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The Separation of Mind and Body

Considering that the publication of The Discourse on the Technique, Renes Descartes appears to have turn out to be the poster boy for the position of mind/body dualism. Throughout the Discourse and his later functions, Descartes postulates a number of arguments for the absolute distinction and, as a result, separateness of the thoughts and the body. The position is not merely that the mind and body have diverse properties but that they are completely different substances. In this essay, I will aim to outline Descartes’ principal arguments and assess their cogency with reference to contemporary critical approaches. It does often look, nevertheless, as though these modern day responses cloud the air about the arguments which Descartes himself presented charitable interpretations, although they may well produce a lot more acceptable claims, are typically unhelpful when discussing the validity and soundness of the arguments which Descartes himself puts into words. Eventually, I will seek to sustain the line of argument that despite the fact that the work of Descartes’ critics has forced hidden premises to surface hence rendering his arguments valid, several of his premises are still riddled with flaws.

I would like to begin by addressing two arguments for thoughts-body separation which stem from the difference in properties among the two entities. Firstly, I will discuss the famed argument from doubt which, as Hooker points out, is typically regarded as ‘his main argument for the distinctness of himself and his physique[1].’ The argument follows from the cogito conclusion the meditator can't doubt his own existence because his existence is evident from his pondering at that moment the truth he is pondering is evident from his doubting. Descartes notes that ‘from this I recognized that I was a substance whose complete essence and nature is to be conscious and whose being needs no spot and depends on no material thing.’ The skeptic cannot doubt that he exists, but upon contemplating his physique, is unable to rely on its reality (it could be an illusion, for instance.) It is clear, then, that the thoughts and physique have to be distinct since they do not both have the property of indubitability. Formally, Descartes argues that (1) I can doubt that my body exists (2) I can't doubt that I exist (three) Consequently, I am not identical with my body.

The argument seems suspicious. Firstly, the argument as presented is not a formally valid logical proof the premises do not naturally entail the conclusion without having the addition of another premise. Descartes does not add this premise but later commentators tend to accept its implicitness. It appears that Descartes is presupposing Leibniz’s law, the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals: ‘for all things, x and y, if x is identical with y, then for all properties, p, x has p if, and only if, y has p[two].’ Acceptance of the validity of the argument from doubt, consequently, relies on the acceptance of this principle. Descartes, though implicitly relying upon it, does not give an argument in its favour. Luckily, the indiscernibility of identicals is frequently accepted amongst philosophers despite the fact that there are objections which have been raised. Hooker reminds us, for instance, of Kenny’s belief in the limitations of Leibniz’s law the law, he argues, can not be utilized in ‘modal and intentional contexts.[3]’ According to Kenny, Descartes implicitly relies on the law in such a context and is consequently guilty of ‘needing a principle not applicable to its premises or, as some would say, a false principle[four].’ Numerous would disagree with Kenny’s objection and accept Leibniz’ law as a limitless essential truth of numerically identical factors. Even so, the reality that it can be doubted weakens Descartes case given that, firstly, he doesn’t defend Leibniz’s law or even recognize his use of it (Descartes wouldn’t have defended a law known as ‘Leibniz’s law’ because it hadn’t but been formulated, but he didn’t defend his use of the principle we would now refer to as Leibniz’s law) as a result leaving him open to this kind of criticism. Secondly, even if Descartes is implicitly relying on Leibniz’s law, he is in no position to do so he has only just concluded his own existence and is in no position to be asserting common laws about the identity of objects he hasn’t however proved exist.

Hooker points out yet another problem with the argument from doubt Descartes argues from his doubting that his body exists and not doubting that he exists to the ‘de re counterparts[five]’ of these assertions: his body has the home of getting doubted by him and he as a considering point does not. This sort of move could lead to a farcical inference such as Hooker’s instance of Tom and his father: ‘I can doubt that John has ever fathered a son, so John has the property of being possibly doubted by me to have ever fathered a son. I can't doubt that Tom’s father has ever fathered a son, so Tom’s father does not have the home of becoming doubted by me to have ever fathered a son. Since John has a home not had by Tom’s father, the two are distinct[six].’ The argument is obviously fallacious.

Arnauld expresses a similar be concerned within the fourth set of objections merely due to the fact a single can doubt that an object has a house, does not imply it doesn’t have that property. He makes use of the instance of a proper-angled triangle arguing that a single may nicely be in a position to doubt that it has the Pythagorean house but this does not mean that the triangle does not have it considering that it is a necessary portion of a proper-angled triangle. The distinction of the triangle from this function is impossible. Similarly, ‘despite my potential to think about myself without a physique, the body is indeed an important component of me- anything without which I could not exist[7].’ It appears that the house of getting doubted by the meditator is not a genuine home of an object, it is a fact about the meditator. Descartes attempts to answer Arnauld’s worry in his replies. He argues that ‘…we can't have a clear understanding of a triangle having the square on its hypotenuse equal to the squares on the other sides with out at the identical time becoming conscious that it is right-angled. And yet we can clearly and distinctly perceive the mind with no the physique and the body without the mind[8].’ Nonetheless, we know this fact about triangles. It is mathematically not possible for it not to be the case. In the case of the thoughts and physique, we begin our investigations from a place of ignorance even though we can conceive of the two being distinct, they could just as easily be inseparable with out our information. As Hatfield puts it, ‘it is possible that the considering self and the physique are in fact identical, and the reasoner is ignorant of that reality[9].’

