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Ryle Remembered

Bernard Williams, 22 November 1979

On Thinking 
by Gilbert Ryle, edited by Konstantin Kolenda.
Blackwell, 160 pp., £7.95
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... Gilbert Ryle, who died in 1976, was for many years a professor of philosophy in Oxford. He was a man of genially military appearance, with a knobbly, cubic head; rather soldierly in speech and manner, he punctuated his sentences with an abrupt half-cough, highly characteristic of him and much imitated. He was an exceptionally nice man, friendly, generous, uncondescending, unpretentious, and, for a well-known professional philosopher, startlingly free from vanity ...

Out of Sight, out of Mind

Frank Kermode: A.J. Ayer’s Winning Ways, 15 July 1999

A.J. Ayer: A Life 
by Ben Rogers.
Chatto, 402 pp., £20, June 1999, 9780701163167
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... he suffered less and got over it. The next move, to Christ Church, was painless. Oxford gave him Gilbert Ryle as his tutor and appointed him to a lectureship before he graduated. Having volunteered for war service he was drawn, by the irresistible voice of privilege, into a Guards regiment. Thereafter his military career passed through several glamorous ...


A.J. Ayer, 20 May 1982

by Iain Hamilton.
Secker, 397 pp., £12, April 1982, 0 436 19191 1
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... extend to an article published in the Observer in 1961 or thereabouts, where he bracketed me with Gilbert Ryle as a ‘behaviourist of logic’, almost certainly without having read Ryle’s The Concept of Mind, or any relevant work of my own. When I protested, he replied in a mildly offensive way that he had read a ...

Seeds of What Ought to Be

Terry Eagleton: Hegel gets real, 22 February 2024

Hegel’s World Revolutions 
by Richard Bourke.
Princeton, 321 pp., £25, October 2023, 978 0 691 25018 2
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... The​ Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle claimed he had once talked a student out of suicide by pointing out to him that the logic of ‘nothing matters’ is very different from that of, for example, ‘nothing chatters.’ For some who philosophise in this style, Hegel is not one of their tribe but an obscurantist, semi-mystical system-builder who ended up kowtowing to an autocratic Prussian state, and whose thought lies behind the totalitarianism of the 20th century ...


Jonathan Barnes, 24 July 1986

The World of Thought in Ancient China 
by Benjamin Schwartz.
Harvard, 490 pp., £23.50, January 1986, 0 674 96190 0
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... unfair in his report of their views? At one point he certainly goes wrong, for he associates Gilbert Ryle with the bad social scientists. He thinks that Ryle wants to show that mind is ineffective but fails quite to do so. This is wildly mistaken: nothing was further from ...

Biting into a Pin-cushion

A.D. Nuttall: Descartes’s botch, 24 June 2004

Flesh in the Age of Reason 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 7139 9149 6
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... press the button to initiate this process if it has no thumb with which to press? In the 1950s Gilbert Ryle used the lethal phrase ‘the ghost in the machine’ to bring out the sheer absurdity of Cartesian dualism. After Descartes it seemed obvious that one must choose to discard either matter or spirit. Given that the existence of our bodies seems ...

Nothing nasty in the woodshed

John Bayley, 25 October 1990

Yours, Plum: The Letters of P.G. Wodehouse 
edited by Frances Donaldson.
Hutchinson, 269 pp., £16.99, September 1990, 0 09 174639 6
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... of early cinema. With such things you knew where you were, and a philosopher likes that: Gilbert Ryle, so it is said, thought Schopenhauer and Wodehouse the most sensible authors he knew, and the two who wrote the best. When not studying the one he was relaxing with the other. As well as writing a hundred-odd sensible books, Wodehouse also wrote ...


R.W. Johnson: Alan Taylor, Oxford Don, 8 May 1986

... but Bruce McFarlane, John Morris, Rupert Cross, Cyril Darlington, J.Z. Young, Sir Peter Medawar, Gilbert Ryle ... the line stretched on. No doubt it was all more humdrum in reality, but one was left with the impression of great intellectual giants inhabiting a world of mad English eccentricity: an older world of indulgence, scandal, fun and wit. It was ...

