As Waynflete Professor of metaphysical philosophy at Oxford and as editor of the journal Mind for nearly twenty-five years, Gilbert Ryle had an enormous influence on the development of twentieth-century analytic philosophy.
In "Systematically Misleading Expressions" (1932) Ryle proposed a philosophical method of dissolving problems by correctly analyzing the derivation of inappropriate abstract inferences from ordinary uses of language. Ryle argued that philosophical analysis of ordinary language can clarify human thinking by eliminating inappropriate linguistic forms. Negative existential assertions, generalizations from experience, proper-name identifications, and referential descriptions, Ryle pointed out, all tend to be expressed in statements whose superficial grammatical form mistakenly engenders the hypostasization of non-existent objects of various sorts; the solution in each case is to substitute a less misleading statement. The proper function of philosophy is to map out the logical geography or our conceptual schemes.
Applying this method more generally in "Categories" (1938), Ryle showed how the misapplication of an ordinary term can result in a category mistake by which philosophers may be seriously misled.
Dealing with the traditional mind-body problem in The Concept of Mind (1949), Ryle sharply criticized Cartesian dualism, arguing that adequate descriptions of human behavior need never refer to anything but the operations of human bodies. This form of logical behaviorism became a standard view among ordinary-language philosophers for several decades. In The Concept of Mind Ryle offered an extended analysis of mental concepts, designed to show the utter absurdity of traditional mind-body dualism. Although traditional language divides the inner (mental and non-spatial) aspect of human life from the outer (bodily and spatial) aspect, he noted, efforts to describe the inner life invariably appeal to the language and models of bodily motion and interaction. Thus, for example, "I had a headache yesterday but it went away," or "My mind is full of useless information." The only way to speak about my supposedly private mental life is by drawing analogies to physical processes.
What this reflects, on Ryle's view is the category mistake of assimilating behavioral concepts to notions about mentality, the mistaken supposition that there must be a "ghost in the machine," an intelligent inner pilot guiding the complex movements of the human body. But this Ryle argued, is like meeting Uncle Joe and Grandma and Mom while wondering where the family really is. Resolution of our conceptual difficulties in this regard, he supposed, lies not in the reduction of mental predicates to material ones, but rather a simple recognition that statements about perception, memory, belief, and other mental states are nothing more significant than a series of short-hand ways of describing human behavior of identifiable sorts. Cartesian dualism is an elaborate myth.
Ryle's Dilemmas (1954) and Collected Papers (1971) cover a wide range of topics in philosophical logic and the history of philosophy.