In Descartes’s writings, especially in the Sixth meditation, he tries to prove that his extended body and thinking mind are separate entities. In the meditations, he says that he doubted his body’s existence but could not doubt that he exists as a thinking being.
“I then reflected on what I am; and realized that while I could doubt that I have a body, I can also doubt of the world's existence and that there is no place for me to exist, I could not pretend that I exist; in fact, the simple fact that I thought of doubting evidently proves that I exist. Consequently, if I ceased to be cognizant, even if all that I ever imagined is true, I would still have no proof of my existence. From this argument I realized that I am an entity whose whole existence and nature is consciousness and whose existence is independent of material things and does not require a place (Cunning, 2010). Hence, this self (soul), which proves my existence is utterly separate from the body. Consequently, in the absence of the body, the soul would still be what it is”.
Dualism refers to the perennial mind-body argument, which holds that both the mind and the body interact at a certain level. This argument closely relates to Rene Descartes’s opinions that the human mind is a non-physical matter while the body is a material machine. In this argument, the body is unable to act without the mind. Therefore, human beings are non-extended thinking things. Descartes argues that it is possible for humans to exist without their bodies, because their existence depends on their ability to think. Descartes’s explanation on how these two entities interact is rather unconvincing as he suggests that God organizes this interaction in ways that are beyond human comprehension. Furthermore, Descartes’s arguments fail to offer a distinct location of where the non-physical mind starts and ends or the interaction point of the two entities. Descartes’s arguments have been a subject of intense discussion throughout philosophical history, as well as present philosophical debates touching on the nature of God and human, morality, free will and life after death. This paper criticizes Descartes’s dualism views by looking at other philosopher’s views on the mind-body argument.
As quoted above, Descartes’s Sixth meditation points that Descartes could doubt his body’s existence but he could not doubt that he exists as a thinking substance. Therefore, he, a “thinking thing”, is not identical with his body. This conclusion is invalid because it fails to flow logically from its grounds. To make it valid, it would be necessary to add other statements that would fit into the missing premises. Leibniz’s law, commonly referred to as a metaphysical principle is one way of making Descartes’s arguments valid. The metaphysical principle is a connection of two distinct statements that are logically independent. The first statement argues that two identities that are identical usually have exact similar properties while the second statement argues that two entities having exact similar properties must be identical. Notably, identical substances are not only similar but are the very same things. It is like saying the U.S 41-st president and saying George Bush. These two statements are not only identical, but are the very same thing. Thus, under this consideration, Descartes’s arguments could mean that he, a thinking thing, is non-identical with his body. Because in the first sentence he says, his body has corporeal properties such that he feigns its existence while the second sentence says that he, a “thinking thing”, does not have corporeal properties so that he can doubt his existence. If two substances are identical, they must have similar properties. Therefore, his body and mind are non-identical because they do not have similar properties. This principle makes Descartes’s arguments valid and rational. Despite being valid, this explanation is still unsound because a doubtful object, belief or desire under one description may be real under another description, despite it being the same object. A person may identify an object under a certain description but fail to identify it under a different description. For example, Oedipus argued that he desired to marry Jocasta, not his mother, refusing to admit that Jocasta was still his mother. To Oedipus, the two were distinct individuals. When described as his mother, Oedipus failed to recognize that he loved her while when her name was used, he identifies whom he loved. Similarly, a spiritualist may believe that he would survive death but his physical body would not. This fails to prove that he is non-identical with his body.
Descartes’s assumption that he completely conceives his mind and body is also erroneous. Though it is agreeable that the thinking process is essential to a person’s mind while an extension is essential to bodily substances, this reasoning still fails to follow that an individual’s essence consists entirely of the person’s ability to think or that the individual is an object whose sole nature or essence is to think. It would be pre-assumed that Descartes is aware that it is impossible for both extension and thinking to be properties of the same entity. This means that even if Descartes’s argument illustrates that consciousness is a fundamental property of a thinking substance, it is necessary for him to prove that it is impossible for the thinking substance to have an extension as one of its attributes. Descartes tries to prove this fact in his divisibility argument where he says that extended substances are divisible and minds are indivisible so they are non-extended. Further, Descartes argues that he cannot distinguish his parts; he understands his being as a unified thing and his whole mind is united with his body. However, cutting off one of his lambs will not deny his existence or take anything from his mind. This argument is erroneous because it is a fact that if a body part is cut off, like the removal of a part of brain, affects the wholeness of a human being (Sosa & Villanueva, 2003). Likewise, when there is severance to the corpus callosum, the mind would be divided into two distinct consciousnesses. Neurophysiology evidence proves that mental states such as memories, thoughts and beliefs are attributes of the physical brain, and it is possible to divide the physical brain into spatial parts. Therefore, the proposal that the mind is indivisible is defensible only if we assume that the mind is an incorporeal substance, separate from the body. Because of this, Descartes’s divisibility argument does not sufficiently support the dualism theory.
Under the Descartes’s framework of thoughts, one would ask how the two entities interact. Additionally, how is it possible for one’s consciousness to be knowledgeable of the existence of other people’s minds, if all these minds are immaterial? The latter argument stems from Solipsism arguments that substantial minds cannot be aware of other minds’ existence because access to other people’s existence is possible only through physical interaction. This argument would mean that human minds never interact with other minds, hence undergo a lonely existence. Nevertheless, it is a fact that humans interact with each other. Therefore, this argument does not describe reality, which in this case, does not reconcile the dualist thought.
