Descartes Dualism

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How successful are Descartes’ arguments for the real distinction of mind from body? Upon which would you put the most weight?

Using the arguments from doubt, from clear and distinct perceptions, and from simplicity, Descartes attempts to prove in “The Meditations” that the mind (that is the soul or the “thinking thing”) is distinct and separate from the body (the extended, unthinking thing). This view is now known as Cartesian Dualism. In this essay I will outline Descartes’ main arguments, some of the criticisms of dualism, and my opinion as to which argument I perceive as the most convincing.

The first argument in Cartesian Dualism is the Argument from doubt. Descartes starts by concluding that although he can conceive the possibility that his perception of his own body could in fact be false, he cannot conceive the possibility that he is without a mind. This is because by the very act of doubting that he is a thinking thing, there must be something there in the first place to do the doubting. The next step Descartes takes is to propose that the mind and body are two separate and distinct entities, and his argument goes as follows:

I am certain that I am a thinking thing
I am not certain that I am a physical thing
Therefore, I am not a physical thing

This is paraphrased by one of Descartes critics, Antoine Arnauld- “I can doubt whether I have a body. Yet I cannot doubt that I am, or exist. Therefore I who am doubting and thinking am not a body. For, in that case in having doubts about my body I should be having doubts about myself”([1]). Arnauld then goes on to discredit this argument drawing parallels between this and the idea of a right- angled triangle. He says that a fact such as the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides can be doubted by someone who knows no better. This however, does not make the statement false. Descartes replies to the criticism in the Second meditations by saying that he did not mean to “exclude anything physical from my essence”(2). He meant instead to use the argument of doubt to come to a conception of himself which excludes all body, not to arrive at a conclusion that was objectively the case(3). So in fact Descartes eventually arrived at the conclusion that he could not exclude the possibility that there is an element of materiality to the soul.

The second argument is the Argument from clear and distinct perception, and is the part of The Meditations where Descartes attempts to prove that the mind is without doubt distinct from the body. After proposing that all people are thinking things and not physical things, Descartes goes on to argue that the mind is not only separate from the body, but can also live without it. The train of thought follows that if two things can exist apart from one another, then they must be two distinct and separate things. If it is possible to imagine that these two things could exist apart, then God must be able to bring it about. So if God can bring it about that these two things do exist apart, they must therefore be distinct from each other. If this is then applied to body and mind, then it is possible that the two are distinct, as they both exhibit properties that they do not share with the other (thought belongs to the self, and extension belongs to the body). If the mind is therefore distinct from the body, then it is possible to exist as a mind without the body.

The question is, just because one can clearly and distinctly perceive the mind and body as distinct, does this mean that they actually are? Take the example of a statue. It is made out of metal, but in its state as a statue the metal and the statue are perceived to be one and the same thing. However if the statue is melted down, then the metal still remains, but the statue no longer exists. This argument stemming from Arnauld (he uses the example of a right-angled triangle) is rebuffed by Descartes, saying that the triangle nor its...
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