Pink Elephants

Alex Oliver, 2 November 2000

Articulating Reasons: An Introduction to Inferentialism 
by Robert Brandom.
Harvard, 230 pp., £21.95, June 2000, 0 674 00158 3
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... with language, like so many targets for philosophical investigation, is knowing where to start. Gilbert Ryle drew a rich picture of the philosopher as traffic policeman trying to unpick a jam ‘when crowds of conceptual vehicles, of different sorts and moving in different directions meet at some conceptual crossroads’. We can put the same image in ...

Victorian Consumers

Michael Mason, 16 February 1989

The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830-1900 
by F.M.L. Thompson.
Fontana, 382 pp., £5.95, September 1988, 0 00 686157 1
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Victorian Things 
by Asa Briggs.
Batsford, 440 pp., £19.95, November 1988, 9780713445190
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... anti-gravitational manner. There are no footnotes (giving a rather prestidigitatory effect, as Gilbert Ryle did with a famous comparable omission), and a reader with some knowledge of the literature will quickly see that there is a great deal more reading behind the text than is mentioned in the bibliographies to each chapter. Asa Briggs’s Victorian ...

Darwinian Soup

W.G. Runciman: The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore, 10 June 1999

The Meme Machine 
by Susan Blackmore.
Oxford, 264 pp., £18.99, March 1999, 0 19 850365 2
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... to assume that her readers will all be unreconstructed Cartesian dualists still clinging to what Gilbert Ryle famously called the ‘ghost in the machine’. But how does ‘memetics’ resolve the disjunction between the acknowledged findings of psychology and brain science on the one hand and the persistent phenomenological sense of self on the ...

What Philosophers Dream Of

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Bernard Williams, 2 July 2015

Essays and Reviews 1959-2002 
by Bernard Williams.
Princeton, 435 pp., £24.95, January 2014, 978 0 691 15985 0
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... He​ ‘understands what you’re going to say better than you understand it yourself’, Gilbert Ryle said of the young Bernard Williams, ‘and sees all the possible objections to it, all the possible answers to all the possible objections, before you’ve got to the end of your sentence’. Williams’s declared enemies in philosophy – ‘reactionaries’ who sweep everything into a single vision, Kantian ‘progressives’ committed to the view that ethical advance lies in the elaboration of connections between ‘freedom, autonomy, inner responsibility, moral obligation and so forth’, ‘deniers’ like Richard Rorty who were inclined to reduce talk of the true and the right to what we find it convenient to believe – were discomfited by his dazzle ...

The Central Questions

Thomas Nagel: H.L.A. Hart, 3 February 2005

A Life of H.L.A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream 
by Nicola Lacey.
Oxford, 422 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 19 927497 5
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... until he found his feet. This was a time of philosophical transformation, with Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle, J.L. Austin and others developing the study of natural language and its logic as the primary tool of analytic philosophy. Hart gave a seminar jointly with Austin on legal and moral responsibility, and his legal experience and familiarity with ...


Jackson Lears: On Chomsky, 4 May 2017

Why Only Us: Language and Evolution 
by Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky.
MIT, 215 pp., £18.95, February 2016, 978 0 262 03424 1
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Because We Say So 
by Noam Chomsky.
Penguin, 199 pp., £9.99, August 2016, 978 0 241 97248 9
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What Kind of Creatures Are We? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Columbia, 167 pp., £17, January 2016, 978 0 231 17596 8
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Who Rules the World? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Hamish Hamilton, 307 pp., £18.99, May 2016, 978 0 241 18943 6
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Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals 
by Neil Smith and Nicholas Allott.
Cambridge, 461 pp., £18.99, January 2016, 978 1 107 44267 2
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... wisdom in philosophy and psychology. Both disciplines were dominated by a distrust of what Gilbert Ryle called ‘the ghost in the machine’ – the elusive, invisible human mind. Talk of mental states, on this view, was empty; subjective experience was unmeasurable and therefore unreal. Chomsky found this unsatisfying. In challenging it, he made ...

Leader of the Martians

Thomas Nagel: J.L. Austin’s War, 7 September 2023

J.L. Austin: Philosopher and D-Day Intelligence Officer 
by M.W. Rowe.
Oxford, 660 pp., £30, May, 978 0 19 870758 5
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... heightened the combative atmosphere of academic philosophy. ‘We were all frightened of him,’ Gilbert Ryle said, ‘though few of us have the courage to admit it.’ Austin​ insisted that linguistic phenomenology gave us knowledge not only about words but about the things words are used to talk about, because the distinctions found in natural ...

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