Ordinary language arguments and the philosophy of mind


Hoswell, Timb D.. (2020). Ordinary language arguments and the philosophy of mind [Thesis]. https://doi.org/10.26199/3mzq-v156
AuthorsHoswell, Timb D.
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

[Extract] To engage your interest in this dissertation I offer to you a curious question to ponder. How often does a psychiatrist or a psychologist get the chance to ask themselves whether the words that they use to describe the mental life of their patient mean the same thing to the patient as they do to the doctor or analyst using them? Does the patient understand what the doctor or analyst is telling them? Equally importantly there is a question whether the patient’s verbal reports mean the same thing to the doctor or analyst as the patient thinks they mean. At first this may seem trivial given the doctor or analyst’s extensive training and education. Surely this is a one sided question one might say. Surely the doctor or analyst can understand the patient but the patient may not have the educational background and training to understand the doctor’s or analyst’s terms, which the doctor or analyst is using to describe the patient’s own mental life. One might persist in reasoning in this way, claiming that knowledge is all on the medical practitioner’s side, until the point is raised that the patient may have experiences the analyst or doctor does not have. For instance, one might ask whether a psychological analyst can ever truly understand what it is like to have bipolar and experience a manic high? What about schizophrenia or Attention Deficit (Hyperactive) Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome? On what foudnations are the communications between a patient and a doctor built? What underlies their ability to talk about deeply personal experiences given that one person has them while another has not? This is the central philosophical issue wrestled with by this paper. On what rests our ability to talk about personal and private experiences which do not have publicly observable parts, components or properties? Communication seems to take place, but what allows such communication to take place? How does one cross the gulf of private unobservable experience with words? Ordinary Language Arguments are one attempt at solving this otherwise seemingly unsolvable mystery. This introduction is aimed at acquainting the theorist of mind, common practitioner, researcher, cognitive therapist or curious layman with the problems that surround Ordinary Language Arguments. This paper will begin with the problems arising from referential indeterminacy in theories of mind. The ‘Problem of the Indeterminacy of Reference’ is a significant issue for research theorists and arises from the language they use to describe the mind. How do the terms they use relate to the mind? Do they propositionally ‘picture’ entities ‘in’ the mind in true ways? Are terms like ego, anger, jealousy and inner-child merely conveinant fictions and metaphors to talk about the mind? Do these terms refer to and label ‘parts’ of the mind? What is the relationship between these terms and the mind? One possible solution emerges from an Analytic Philosopher who wrote in the immediate post-war era called Gilbert Ryle. Gilbert Ryle developed Ordinary Language Arguments as one possible solution to a number of intersecting philosophical and psychological problems. However, I argue that the Ordinary Language Argument Solution, though on first glance seems promising, is fundamentally flawed. Instead, I argue that sources for the study of the mind are better understood by a Heterophenomenological and Autophenomenological distinction. This raises the question as to which of the two is stronger and/or prior to the other when these sources produce claims that clash or contradict each other.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26199/3mzq-v156
Research GroupSchool of Philosophy
Final version
Publication dates01 Jul 2020
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