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Topic Description

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  • Background of Study

This work is motivated by the global quest for freedom and self expression both at the individual and the national levels. Such quests that have resulted in much tension, agitation, terrorism and outright wars in diverse places are products of the great increase in human self consciousness in recent times. People and nations want to be themselves without undue interference from any quarter. Ordinarily people are always advised, “be yourself”. What is it to be a self? And what does it mean to be a particular self? It is obvious that in everything we do we adopt some conception of our identity, both as  persons and as an individual, whether we are called upon to articulate it or not.1 But what features are essential to being the person you are, and what features distinguish you from other persons?

Whatever our attempts to answer the questions of self identity are, they begin with a single ‘fact’, our own consciousness. But the question of consciousness remains a mystery of ‘general metaphysics’.2 It may be the most outstanding obstacle in the quest for a complete scientific understanding of the universe, inspite all the much progress already recorded. What is the nature of consciousness?

Another motivating factor for this research is the rising interest in the cognitivist theories, the cognitive science, artificial intelligence, etc which has provoked a renewed interest in the works of Gilbert Ryle especially The Concept of Mind. For instance, Daniel Dennet,3 a former student of Ryle has provided a systematic forward to the AD. 2000 edition of The Concept of Mind. Ryle, therefore, remains a significant defender of the possibility of lucid and meaningful interpretation of higher – level human activities without recourse to an abstract soul, or self consciousness.

However, it seems that some intellectuals are still challenged about why there should be “some thing it is like” to be in a certain mental state or to be a certain kind of being. Such intellectuals like Gilbert Ryle outrightly deny this fact, because it seems utterly mysterious that human behaviours should be accompanied by a subjective consciousness or inner life experiences. It is against this background that this study undertakes a critical evaluation of Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of Mind with a view to demonstrate that self-consciousness is the distinctive feature of human beings.

  • Statement of Problem

Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of Mind  is a work highly commendable because of its efforts to eliminate all the mysterious issues about the mentals by translating the mental terminologies into statements of behaviour. By that Ryle presumed to have established criteria of proof for all mentalistic experiences, and thereby demystifying the concept of mind by removing the “category mistake”.

However, Ryle took a very narrow view of the scope of the human mind, the issue in question is not merely a linguistic problem, rather it is the issue about the basic problem of metaphysics  – the question about the real essence and substratum of the human person. It is the question about reality in relation to the human person.

What is the nature and properties of human consciousness? Can all mental events or processes be fully accounted for in terms of physical events and/or brain processes? What is the nature of the relationship between mental events (like conscious thoughts and experiences) and physical events (the associated brain processes)? What are the consequences and implications of the development of artificial intelligence to the human person? It is such ultimate metaphysical problems as stated above that this study is geared to solve or to provide approximately a satisfactory explanation.

Every other intractable question of human existence hinges on ones resolution of this question of consciousness.4 Example the questions of free will, immortality, morality, knowledge, values and purposes of life, etc. depends on the fact that there is an internal entity (myself) that constitute my ever flowing stream of consciousness, which underlies all the intentional actions characteristic of my personal identity. Again, if all mental events could be accounted for by the laws of physics, what implications does that hold for the human person.5 and the human society?

  • Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is to provide an approximately satisfactory explanation to the problem of consciousness and self consciousness. This is necessary here because whichever philosophical system one subscribes to in this issue goes a long way to influence ones total existence, attitudes to life, values and relationships in the world.

Our aim is to critically evaluate Gilbert Ryle’s concept of mind with a view to demonstrate that self-consciousness is the distinctive feature of the human person. Any relevant insight this study offers to enhance our understanding of the nature and relations of mental events and physical events associated with them fulfills the purpose of this study.


  • Thesis

The thesis proposed and demonstrated in this work is that man is a unified self-conscious being because self-consciousness is the exclusive feature of the human person and the relationship between mental events and physical events are not merely logical, but etiological (i.e) generative, or as given.

  • Scope of Study

This work is centred on the exposition and evaluation of Gilbert Ryle’s work: The Concept of Mind. The scope of this work is limited to the evaluation of our textual guide, The Concept of Mind and other related works of Ryle.  

  • Significance of the Study

The significance of this work is that a good understanding of the question of consciousness will greatly enhance the scientific understanding of the universe at large. As David Hudgson wrote, “if a satisfactory answer can be found and justified, it could inturn provide substantial insight into — the human conditions which are well beyond the scope of science”.6 This is a study that is concerned with questions central to human life and purpose.  Such unresolved questions on human existence, human identity, immortality, determinism, etc. are major issues that affect people’s lives, attitudes, values and relationships. A basic understanding of the nature of the mind, the human person or self, the interaction of mind and body or the manifestation of the mind through the body will automatically enhance people’s image of themselves, value for human life, better attitude to work, living with a sense of purpose and respect for cultural values and fundamental human rights.

A better understanding of the relationship between mind and matter or mind and brain, and a clear understanding of the scope of artificial intelligence and human mind will go a long way in revolutionalizing the work ethics in the modern society. Therefore, this work is highly relevant to professional philosophers and students, to the whole body of academics and to the general reader.

  • Research Methodology

This study adopted the qualitative research design. The materials were sourced from the books and journals collected from the departmental, University and the state libraries as well as from the internet. The historical, analytical, expository and evaluative research methods were adopted where necessary. We organized and analysed the data historically based on the various periodization of Greek philosophy. Therefore, these strategies together formed the methodology of this academic inquiry.