to dualism he put forward (Whether intentional or not) a system: behaviourism. It should be noted that Ryle was never intending to put forward a system to resolve this issue, but was instead putting forward refutations to dissolve dualism. For behaviourists mind is the manifestation of the bodies nature. In this way, mental events are the behaviour that comes from the body. This makes mental events public, rather than inner and private. The mind being private and inner was something that Descartes was strongly fond of. While Ryle’s motive was to show that mental events are not separate from the body, and nor are they private.
For Gilbert Ryle there cannot be a distinction between body and mind, thus body and mind being two separate substances is non-sense. The dualist’s mistake is to take one thing and to speak of it as two distinct things. In this way, dualists are talking about individuals members of a team, and the team as a whole as if they are two distinctly separate entity’s, rather than intimately intertwined. This for Ryle, is the category mistake. The workings of the mind do not allude to a hidden actor/controller, the workings of the mind are the very actor/controller itself. Being inclined to act a certain way, or to react in a certain way, including potential behaviour is an example of the minds workings.
Descartes’ error lays in the category mistake of supposing that the body and mind are separate things. When we talk about the mind and the body, what we really mean to say is The mind of the body, or The particular body’s mind. The mind is not so much a possession, or another limb or function, as it actually the collection; the consciousness of said body. The awareness of the body working as one. This in no way means that it has to be of another substance alien to the body. And I, as well as Gilbert Ryle fail to see how that resolves anything, instead it merely complicates the matter further into a postulation of an alien mind inside a skin. To speak of one, but not the other, is non-sense. And this is exactly what Gilbert Ryle was trying so hard to show.
An argument that refutes Descartes’ dualism is David Hume’s view on the self. If there is no self to have private, inner thoughts then dualism falls apart before being able to assert anything. Hume put forward this view as:
“For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. And were all my perceptions remov’d by death, and cou’d I neither think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate after the dissolution of my body, I shou’d be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive what is farther requisite to make me a perfect non-entity” (4)
Although this also leaves Ryle with a problem too; if all mental events are merely memories of perceptions, then inevitably that makes all mental events physical. And materialism was something that Ryle himself would not be willing to accept just as much as dualism. Although Ryle’s attempts to refute dualism are legitimate, he leaves us with behaviourism which has its own problems, which I will now move onto.
Behaviourism is essentially self referential. If the cause of the behaviour is mental events, which are behaviour, then what is left to explain the behaviour other than itself? You’re left with disposition. But disposition is merely the inclination to act or do certain things in certain situations. There needs to be a cause to that disposition that leads to the behaviour being manifested. Which doesn’t seem to be addressed by behaviourist’s account of the body and mind.
If, for example a person lays in a coma, unable to express pain but its body is experiencing pain. Or, there was a society of stoics who showed no pain, and denied that it even existed. (5) Then a behaviourist would have to say said person/people were indeed not in pain. Common sense tells us something is wrong with such a statement. Biologically, with neuroscience we could prove a person to be in pain while having no manifestation of it. Further more, with behaviourism a liar would have to manifest that lie by believing it. While mentally they simply do not believe it, which is exactly what a lie is. The betrayal of truth.
Also we have to bear in mind that defining mental states as the behaviour does leave us with some odd analogies. For example:
“Consider an analogy. When we describe a particular substance, for example arsenic, as a ‘poison’ we are identifying it in terms of the normal effects. A ‘poison’ by definition characteristically has certain effects. Thus, there is no room for the sceptical question: are those substances, such as arsenic and methylated spirits, that generally make people sick when they swallow them poisonous? For that particular substance characteristically has these effects is just what we mean in calling it ‘poisonous’. For all that, the poisonous substance is not itself the effect: that is, the sickness. The poison is the substance which causes the sickness. And this substance has a nature of its own; a nature that it is the business of science to investigate.” (6)
In this manner behaviourism does not offer a satisfactory solution to the mind/body problem and also makes no clear argument for where to go from here. Although I think behaviourists are on the right path. I think by incorporating the sub-conscious they could in fact come to make more sense of a person who is in pain and doesn’t show it while at the same time explaining why our minds are unknowable to a degree, something which puts dualism further into a refutable position.
Sigmund Freud was the populariser of the term sub-conscious.(7) The conscious mind being all of the mental processes of which we are aware. For example hunger. The unconscious contains all of our biologically based instincts. These instincts influence our behaviour and manifest themselves without us willing them. While the sub-conscious is that which we are not yet aware of, but either will be brought into the consciousness or fade away before manifesting itself.
