Descartes Influence on Psychology

Idea , Dualism (philosophy of mind) , René Descartes


Descartes Influence on Psychology

René Descartes was a famous French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher throughout the mid 1600’s. He is often regarded as the father of modern philosophy; however, his highly influential ideas have also impacted many other scientific fields, including the world of psychology. Descartes contributions in philosophy and biology have had a significant influence on modern psychology. He introduced new theories about the mind and the body that, while not always correct, undoubtedly changed peoples’ views and sparked a whole new approach to looking at the mind.

There is one thing Descartes knew for certain, Cogito ergo sum, or “I think therefore I am.” He said that the one thing he could be sure of was his act of doubting, which he explained as a mental process. This philosophy gave rise to much of his theories on the mind. During the 1600’s most people felt the mind and body functioned as one single entity. They felt the mind was sort of like a puppeteer that pulled strings in order to control the body. Descartes introduced a new idea. He theorized that the mind and body are actually two distinct essences that function separately but interact closely. He claimed the body is responsible for physical aspects of the self while the mind is responsible for aspects of thinking. By separating the mind and body and making the brain the main point of the minds functioning, he changed the way in which the mind was studied and influenced others to discover new ideas about the brain and the way in which we think and acquire knowledge. He essentially opened the doors for studying the mind, which is the basis of modern psychology.

Early empiricists argued that the mind is shaped by sensory experience and that humans start off with a sort of blank slate, or tabula rasa, which develops through experience. Descartes took a more nativist...
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