Substance Dualism

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“Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.”

Epistemology is study of the nature of knowledge and how humans have come to believe certain ideas as true. In the 17th century, French philosopher, Rene Descartes, proposed a revolutionary explanation of the notion that there is a separate, yet causal relationship between the mind and the body. Descartes created the school of philosophical thought known as substance dualism in which he methodologically elucidates his argument that there are only two fundamental entities in the world, that being mental and physical things. In his philosophical treatise, Meditations, Descartes challenges the Monist materialistic belief that the world is only composed of physical matter by inverting this preexisting conception through a reductionist approach. On his quest for knowledge and truth, he argues that the mind and the body dichotomy involves two separate substances that have the power to influence one another. Since the body exists in the physical, material world, it has the ability to influence the mind through experiences that are conceived by sensory perceptions. Through these sensory experiences and perceptions, the mind formulates beliefs and thoughts, whereby it influences the body to react and behave in certain ways through speech and action. While Descartes claims that there is a real distinction between the mind and the body, he also believes that the two interact in a causal relationship, where the mind is better known than the body. In order to truly understand Descartes’ argument of substance dualism, it is important to understand the methodological, reductionist approach that he employs to build his theory. In the First Meditation, Descartes sets the basis for his ontological search for truth by rejecting all of his previous beliefs, experiences, and memories in order to begin from a clean, uninfluenced position. He says, “I have no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are chimeras…[leaving] just one fact, that nothing is certain.” (Chalmers 10) This denial of certainty allows for him to discover what truly exists and if there are indeed multiple things that exist, how they interact with one another. After debating with himself over the possibility of a greater, omniscient power that may be deceiving him and his very existence, he concludes that he must be the author of his own thoughts because he convinced himself of something, therefore meaning that he must exist. Also, even if there was a supreme power deceiving him, he still must exist because it would be impossible for him to be deceived in the first place if he did not exist. This deliberation about whether or not he exists leads him to conclude that by being able to think, “I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind” that he must exist (Chalmers 10). After Descartes overcomes his skepticism through his ability to prove his existence with reasoning and thought, he realizes that he needs to establish what this “I” that necessarily exists is defined as in terms of a fundamental substance. A fundamental substance is something that doesn’t require the existence of anything else in order for it to exist, meaning that it can exist independently on its own. This definition of a substance plays a major role in Descartes’ methods for making a real distinction between the mind and the body dichotomy. While he concludes that his existence as a thinking thing must be necessarily true because he can conceive it in his own mind, this leaves him with a problem regarding the existence of anything outside of his mind, most particularly his body. Proving the existence of his body as a substance becomes problematic for Descartes’ argument because he believes that sensory perceptions cannot be exempt from doubt. Therefore, in following with his argument’s beliefs, he is unable to allow his own sensory perceptions of his physical...
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