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Descartes Mind-Body Argument

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It would seem logical to assume that if the mind and body were in unity, then when the body passes, the mind does also. Descartes sets forth to argue the contrary in Meditations of First Philosophy, more specifically, in the Sixth Mediation. According to Descartes, it would be erroneous to accept the idea that the demise of the body also entails the death of the mind. In order for Descartes' belief to be true, there is only one explanation to be accepted, and that is, that the mind and body are in fact distinct from one another. If this belief is accepted, only then can the mind have the opportunity to exist after the death of the body. Descartes proceeds with this idea by providing two separate arguments, the first, "I can clearly and distinctly understand one thing apart from another is enough to make me certain that the two things are distinct"; and the second, "that the mind is completely different from the body". The aim of this paper is to present and criticize these two arguments, I will also state whether I believe they are convincing, indicate what is necessarily wrong with them, provide two possible responses from Descartes regarding my criticisms, and state other reasons to believe in dualism. While I find that Descartes argument holds validity, a few questions arise regarding the deeper understanding of dualism.

The greater part Descartes' work seems to be based on the idea of necessity of identity, which states that if two things are indistinguishable from one another, they must be necessarily equal? By applying this idea to the mind and body problem, we must understand that if these two things are in fact identical they cannot be separated from one another. Therefore, it must be proven that the mind can actually be separated from the body. Descartes sets forth to attest that the mind and body can be separated, at least by God. First, Descartes uses the example of a chiliogon, to express that there are things in which he can understand (that the chiliogon is a thousand-sided polygon), but not necessarily imagine, and that there objects that he can both imagine and understand. "I notice quite clearly that imagination requires a peculiar effort of mind which is not required for understanding, this additional effort of mind clearly shows the difference between imagination and pure understanding." (51) With the term understanding made clear, Descartes moves on to the idea that he can distinguish the mind from the body through the following statement. "Hence the fact that I can clearly and distinctly understand one thing apart from another is enough to make me certain that the two things are distinct, since they are capable of being separated, at least by God" (54). This argument includes three premises. First, "I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in so far as I am simply a thinking, non-extended thing", second, "I have a distinct idea of the body in so far as this is simply an extended, non-thinking thing", and finally, "Everything which I clearly and distinctly understand is capable of being created by God just as I understand them" (54). Through these three premises Descartes concludes, "It is certain that I am really distinct from my body, and can exist without it" (54). In simpler terms, the mind is simply a thinking thing, the body is simply an extension, and therefore, is concluded that we can "clearly and distinctly" understand the mind separately from the body. We can conclude this by first, uniting the necessity of identity, that two things must be identical to in fact be identical, to the original argument, "Hence the fact that I can clearly and distinctly understand one thing apart from another is enough to make me certain that the two things are distinct, since they are capable of being separated, at least by God" (54), and secondly, by understanding that the first two premises verify that we can "clearly and distinctly" know that the mind can exist without the body.

Descartes second argument states that there is in fact a difference between the mind and the body, and that is the body is always divisible and the mind is absolutely indivisible. Through the following three premises Descartes sets forth another argument supporting his idea that the mind and body are actually separate. First, I understand body to be divisible by its very nature, second I understand the mind to be indivisible by its very nature, and third the mind is completely different from the body. Descartes believed that the two parts that which constitute a person, the mind and the body, are both from a different nature, and have separate origins. And therefore, his argument is proposing that the very things which are indivisible by its own nature are absolutely different from the things that are divisible by its own nature. While this argument is valid, it cannot stand alone as the sole supporter for dualism. The reason being, it has in fact been proven that such things as memories, thoughts, and other mental states are actually a part of the physical brain, and the brain can be divided into separate parts. However, Descartes proves that this is a valid argument through two distinctive ways. First, while we understand that our whole mind seems to be part of our whole body, it is in fact possible to remove a limb from the physical body without having any effect on the mind. Secondly, pointing out that there is no physical or extended thing that he can think of without being able to easily divide it into separate parts. He also uses the example of a rope ABCD, where D is pulled in such a way that it moves A. This can translate to the body in terms that if you feel pain in your foot, it is because of something "pulling" the nerves in your foot, in response, this pulling in turn pulls on the inner parts of the brain which are attached to the nerves in the foot. This pulling of the nerves in the brain produces this "feeling" of pain that appears to be in your foot. If this foot was removed from the body, the brain would not be affected, and therefore proves that they are in fact separate.




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