In his Meditations Rene Descartes aimed to reconstruct the whole of science by trying to prove the distinction between mind and matter. He gives an argument from doubt, and another from conceivability. I will give a brief summary of the foundations Descartes builds his thesis on, and then looking at his arguments and whether they are capable of persuading us that dualism is a logical stance to hold.
To what extent if any is Descartes successful in showing there is a real distinction between mind and body
In Descartes’ Meditations, Descartes aims to reshape the whole of science by starting from foundations that can be deductively proven. I will briefly summarise and criticise the important parts of the meditations on which his dualist argument rests and then go through each of the arguments that he raises in order to prove the distinctness of mind and body and critique each of them. I will focus on the logic behind his arguments, finding holes in his strategy and places where he fails to prove the next step. With this I will show that Descartes is not successful in showing that there is a real distinction between mind and body.
In the Meditations, Descartes aims to find a firm foundation for knowledge, to find indubitable knowledge, to refute scepticism and vindicate rationalism, and to prove the existence of God. Though a rationalist himself, Descartes assumes a sceptical approach when considering what we can be certain of. He quickly rejects a priori and a posteriori knowledge, concluding in Meditation 2, that all he can be certain of is his own existence in some form. From here he uses an ontological argument to affirm the existence of a perfect God. Using these foundations builds an argument to reconstruct science, and to show that "it is certain that this I is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body, and can exist without it.”
In Meditations, he begins by first rendering any thought or concept, of which there can be doubt, negligible so that all he would be left with is things that are unquestionably true. The first thing that he proves is the fact that he exists. He shows that as he is thinking, he must necessarily exist in some form. From this he proves the existence of God using an ontological argument and from both of these foundations he aims to derive science as a whole.
Argument from Essence
In Descartes’ second meditation, he shows that although he knows that he exists, he wants to first work out what it is that he is (AT 7:25-28) . He comes to the conclusion that his essence is thinking. He is a thinking thing. But does his body constitute a part of his essence too? Descartes uses the following argument to show that his body is not a part of his essence.
- If I was a body then doubts about my body would be doubts about my existence - I doubt my body as it cannot be conceived clearly and distinctly - I do exist as proven by the Cognito
- Therefore I cannot be a body.
One can clearly and distinctly think of the mind as something that thinks and is unextended (immaterial), whereas the body is extended and cannot think. This means that one can conceive of a thinking thing without extension i.e. a mind without matter. According to Descartes earlier meditations, this means that God could have created made them as distinct. Therefore, they must be distinct as if they weren’t, not even God could create them that way (AT 7:121). The problem here is in the fact that Descartes has presumed his essence is to think. He has proven that he does exist and he does think. His argument for his essence to be thought itself however is limited by his subjective point of view. One can see that if we imagine an inanimate object such as a table begins to think, the table itself could come to the same conclusion as Descartes through...