Descartes and the “metaphysical dualism”: Excesses in interpreting a classic* Al.I. Cuza University of Iasi
Abstract The article focuses on one of the most serious accusations brought against Descartes and modern philosophy, namely “the dualism of substance”. The accusers claim that the human body and soul were viewed as completely separate; consequently, their relationship as such and the united being of man become incomprehensible. As has been shown above, the idea of the separation of the soul from the body did not originate with Descartes; it was formulated much earlier, and repeated by a disciple of Descartes’, Henry Leroy, known as Regius. When Descartes became aware of this bizarre interpretation he was dismayed and sought to clarify the matter. He sought to distinguish between two terms, “distinction” and “separation” and to illuminate the relationship between body and soul at three different levels, i.e. ordinary experience, analytical mind and metaphysical meditation. Eventually, he embraced the paradox of the two natures – the double substantial make-up of the human being, a paradox of patristic inspiration. However, the later history of ideas was not sympathetic to Descartes: nowadays, when one looks up the term “metaphysical dualism” in dictionaries or glossaries, even in the studies of prestigious researchers, one will find views similar to those of the unfaithful disciple Regius. The resilience of this locus obscurus is explained both by the power of a new mode of interpreting discourse (as technical or logical analysis) and by the ever more privileged position of the reader (intentio lectoris). Both attitudes are related to modern ideologies and to changes which have occurred in the intersubjective lifeworld, especially in the communication of the scholarly and academic world. Keywords: Descartes, hermeneutics, locus obscurus, metaphysics, dualism, substance, body and soul, intersubjectivity
1. Intersubjectivity and interpretation I will start this article by making a relatively straightforward point. We are all aware that the lived space of subjectivity is never neutral or homogenous. Rather, it *
This work was supported by CNCSIS – UEFISCSU, project number PNII – IDEI 788 / 2010, code 2104. 105
META: Res. in Herm., Phen., and Pract. Philosophy – II (1) / 2010
resembles a mountain range, featuring uneven and complicated topology. The experiences which it comprises do not support a single orientation in the world of life. Indeed, some situations make no sense at all. Many experiences prove equivocal or contradictory and hard to fathom. We may point, in this respect, to the experience of mutual knowledge, superbly expounded by Hegel in Phenomenology of Spirit, where he mentions the “independence and dependence of selfconsciousness: lordship and bondage” (Hegel 1977, 111). Likewise, we can point to the experience of otherness and of the emergence of the other ego, a key element in Husserl’s fifth meditation in his Cartesian Meditations. As has been rightly noted, one’s understanding of the self provides a means to understanding the others (Sein und Zeit, § 26). Especially in the public milieu, there are certain inescapable deficiencies in one’s care for the other (which Heidegger called Fürsorge). A further, “dramatic function” of intersubjectivity was described, with unexpected results in communication (Habermas). Consequently, it makes sense to always consider the intersubjective character of interpretation. More important still is its rugged topography, with serious consequences in terms the perception of the self and of the other. By being aware of such situations, one may be more able to understand why certain interpretations, while highly debatable, manage to take centre stage and occasionally dominate entire eras. Moreover, one may perceive more easily a kind of “pathology” of interpretation (in the Kantian...