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Chapter Ten Rene Descartes: The Mind-body Dualism

Date of publication: 2017-07-09 01:54

A question one might ask is: what's the point of arguing that mind and body  could each exist without the other? What’s the payoff for going through all the trouble and enduring all the problems to which it gives rise? For Descartes the payoff is twofold. The first is religious in nature in that it provides a rational basis for a hope in the soul’s immortality [because Descartes presumes that the mind and soul are more or less the same thing]. The second is more scientifically oriented, for the complete absence of mentality from the nature of physical things is central to making way for Descartes’ version of the new, mechanistic physics. This section investigates both of these motivating factors.

What is Descartes’ argument for mind/body dualism? - Quora

Lastly, as regards the soul and the body together, we have only the notion of their union, on which depends our notion of the soul’s power to move the body, and the body’s power to act on the soul and cause its sensations and passions (AT III 665: CSMK 768).

Mind body dualism - Blutner

A criticism of the traditional employment of substantial forms and their concomitant final causes in physics is found in the  Sixth Replies where Descartes examines how the quality of gravity was used to explain a body’s downward motion:

Descartes and Dualism Essay -- Dualism Essays

The consequences of this problem are very serious for Descartes, because it undermines his claim to have a clear and distinct understanding of the mind without the body. For humans do have sensations and voluntarily move some of their bodily limbs and, if Gassendi and Elizabeth are correct, this requires a surface and contact. Since the mind must have a surface and a capacity for motion, the mind must also be extended and, therefore, mind and body are not completely different. This means the “clear and distinct” ideas of mind and body, as mutually exclusive natures, must be false in order for mind-body causal interaction to occur. Hence, Descartes has not adequately established that mind and body are two really distinct substances.

Descartes really rejects the attempt to use the human soul as a model for explanations in the entirely physical world. This makes it possible that Descartes considered the human mind to be the only substantial form. At first glance this may seem  ad hoc but it is also important to notice that rejecting the existence of substantial forms with the exception of the mind or rational soul was not uncommon amongst Descartes’ contemporaries.

Without any delusive representation of images and phantasms, I am most certain that Iam,and that I know and delight in this. In respect of these truths, I am not afraid of the arguments of the Academicians, who say, What if you are deceived? For ifIam deceived, he who is not, cannot be deceived and if I am deceived, by this same token Iam.

Despite the obviousness of this problem, and the amount of attention given to it, Descartes himself never took this issue very seriously. His response to Gassendi is a telling example:

But later on I made the observations which led me to make a careful distinction between the idea of the mind and the ideas of body and corporeal motion and I found that all those other ideas of... 'substantial forms' which I had previously held were ones which I had put together or constructed from those basic ideas (AT VII 997-8: CSM II 798).

One problem with Plato's dualism was that, though he speaks of the soul as imprisoned in the body, there is no clear account of what binds a particular soul to a particular body. Their difference in nature makes the union a mystery.

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Descartes formulates this argument in many different ways, which has led many scholars to believe there are several different real distinction arguments. However, it is more accurate to consider these formulations as different versions of one and the same argument. The fundamental premise of each is identical: each has the fundamental premise that the natures of mind and body are completely different from one another.

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