Freud refers to consciousness as something which can be said to come and go, and makes a distinction between mental and consciousness: “Psycho-analysis cannot accept the view that consciousness is the essence of mental life, but is obliged to regard consciousness as one property of mental life, which may co-exist along with its other properties or may be absent.” (8)
Although much like with David Hume, Freud would resolve the Behaviourist’s and Dualist’s problem by making mental events physical, thus materialistic. He makes this clear when he asks himself a very simple question with the intention of showing mental events to be stemmed in the physical, and thus cannot be separated in any distinct manner:
“It would seem, then, that the question, ‘How does a thing become conscious?’ could be put more advantageously thus: ‘How does a thing become preconscious?’ And the answer would be: ‘By coming into connection with the verbal images that correspond to it’.
These verbal images are memory-residues: they were at one time perceptions, and like all memory-residues they can become conscious again.” (9)
This, combined with David Hume’s view would result in a materialistic view of the body and mind. Making the mind of the body, and one with it. This to me makes far more sense than either argument, although I would be reluctant to exclude the possibility of ‘more to it than that’. Which seems to be Ryle’s position, which is respectable.
So to conclude:
It seems that it can be shown that the mind is unhidden unless consciously chosen to be, or it is the sub-conscious processes. Behaviourism only seems to run into problems when the manifestation betrays the behaviour or thought process, but if the thought process includes the avoidance of manifestation into the external world, And those processes which are indeed hidden are manifested as bodily functions such as instincts and simple desires like sex, need of food/water, sleep etc. And if these bodily functions are merely ignored or not obeyed, they are not outwardly shown but still exist. Although this does leave people who never show pain, such as one in a coma as somewhat more difficult to define. To the behaviourist someone who does not show any pain cannot be said to be in pain. Which is something that I strongly disagree with about behaviourism. The only resolve to such a statement is to show biologically and neurologically that they are indeed in pain. But this, as can be seen, would make such a state private. Something which a behaviourist would be reluctant to say. In this way behaviourism does not offer a clear and satisfactory solution to the mind/body problem, but has offered us a new direction and path which is currently filled with neuroscience, psychology and biological testing. Which I think offers a far better explanation to the processes behind our everyday life then dualism ever did, but unfortunately this also leaves the mind/body problem somewhat unresolved.
1. René Descartes, Meditations and Discourse on the method.
2. Gilbert Ryle, The concept of mind. Chapter I: Descartes’ myth, (2) The absurdity of the official doctrine. Page 17. (Penguin classic, with an introduction by Daniel C. Dennett. 2000.)
3. Gilbert Ryle, The concept of mind. Chapter I: Descartes’ myth, (1) The official doctrine. Page 14-15. (Penguin classic, with an introduction by Daniel C. Dennett. 2000.)
4. David Hume, A treatise of human nature and dialogues concerning natural religion, Vol.I., Book I, Part IV. Of the sceptical and other systems of philosophy. Section VI.- Of personal identity, page 534. (London: Printed by Spottiswoode and Co., New street square and parliament street ((No date specified))
5. The stoic society argument by Hilary Putnam, B. Behaviourism, Chapter 7, Brains and behaviour, section: Logical behaviourism. Contained in the book Philosophy of mind – Classical and contemporary readings by David J.Chalmers. Pages 46-50. (New York, Oxford, Oxford university press, 2002.)
6. David Cockburn, An introduction to the philosophy of mind. Chapter 5, the material mind. Section 2, Functionalism (the causal theory of the mind). Page 62-63. (Palgrave, Macmillan. 2001)
7. Sigmund Freud, The question of lay analysis.
8. Sigmund Freud, The ego and the ID. Chapter I: Consciousness and unconscious. Page 9. (Published by the Hogarth press 40-42 William IV street, London, and the institute of psycho-analysis, 1947)
9. Sigmund Freud, The ego and the ID. Chapter II: The ego and the ID, page 21. (Published by the Hogarth press 40-42 William IV street, London, and the institute of psycho-analysis, 1947)
– Chalmers, Philosophy of mind – Classical and contemporary readings. (New York, Oxford, Oxford university press, 2002.)
– Cockburn, An introduction to the philosophy of mind. (Palgrave, Macmillan. 2001)
– Descartes, Meditations and Discourse on the method.
– Freud, The question of lay analysis.
– Freud, The ego and the ID. (Published by the Hogarth press 40-42 William IV street, London, and the institute of psycho-analysis, 1947)
– Hume, A treatise of human nature and dialogues concerning natural religion, Vol.I. (London: Printed by Spottiswoode and Co., New street square and parliament street ((No date specified))
– Ryle, The concept of mind. (Penguin classic, with an introduction by Daniel C. Dennett. 2000.)