For the sake of argument, let us say that gender identity exists and is analytically and ontologically distinct from sex.

Let us also say that:

  • Gender identity is accessible through introspection, when people 'out' themselves as being as such it is often known to them beforehand, in at least some cases through entirely their own mind/brain.
  • Gender identity cannot be publicly empirically observed (even through neuroscience).

Does this necessarily mean that another, private entity must be responsible for such self-knowledge, i.e. the mind, so dualism is true? Surely such an identity cannot be explained by physical processes? Or am I guilty of making what Ryle objected to as the 'Category Mistake'?

  • 2
    I kind of remember there is neurologic research about gender dysphoria. It could be interesting to look this way, as it would undermine your second point.
    – armand
    Jun 6, 2023 at 13:34
  • 1
    @MauroALLEGRANZA That would only be true if sex were the only material aspect of a person, which is obviously not the case. We also assume height exists, is distinct from sex, and is still material.
    – JMac
    Jun 6, 2023 at 14:57
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    It's unclear to me why gender identity would be any different from all the other mental phenomena that are used to justify dualism. As in "Surely qualia/free will/consciousness cannot be explained by physical processes"
    – tkruse
    Jun 6, 2023 at 15:55
  • How would the "transgenderism" you describe differ from, for example, a person's belief they were a fire hydrant? There is no physical evidence (no neuroscience). There is physical evidence the other way. So the only available evidence is the person's "outing" themself. Does a person's sincerely held belief they are a fire hydrant require there to be a soul? In other words, your question is insulting to transgender persons. And possibly fire fighters.
    – Boba Fit
    Jun 6, 2023 at 19:26
  • unicorns and pegasus are "ontologically" distinct from horses, but they are not exist, because an existence is not an analogy of something, an existence can't be prove with analytic. Jun 6, 2023 at 22:02

1 Answer 1


I find four questions in your question. They are linked, so that is not complaint.

  1. "Does gender identity require a dualist account of consciousness"?

NO. It requires a social perspective on sex. As you say, sex is used, in this context, to mean something biological, physical. But sex is built in to social forms in all sorts of ways, and so, by distinguishing the biological functions from the social dimension of sex, it is possible to articulate the concept of gender identity as a social role. A complication here is that the distinction between the biological and the social contested, so that issue is more difficult than it might seem.

2."Does this necessarily mean that another, private entity must be responsible for such self-knowledge, aka the mind...?"

It depends what you mean by "private" and "entity". It is obviously possible for people to have beliefs and thoughts that they do not tell other people. That doesn't amount to an entity. But clearly it is possible for people considering gender identity to tell other people, so it isn't private in the sense required by Dualist theories. So the answer to this question is, No.

Many philosophers think that privacy postulated by Dualist theories is incoherent. In that case, the answer to your question is No. For more about this See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Private Language

  1. "Surely such an identity cannot be explained by physical processes?"

There don't seem to be agreed explanations of any kind available at present, but explanations by physical processes may well become available one day. In the mean time, explanations by psychological and social processes are available and might well prove helpful.

I should point out at this point that since gender is a social role, it needs no more, and no different, explanation that the choice to get married or become a philosopher.

  1. "Or, is this guilty of making what Ryle objected to as the 'Category Mistake'?"

It's not clear what "this" refers to. If you mean "another, private entity" then the answer is Yes. See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Categories

  • "it is possible to articulate the concept of gender identity as a social role" - But is it different to be feminine and to be a woman?
    – rus9384
    Jun 7, 2023 at 14:45
  • Nice question. People talk of some males as being "effeminate" (unfortunately, and unnecessarily, this is usually a term of abuse or at least denigration). So I think that "feminine" applies to the gender role. Some people think that "woman" applies to the gender role as well as to people classified as female sex, but others question that. There are many complications and much debate about nearly everything about this topic. Feminism seems mainly to question gender roles as such. Why should some activities be allocated to one or other sex? I don't think there is general agreement about this.
    – Ludwig V
    Jun 7, 2023 at 16:31

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