In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gilbert Ryle

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Monographs and Collected Papers
  • Overviews and Edited Collections
  • Ancient Philosophy

Philosophy Gilbert Ryle
Matt Dougherty
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0433


Though best known and often identified with his work on concepts of mind, Gilbert Ryle (b. 1900–d. 1976) was no monoglot. He was a broad thinker, with broad influences, invested in various philosophical issues—perhaps chief among them, the status and methods of philosophy itself. Eventually becoming one of the twentieth century’s most famous English-speaking philosophers—due to the publication of his classic The Concept of Mind (cited under Monographs and Collected Papers)—his philosophical education focused largely on the history of philosophy, which he drew on throughout his career. His interest in Plato and Aristotle, especially, can be seen not only in his work on concepts of mind but also in his work on language and action, on ethics, on philosophical method, and in scholarly work in ancient philosophy. And though heavily influenced in his contemporary thinking by the analytic philosophy of Frege, Moore, Russell, and Wittgenstein, he did not limit himself to it. He helped it evolve, and he drew on and made important contributions to the understanding of the phenomenological tradition as well, including Brentano, Husserl, Meinong, and Heidegger. Ryle’s best-known work is often taken to have been quickly superseded—whether by new philosophical or psychological theories or by Wittgenstein—but a number of current philosophical ideas can be construed as neo-Rylean, and there is good reason to think that aspects of his work have been substantially underestimated and misunderstood, in no small part due to an underestimation of the breadth of his interests and influences. Much current work on Ryle and in a Rylean spirit aims to correct these misunderstandings. This article surveys the main philosophical topics to which Ryle made significant contributions—to which his contributions are either seminal or else still part of the current debate. His contributions to the understanding of the mind (see Mind) and of knowing-how (see Knowing-How) remain the most significant. However, there is growing interest as well in his work on moral education and moral memory (see Ethics), and his work in ancient philosophy is still regularly cited as well (see Ancient Philosophy). Finally, no good history of analytic philosophy can be written without reference to his part in bringing it to and reinterpreting it in Oxford, in dialogue with phenomenology (see Philosophical Method). This article begins, however, with an overview of his life and work.


Ryle spent a substantial amount of time reflecting on his life as a philosopher, and he has a fairly comprehensive story to tell about his own philosophical development. This is especially evident in Ryle 1971, which is the most comprehensive biography of him apart from Vrijen 2007 (cited under Overviews and Edited Collections). The former gives a sense both of his candor and his seriousness in practicing philosophy. Owen 1977 and Williams 1979 are in large part brief personal memoirs, conveying Ryle’s distinctive and widely known mannerisms and style, his humanity, and his commitment not only to doing good philosophy but to philosophy doing well as a discipline, both in its professional and educational aspects. Lyons 2017 and Stroll 2001 focus more on Ryle the professional philosopher, the development of his thinking as it occurred in published work and his impact on the discipline. Kremer 2021 broadens our understanding of Ryle’s life through a discussion of a close philosophical friendship with the philosopher Margaret McDonald.

  • Kremer, Michael. “Margaret MacDonald and Gilbert Ryle: A Philosophical Friendship.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30.2 (2021): 288–311.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2021.1932409

    Portrays an admirable life and philosophical career (MacDonald’s) and makes plausible that Ryle’s friendship with MacDonald had a significant influence on some of his central philosophical ideas. Tracks how MacDonald’s ideas, especially about knowledge and the nature of philosophy, may have influenced Ryle’s thinking about knowledge-how and may have spurred a metaphilosophical shift that took place after The Concept of Mind (cited under Monographs and Collected Papers).

  • Lyons, William. “Ryle, Gilbert (1900–76).” In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD060-2

    Brief biographic account of Ryle’s early work and influences, followed by similarly biographic accounts of each of the periods in which he published his three monographs: The Concept of Mind, Dilemmas, and Plato’s Progress (all cited under Monographs and Collected Papers).

  • Owen, G. E. L. “Gilbert Ryle.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 77.1 (1977): 265–270.

    DOI: 10.1093/aristotelian/77.1.265

    Personal memoir presented to the Aristotelian Society upon Ryle’s death, focusing on Ryle’s love of ancient philosophy, his contribution to creating the BPhil degree at Oxford, his style and character as a philosopher, and the extent to which he was indebted to Wittgenstein.

  • Ryle, Gilbert. “Autobiographical.” In Ryle. Edited by Oscar P. Wood and George Pitcher, 1–15. London: Macmillan, 1971.

    Enjoyable, wide-ranging account of Ryle’s development, of his generation of philosophers, and of his philosophical project.

  • Stroll, Avrum. “Gilbert Ryle (1900–1976).” In A Companion to Analytic Philosophy. Edited by A. P. Martinich and E. David Sosa, 117–123. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470998656.ch9

    A summary of Ryle’s professional life, his prominence in mid-20th-century analytic philosophy, and also of his three monographs, focusing on The Concept of Mind (cited under Monographs and Collected Papers). Ends with three proposals for why the latter became much less central to the discipline after the 1950s: the publication of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations and the verificationist and behavioristic leanings of Ryle’s book.

  • Williams, Bernard. “Ryle Remembered.” London Review of Books 1.2 (22 November 1979).

    In part a review of Ryle’s posthumously published collection of essays On Thinking (cited under Monographs and Collected Papers), but more substantially a personal memoir. Discusses Ryle’s general geniality, mannerisms, philosophical outlook, his philosophical work and influences, his influence on the discipline, and how the essays collected in On Thinking may have been attempts to shake off his behaviorist label.

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