Cartesian Dualism and Gilbert Ryle

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This essay will define Cartesian dualism, explain and critically evaluate Gilbert Ryle’s response to Cartesian dualism in his article, “Descartes’ Myth” and support Ryle’s argument on Descartes’ substance dualism.
Cartesian dualism is a type of mind-body dualism formulated by the infamous Rene Descartes (1596-1650). Descartes’ dualism is about entities: he states there are two distinct kinds of entities, bodies and minds (1). All objects that exist or can exist belong to one of these categories. The two forms are said to be mutually exclusive and commonly defined by fundamentally different characteristics, yet both are required to accurately define the world around us. According to Descartes, the body is a tangible physical substance (the unthinking thing), whereas the mind is an intangible non-physical substance (the thinking thing) and comes metaphysically before the body (3). The mind and body casually interact with one another while maintaining their distinctiveness: the eyes perceive objects and then focus the image to the pineal gland, where it transmits the information to the non-physical mind; the mind then may transmit a signal to the body, telling it what to do. The mind and body are independent from one another, yet they work in harmony; the mind receives signals from the body and the body responds to signals from the mind.
Ryle, in his seminal work, The Concept of Mind, begins by stating the official doctrine of Cartesian dualism, “which hails chiefly from Descartes, is something like this. With the doubtful exception of idiots and infants in arms every human being has a body and mind. Some would prefer to say that every human being is both a body and a mind. His body and his mind are ordinarily harnessed together,...

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...nclude, Ryle is correct in his challenge of Descartes’ Cartesian dualism, the mind and body are not two separate parts as dictated by dualist, rather the working of the mind are not distinct from the body. As a result, an observer can understand the mind of another through the actions of the body. It is the combination that makes up a human, human, as they are one and the same.


1) Steven, S. (2011). Cartesian Dualism: An Evaluation of Wireduan and Gilbert Ryle’s Refutations. Kritike, 5(2), 156-165.

2) Ryle, G. (2009). The Concept of Mind. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

3) Nath, S. (2013). Ryle as a critique of Descartes’ Mind-Body Dualism. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publication. 3(7), 1-5.

4) Kem Stone. (2009). Descartes’ Myth. Retrieved from

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