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Gilbert Ryle

(1900—1976) philosopher

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British philosopher, a leading figure in contemporary Oxford linguistic philosophy.

Born in Brighton, the son of a doctor, Ryle was educated at Queen's College, Oxford. Apart from the war years (1939–45) spent with the Welsh Guards, Ryle remained at Oxford for his entire academic career, serving as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysics from 1945 until his retirement in 1968.

Ryle initially showed some interest in modern German philosophy, but in his paper ‘Systematically misleading expressions’ (1931) he announced his conversion to the new linguistic philosophy. He further developed his views in his most original early paper, ‘Categories’ (1937). But by 1945 such work no longer seemed adequate to Ryle. It was time the new philosophical techniques proved themselves by being deployed at length against a major longstanding problem of philosophy. Ryle chose to tackle the mind–body problem and in his classic work, The Concept of Mind (1949), argued against the Cartesian position of the mind as a mysterious spiritual ghost in a material machine. Mental concepts were thus seen by Ryle not as descriptions of events taking place in some private inner theatre but as mainly dispositional and consequently analysable in terms of observable behaviour. Other works of Ryle include Dilemmas (1954), a study of certain apparently irreconcilable theories; and Plato's Progress (1966), a speculative, controversial, yet closely argued account of the nature and development of Plato's thought.

In his many years at Oxford Ryle exercised an enormous influence on the organization and development of Oxford philosophy. It was largely due to the imagination of Ryle that Oxford, after 1945, became one of the leading centres in the world for philosophical research. Ryle's own style as a thinker, writer, and teacher were unique – capable of being parodied but impossible to imitate: ‘Le style, c'est Ryle’, J. L. Austin accurately noted.

Subjects: Philosophy

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