Term Paper: Descartes and Body-Mind Dualism Rene

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Descartes and Body-Mind Dualism

Rene Descartes is regarded as one of the greatest minds humanity has ever mastered. Born in France, he became specialized in several subjects, such as theology, philosophy, literature, mathematics, law or medicine. A firm sustainer of the sciences, Descartes believed that everything surrounding him could be explained as a combination of mathematics and another subject. "Descartes, who was convinced that science and mathematics could be used to explain everything in nature, was the first to describe the physical universe in terms of matter and motion, seeing the universe a as giant mathematically designed engine."

However his works were well received by other specialists of the time, the persecutions of the Church disallowed Descartes to publish his works. "Descartes produced a scientific work called Le Monde or the World which he was about to publish in 1634. At the point, however, he learned that Galileo had been condemned by the Church for teaching Copernicanism. Descartes' book was Copernican to the core, and he therefore had it suppressed."

Today, Rene Descartes is generally viewed as a philosopher as his major contributions in the area led to the development of the science. The numerous books and essays he had wrote on various philosophical themes, among which are the Principles of Philosophy and Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in Science, propelled the writer into a new era of knowledge and thinking. He was among the firsts who dared analyse the existence of God. Descartes acknowledged God as the sole creator of the Universe and of humans, but he also placed great emphasis on humans' ability to think and filter with doubt all information they received.

His immense contributions in the philosophical area turned Descartes into "one of the most influential thinkers in human history, who is sometimes even called the founder of modern philosophy."

2. Dualism of mind and body

In a time when many scholars were trying to explain the relationship between mind and body, Rene Descartes stated that there was no dependence between the two, as they could both exist on their own. The idea was first stated by Christian thinkers, who believed that after the death, part of what made the human, that is the soul or the mind, would live on in the absence of a material body.

I have a clear and distinct idea of myself as a thinking non-extended thing, and a clear and distinct idea of body as an extended and non-thinking thing. Whatever I can conceive clearly and distinctly, God can so create. So, Descartes argues, the mind, a thinking thing, can exist apart from its extended body. And therefore, the mind is a substance distinct from the body, a substance whose essence is thought."

To further emphasise on his beliefs, Descartes explains his understanding of intelligence and of the body. The body is represented by simple movements, generally innate, learned through repetition or simply required by the surrounding environment, such as humans reflex to protect themselves against immediate danger or animals' hunting needs.

On the other hand, the mind is regarded as an immaterial entity that presents increased relational and communication skills. Related to this issue, "Descartes says, that a machine "should produce different arrangements of words so as to give an appropriately meaningful answer to whatever is said in its presence, as even the dullest of men can do" (1637, Part V), whatever has such ability evidently thinks."

Another feature of Descartes' dual theory in regard to the independence of body and mind is presented in the writing entitled Meditation Two: of the Nature of the Human Mind; and That it Is More Easily Known than the Body. In this work, the philosopher juggles with the concept of immortality - a feature that completely differentiates the body from the mind. According to this theory, the body is mortal, as it if formed of substances prone to decompose. On the other hand, the mind is likely to live on and be immortal. "One factor in establishing the immortality of the soul is showing that the soul is composed of an indestructible and unalterable substance. Although the material substance of the human body is in general indestructible, the composition of the body is alterable. Thus, it is not eternal. The spiritual substance of the human mind in general is also indestructible."

Rene Descartes forwards four categories of explanations for the body - mind dualism, all retrieved from his writings. These arguments are structured into the following groups:

1. From Discourse on Method 4 - Argument of Doubt:

a) One cannot doubt the existence of his mind;

b) One cannot doubt the existence of his body;

c) the mind and the body are not identical.

2. From 6th Meditation - Argument of Clear and Distinct Perception:

a) if X and Y can be distinctly conceived, than X and Y are totally distinct b) Ideas that are clear and distinct are true;

c) the mind and body can clearly be conceived apart;

d) the mind and the body are distinct.

3. From 6th Meditation - Argument of Divisibility:

a) "The mind is indivisible;

b) All material objects are spatially extended;

c) Anything spatially extended is divisible;

d) the mind is not a material object;

e) the body is a material object;

f) the mind is not identical to the body."

4. From Reply to Objections IV - Argument of Consciousness:

a) "Material objects cannot be conscious;

b) the mind is conscious;

c) the mind is not a material object."

3. Support of mind - body dualism

There are numerous reasons forwarded to explain Descartes' separation of body and mind. One argument coming directly from the writer himself is the comparison between humans and animals. To explain how mind is separate from the body, Descartes points out that both humans and animals can be found in their material forms. But of the two species, only one presents the ability to think and communicate: the human. On the other hand, both species present the basic abilities to function and move. But there is a vital difference between the body movements of humans and those of the animals'. "Although our human motion is activated by mind, animal motion is activated by purely mechanical force." As such, the conclusion that rises is that, since the animal in its material form can exist without a developed mind, the mind can also exist without the body, the two elements being independent from each other.

However this was not the case in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a new and relevant example of mind and body segregation is the existence of robots. The metal objects have a wide variety of functions that can even include movement, but are incapable of thinking on their own.

Several scholars and academicians have stated their opinion in regard to Descartes' dual theory of body and mind. Extremely relevant works in support of the theory that mind and body are different and independent were developed by Gordon L. Ziniewicz. He synthesized the essence of Descartes theory and realized a parallel presentation of the features of body and mind that categorically distinguish them. He included these features in the following table:

Mind - Mental Substance

Body - Physical Substance

Non-spatial consciousness and objects of consciousness Spatial matter in motion Can determine itself; is absolutely free; can accept or reject any notion Is determined (moved) by other bodies in accordance with mechanical laws Self-moving Moved by others Realm where I am king Realm where I am a subject Perfect order is possible. Perfect order is impossible. Realm where obscurity and confusion can be overcome; certainty can be achieved through clear and distinct ideas. Realm where obscurity and confusion cannot be overcome; words cannot adequately represent clear and distinct ideas. Realm of truth: metaphysics is based on intuition and deduction of clear and distinct innate ideas Realm of action: ethics and politics; human conduct must be adjusted in accord with imperfect social custom and the teachings of the Church Inner revolution Outer conformity Contradiction in thought can be overcome. Contradiction and inconsistency in speech and action unavoidable. Progress means progress in mathematics and science leading to progress in technologies that provide health and conveniences and tools; mental progress means knowing more Progress means achieving power over bodily nature, ability to manipulate matter in motion; progress means technological progress, not social progress or social reform.

Table 1: Descartes' Mind/Body Dualism

4. Personal belief

The attempt to entirely separate body from mind is laudable, but I believe it simply cannot be achieved. Regardless of the multitude of forces brought in favour of the body - mind dualism, one cannot correctly state that body and mind can function on their own. I only find this to be true in the case of primate organisms and micro-organisms that present no existence of a brain and cerebral function. For all other situations, I find a strong dependence between body and soul.

The argument brought in favour of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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