Thursday, August 19, 2010

Intelligent behavior

The mark of intelligence is active learning - changing behavior in response to circumstances and past successes and failures. In his remarkable and largely forgotten book The concept of mind (1949), Gilbert Ryle distinguishes between a passive approach of 'satisfying criteria' (or following rules blindly) and an active one of 'applying criteria' (which involves making choices about when to apply which criteria, that is, continually modifying the rules one lives by).

Ryle writes: "To be intelligent is not merely to satisfy criteria, but to apply them; to regulate one's actions and not merely to be well-regulated. A person's performance is described as careful or skillful, if in his operations he is ready to detect and correct lapses, to repeat and improve upon successes, to profit from the examples of others and so forth. He applies criteria in performing critically, that is, in trying to get things right."

Ryle's work is difficult to categorize. It is not scientific psychology, but nor is it anti-scientific. It is concerned with the basic logic of psychological explanations. He called the area in which he worked 'philosophical psychology'.

As Jason Streitfeld points out, Ryle challenges "what he calls 'the dogma of the ghost in the machine,' the tradition of Cartesian dualism which says that minds and bodies are distinct entities, each with their own causal properties. Ryle says this is a category error. When we speak of minds, we are not speaking of states, entities, or events. The language we use to talk about minds employs a logic of dispositions, and not simply of occurrences. Rather than think of the mind as a particular place or thing, Ryle asks us to imagine it as a complex set of abilities, capacities, skills, and so on ...

... Ryle's argument is not that we do not have private thoughts, or that we do not imagine, think, or feel. He does not ignore the richness and potency of experience. Rather, he says that the marks of the mental are not intrinsically private. Sometimes they are public, such as when we speak or write, or otherwise perform publicly. Thoughts are only sometimes private, and then only by convention or circumstance. Furthermore, such private acts do not confer intelligence to outward, public acts. Ryle's insight is this:- Intelligent behavior is not the product of intelligence - it is intelligence itself."


  1. Interesting. I'd even agree with some of it.

  2. Fancy that!! I hope you don't think I'm drifting too far from my usual, hardline, dogmatic conservatism!