Term Paper: Mind-Body Dualism: Leibniz, and Spinoza's Approaches

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Mind-Body Dualism: Leibniz, And Spinoza's Approaches To The Problem

The Mind-Body problem is one that plagues philosophers, asking what the relationship is between the mind and the body? Human beings seem to exhibit distinct physical and mental properties. Their physical properties can be described by observation and describe appearance and physical ability, but their mental properties cannot be described by the same type of objective observation. The mind-body problem seeks to answer the question: is there a distinction between mental and physical properties? In order to answer this question, the mind-body problem looks at several distinct subcategories of questions, to further examine the relationship between mind and body. Those subcategories include, but are not limited to, the relationship between physical and mental states, the issue of consciousness, and the definition of the self. For the dualist, mental and physical states are both distinct and real. Not all dualists tackle this problem in the same manner, but the essence of dualism is that the mental and physical are distinct components of a being.

In order to understand how Leibniz solves the problem of mind-body dualism, one must have a greater understanding of his philosophy, as a whole, because Leibniz's view of both God and the universe impact his explanation of dualism. Leibniz considers every subpart of the universe to be reflective of the whole of the universe, which shows interrelatedness between all things. Specifically, Leibniz believes in a particular variety of dualism, parallelism, which suggests that the physical and mental realms may run in harmony with one another, but that they do not actually interact with one another. Leibniz, like many other parallelist dualist philosophers explains parallelism by referencing the divine.

Leibniz bases his system of knowledge on five fundamental principles are: the principle of contradiction (PC); the principle of sufficient reason (PSR); predicate-in-subject principle (PIS); principle of the best (PB); and principle of the identity of indiscernibles (PII). Furthermore, while Leibniz believes in the idea of God, he places some type of conditions on God's goodness. In other words, Leibniz ties the rationality of God's actions to the issue of moral evaluation. Therefore, God's actions and creations should not be praised because they are God's actions but because they are morally good. To come up with these conceptions, Leibniz reformulated divine freedom as exercising rational choice in contrast with absolutely independent will; God is constrained by morality. Furthermore, Leibniz concludes that there are independent moral/normative standards against which a person can evaluate God's actions. It places God inside a system with normative rules.

Leibniz wonders why God would create this world among all possible worlds and comes to the conclusion that this world is the most perfect of all possible worlds. Leibniz thinks that the contrast between the abundance of events and the meagerness of laws in the universe is what makes this universe better than any other possible universe. This shows how PSR and PB interact, and how tightly they are logically connected to one another. Furthermore, it is because this universe is the best of all possible worlds that God chose to create this particular universe. In contrast, others might suggest that it is because God chose to create this particular universe that it is the best of all possible worlds, but Leibniz believes that even God's actions must have a logical, rational basis.

Leibniz also discusses the notion of an individual substance that includes everything that has happened and will happen to it. Leibniz argues that the complete notion of an individual substance contains the traces of whatever happens in the entire universe. Therefore, every substance is a mirror of the whole universe from its own point-of-view. Knowing any individual substance completely allows a person to know a great deal about the whole universe, particularly the neighborhood of the substance.

Leibniz attempts to reconcile modern and ancient philosophies by suggesting that the knowledge of substantial forms is necessary in metaphysics, even if the scholastic belief that substantial forms are instrumental in explaining physical phenomena was misguided. He is dissatisfied with the idea of extension as the essence of bodies. Leibniz thinks that extension and its attributes such as size, shape, and motion are not sufficient to describe the substantiality of bodies. Instead, he believed that there had to be something soul-like in bodies to account for their substantiality. He rejected the primary/secondary qualities distinction. Instead, Leibniz felt that the extension account of physical substance was lacking, especially the activity and unity that a substance should have.

Although Leibniz's thoughts about individual substances would appear to commit him to a strict determinism that would undermine God's free will. In fact, the distinction between contingency and necessity makes Leibniz's proposed system appear similar to Spinoza's. However, Leibniz does not want to commit to strict determinism. He makes a distinction between certainty, which he looks at as hypothetical/comparative necessity, and necessity, which he looks at as absolute/logical necessity. Therefore, even though everything that happens is certain, everything that happens is not the result of an absolute necessity. In other words, the fact that something has happened does not mean that its opposite could not have happened, even if its opposite could no longer happen.

Spinoza's approach to dualism is much more complex than Leibniz's approach. Spinoza appears to reject dualism, while, at the same time seeming to embrace some of the components of dualism. Spinoza was distinctly not a dualist. He believed that a substance was a single thing, and that mind and body were both elements of that substance. Therefore, the dualist philosophy, which is that mind and body are distinct from one another, is not one that Spinoza endorses. However, he does agree with certain elements of dualism, and his philosophy is very similar to Leibniz's parallelist approach to dualism. After all, like Leibniz, Spinoza believes that mind and body do not casually interact, but run in parallel with one another.

Spinoza's philosophy has a different starting point than Leibniz and looks at individual existence as having a different relationship to God's existence. Spinoza believes in the idea of things being self-caused, and that those whose essence involves existence can be conceived only as existing. For Spinoza, causation on the level of existence is radical, as it involves an actual being causing or creating a possible or potential being to come into existence. Self-causation then is when one does not need an external cause for actualization. On the contrary, it is always actual because the actuality is part of its existence. This is how Spinoza differentiates God from other beings, because while people can conceive as other beings as not existing, it is impossible to conceive of God as not existing.

Rather than defining substance as mind and body separately, Spinoza looks at the substance of things as a whole, but a whole with distinct attributes. For him, substance is that whose conception does not require that of another thing, which makes substance both ontologically and epistemologically independent. Attributes are those things which the intellect perceives of substance as constituting its essence. A mode is that which exists in something else and that whose conception requires references to something else. Consciousness involves an awareness of all three: substance, attributes, and modes. Furthermore God, as an infinite being is a substance of infinite attributes, which are expressions of God's infinite existence. Therefore, there is no way to negate God's existence. This substance-attribute-mode trinity also allows Spinoza to differentiate between those things which are free and those which are necessary. Free things are those that exist through the necessity of their own nature and whose actions are determined by themselves, while necessary things are those things whose existence and acts are determined by another being.

Spinoza believes that substance is logically as well as ontologically independent. Substance must be able to be conceived without reference to anything else, and, therefore, must have unique attributes so that its conception will not contain a reference to another substance. This makes each substance one of a kind. This is the root of Spinoza's challenge to dualism, particularly Cartesian dualism, which separates the beings into minds and bodies. Spinoza expounds upon this idea to build the argument that there is actually one substance, God. He makes this argument by saying that substance has a unique essence and shares nothing common with another possible substance, and therefore cannot be the cause of another substance. Things can either exist as finite or infinite beings. However, for a substance to be finite, it would have to be limited by another substance of the same nature, an idea that Spinoza has previously rejected. Therefore substance exists as infinite. Spinoza clarifies this by explaining that human beings are likely to confuse substance with modifications and believe that those things seen in natural things are substances, but those are not substances, simply parts of substances. Modifications can actually be conceived as non-existent because their essence is included in something else. Modifications can even be conceived if they do not exist… [END OF PREVIEW]

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