One of the biggest challenges of dualism is its inadequacy in explaining interaction between an immaterial substance (mind) and the body. Rene Descartes’s interactionism explains that mind influences bodily activities and vice versa. Joseph Breuer, an interactionist demonstrated the mind-body interaction through his most famous case of a woman called Anna O. Anna had a variety of unexplainable symptoms such as memory loss, impaired speech and distorted vision (Rozemond, 1998). At that, there were no scientific explanations for the cause of Anna’s physical disturbances.
However, when Anna began talking to Breuer about her past, Breuer realized that her symptoms were manifestations of the repression she underwent after her father passed away. Anna O. had not recovered from the loss, as she had suppressed unwanted memories into her unconscious mind, which in turn caused her physical problems. According to interactionists, this case indicates the interdependence of the mind and body, hence supporting Descartes’s theory. Well, the argument is not whether the two entities interact, but to what levels and in what nature. The dualism explanation of the interaction between non-physical and physical mind is arguable because a non-physical substance does not have place in place while the physical has a place, with touchable attributes. Therefore, the interaction between the two would be impossible. For the two to interact, it would be necessary for the mind to possess bodily properties that relate with the body’s corporeal properties (Crane, 2001). In addition to this, for the mind to exist, it must have attributes that explain its existence. Therefore, we would be able to describe the mind using bodily characteristics in order to prove its existence. To say simply that the mind is non-physical does not prove its existence because that is just a repetition that the mind is an incorporeal substance. The only possible non-physical characteristics that human beings are able to possess are mental or psychological attributes. Therefore, this argument contends that the mind could be just a psychological entity.
The dualism theory also makes the concept of free will more complex. If interaction between the immaterial mind and the material body are interdependent, then were does this leave the nature’s potential to influence human behavior? Nature’s potential to influence human behavior is possible only on the physical substance (the body). Because the mind entails nothing physical, then it would be impossible for nature to affect it. In this explanation, nature can affect the mind only through the body; nature influences the physical, which conversely affects the non-physical mind. From this reaction, it is evident that an individual’s reality is more than a “thinking thing” as Descartes describes. In addition to this, this reaction reveals that humans may not have a free will at all.
Descartes argues that because the mind is the most important, it exists in the absence of the body. Therefore, when one dies, the body decomposes but the person continues living in a non-physical form. Many thinkers, remarkably Plato, argued of the soul’s existence after the bodily death. Plato argues that a person’s soul is immortal hence cannot decompose. This argument lends support to the dualist theory as well as the reality of an afterlife. Plato’s anthropological view of humans is divided into body and soul. This conception views humans as consisting of two separate substances: the soul, which is responsible for removing humans from the material world and relates them to a superior supernatural world, and the body, which ties humans to the sensible world. Plato understands human soul as an immortal entity with higher superiority than the body. The soul is superior to the body because, in essence, the soul is a knowledge and rightness principle and besides, death and corruption rule the body while the soul is immortal.
Plato demonstrates the soul’s immortality through several arguments, especially in his reminiscence theory through the “Meno” dialogue (Kelcourse, 2004). He defends his statement that “knowing is remembering”. Humans have not a true knowledge experience. We may only agree that a mathematical proposition is true because we recall the relationships between the ideas that our soul is aware of and not because we have learnt of the mathematical proposition. He argues that the sensible world perception does not serve as the foundation for absolute knowledge because for individuals to have this knowledge, it must originate from previous experience. Therefore, to know is simply a process of updating one’s memory. Plato argues that the human soul clearly distinguishes itself from the body in a very relevant way: the soul makes humans equal to God and permits humans to know ideas. In this view, he separates the soul into three elements: the rational, the irascible and the concupiscent elements. These three elements of the soul operate differently, each with its role, thereby sometimes are in conflict. This argument obtains support from Sigmund Freud’s theory of the preconscious, conscious and unconscious mind, as well as the existence of the ego, super ego and the id. These three elements constitute an individual’s whole being.
Another problem concerning Descartes’s dualism lies on the location of the division point between the body and mind. If the two entities interact, despite having dissimilar properties, then where do they meet? For the two entities to interact there must be an interaction point. Descartes answers that the two entities meet at the pineal gland. He says that the human head consists of the brain, which is the foundation for intelligence and the mind, which stores an individual’s self-awareness and consciousness. In this case, we assume that the head (brain), houses the mind. Therefore, the mind may not exist without the body (the head). In this respect, the incorporeal self needs to exist in a corporeal entity, which is the body. Thus, the two constitutes an individual’s whole being (Farkas, 2008). In addition to this, if this argument holds, we may ask, where does it leave the soul? Because Descartes says that it is improper to assume that the soul hides inside the pineal gland. According to him, the gland only acts as an interaction point because it is the only organ with no duplicate. Further, he states that as long as the body is intact, it is the appropriate housing for the soul. However, the soul is a unitary and an indivisible entity that still exists even in the absence of the body.
Finally, it is only the dualist who challenges the mind-body problem because monists believe that human existence depends only on one substance: the mind. Monist theories include behaviorism, identity theory and functionalism. Their belief eliminates the mind-body problem by believing that only one of the two exists. Monist’s proponents attempt to describe all things through consciousness. Idealists argue that reality entails perceptions or ideas and but not the corporeal attributes of existence (Jaworski, 2011).
In conclusion, the mind-body issue regards how and in what nature the mind and the body interacts, if they both exist. There are arguments that explain this interaction, but fail to offer sound judgments to accompany their explanations. The most famous theory that attempts to explain this interaction is Descartes’s dualism, which proposes that these two substances (mind and body) are distinct but interdependent. However, the essence of humanity relies on the individuals’ ability to think. This argument leaves the body somewhat irrelevant to an individual’s existence. Descartes’s arguments are widely criticized by several philosophers while others support it. This paper has looked into the loopholes of the dualism argument, by studying its supporting theories as well as the opposing evidences.