Descartes later attempts to escape the claim that he derives his conclusion from ignorance by denying that the passages in the discourse which suggest this have been not intended to be his conclusion (though, it does look that they were: ‘from this I knew I was a substance whose complete essence or nature is just to consider, and which does not…depend on any material point[10]…’) Descartes is sending confusing mixed messages here. Nonetheless, at any price, Descartes seems to be admitting himself that the argument from doubt, as stated in the Discourse, fails. It can be made valid but remains unsound.

Next, I would like to address the argument from divisibility. The argument just states that the mind and physique are separate entities the former is indivisible and the latter divisible. Descartes maintains that ‘…when I think about the thoughts, or myself in so far as I am merely a considering point, I am unable to distinguish any parts inside myself I understand myself to be one thing quite single and total. Although the entire thoughts appears to be united to the entire body, I recognize that if a foot or an arm or any other component of the physique is cut off nothing at all has thereby been taken away from the mind.’ After once again, Leibniz’s law must come into play for the purposes of validity. The mind and physique are distinct due to the fact they do not possess the identical attributes i.e. indivisibility. Perhaps the most obvious issue here is that Descartes’ conception of the mind doesn’t appear to marry properly with health-related observations about the mind. Damage to the brain has been shown to affect our thoughts and diminish our mental capacity. Cottingham is extremely matter of reality about this certain point he maintains that there is an abundance of proof for mental capacity becoming diminished by harm to the nervous program, for example, ‘and the depressingly probable inference from this have to be that the total destruction of the central nervous program will trigger total mental extinction[11].’ In addition, he recognizes how typical it is for the thoughts to seemingly exist in tension with itself i.e. for there to nearly be two wills existing in the thoughts. Consciousness is not, consequently, necessarily a unified factor. Even if it had been a unified issue, it may well nonetheless rely on the physical brain which, as Descartes accepts, can be divided.

Descartes’ argument inside the Meditations, frequently referred to as ‘the argument from clear and distinct perception’, appears a lot much less susceptible to apparent fallacies than these arguments stemming from the distinct properties of mind and body, even though fallacies are still present. The argument once more emphasizes that the meditator is absolutely positive that he is a considering factor and has a sufficiently clear understanding of what believed is to enable him to accept the possibility that he may not be an extended factor. Equally, the meditator has a clear understanding of a body as an extended, non-pondering point it is essential to its becoming that it be extended but not needed that it be a thinking thing. If the meditator can conceive of a considering point becoming non-extended and of an extended factor being non-pondering, then it is achievable for God to produce a world in which these clearly understood possibilities are actually the case in reality. If God could indeed create a considering, non-extended issue and vice versa, then they should be distinct and separately current things.

Firstly, many have recognized the problem of Descartes seemingly claiming that due to the fact he can clearly and distinctly perceive mind and body as current apart, they can really be distinct. Enter Arnauld, when once more, with his triangle. He argues that 1 could clearly and distinctly perceive a right angled triangle to exist without having possessing the Pythagorean home and Descartes appears to recommend this makes the object and the principle distinct. Evidently, they are not. Descartes replies by arguing that the Pythagorean principle is not a full point, and he is discussing full things. As Cottingham states ‘his notion of mind is, he maintains, comprehensive for what he is aware of- his thinking- is adequate for him to exist with this attribute and this alone[12].’ Nevertheless, however, we have the issue of how Descartes knows he will continue to exist with no his body. ‘I believe for that reason I am’ only works if considering can occur and if considering relies on a brain, for instance, then Descartes can't claim that he would still exist without his physique. A lot of have accused Descartes of underestimating the possible complexity of thought Cottingham puts the difficulty succinctly: ‘ Why must it not be the case, as indeed modern scientific research appears increasingly to be discovering, that it is an extremely obscure and difficult method- vastly more hard to comprehend than, say, digestion[13].’ In addition, the argument from clear and distinct perception rests on the reliability of clear and distinct perception which, despite the fact that a discussion of it is beyond the scope of this inquiry, is questionable.

In conclusion, it seems that the arguments I have discussed for Descartes’ thoughts-physique dualism are, largely, indefensible. I believe it is fair to say that Descartes’ proofs can much more frequently than not be created logically valid by the addition of premises which he presupposes. Taking the words on the web page at face-worth, Descartes’ failure to specify implicit premises would perhaps force us to conclude he often makes logically invalid assertions. The perform of later critics has permitted him to be read a lot more charitably. Even so, although we may be in a position to render Descartes’ arguments valid, it is usually tough to argue for their soundness.



[1] Hooker, M. 1978. ‘Descartes’s Denial of Thoughts-Body Identity’, in Hooker, M. (ed), Descartes: Essential and Interpretive Essays (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press: 1978)

[2] Leibniz’ law, in Hooker, M. 1978. ‘Descartes’s Denial of Thoughts-Body Identity’, in Hooker, M. (ed), Descartes: Vital and Interpretive Essays (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press: 1978)

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[five] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] Cottingham, J. Descartes (Basil Blackwell), 1986, chapter five

[eight] Descartes, The Fourth set of replies.

[9] Hatfield, G. Descartes and the Meditations

[ten] Descartes, The Discourse on the Method, six:32-3

[11] Cottingham, J. Descartes (Basil Blackwell), 1986, chapter 5

[12] Cottingham, J. Descartes (Basil Blackwell), 1986, chapter five

[13] ibid.
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