Spinoza’s Criticism of Descartes’ Substance Dualism

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“God is the only substance that can exist or be conceived.”

Spinoza’s criticism of Descartes’ substance dualism

By: Jawad Samimi

Substance dualism is often called ‘Cartesian dualism" ‎and is the assumption that mind and body are really distinct substances. Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) was the first early modern philosopher to hold that a thinking-thing is entirely different form an extended thing and mind can exist without the body. Cartesian dualism, which started the famous mind-body problem of causal interaction, has been criticised by many, one of whom was a primary adherent, Baruch Spinoza (632-1677). This essay aims to explain and assess Spinoza’s criticism of Descartes substance dualism and see what Spinoza offers instead. I will begin by summarizing the views of Descartes on substance and distinctiveness of mind and body and how they interact. Then I will discuss Spinoza’s objections to Descartes views in general but give more details about the ones I believe are more important. I will finish by concluding what Spinoza actually wants out of it and what he really achieves.

Descartes substance dualism

René Descartes, credited with being the “Father of Modern Philosophy”, was a substance dualist and committed to the mechanistic conception of physical world. Descartes believed in existence of material things and was, like most of his contemporaries, a mechanist about the properties of matter (Intro, Meditations. P. X.). He also believed, except human beings and where minds are not interfering, the behaviour of all other things which work according to theirs laws, can be explained mechanistically. He rejected the then dominant view of Scholastic Aristotelians of many types of things, each composed of matter plus a particular form in a way that the Form or Soul affects the matter or gives life to bodies. For Descartes “a substance is a thing which other things, such as properties or qualities or states, inhere but it does not...
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