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Descartes on the Division of Mind and Body

Discuss about the Mind-body Dualism-Indivisibility.

Descartes Rene is highly remembered for his philosophical legacy in which he argued that the mind and the body are really distinct and different from each other. His thesis on the distinction of the mind and the body is today referred to as the "mind-body dualism." In his argument, he asserts that the state of the mind which is a thinking but non-extended thing is completely distinct from that of the body which he notes is an extended but not a thinking thing. He believes that the mind is an immaterial thing that is non-extended and engages in various tasks such as willing, feeling, rational thought and even the aspect of imagination. The human body he considers to be casually different from other types of the matter because it is affected by the mind to produce some kind of response and mental events (Britannica, 2017). For his reasoning, therefore, he concludes that it is, therefore, possible that either the body or the mind can exist independently (Mohammed, 2017).

Descartes’ argument leaves very important questions to ask about the causal interaction of the body and mind if his theory was to go by; First, how is it possible that the mind can cause some of our body parts to move, for instance when one lifts his/her hands to ask a question and secondly, how possible is it that some of the bodily organs cause a sensation in the mind when in real sense their natures are very different? As a proponent and advocate for the position of Descartes’ philosophy on indivisibility, this article will, therefore, defend the mind-body dualism by concisely explaining the position taken by the philosopher.

Looking at one's surrounding, everything that surrounds us is not necessarily material. There are things in our environment or in us that are not material in appearance or in nature. The distinction of whether something is material or immaterial is what Descartes tries to make us understand. In his argument, he asserts that everything that is material in nature and appearance would be defined by extension, in other words, able to occupy space and that that material cannot share that space with another. Matter occupies space, even when split, the particles extend to occupy their own unique space.

Descartes refers to those things that can extend to occupy their unique space as “res extensa,” meaning matter for that matter. Matter can physically extend. On the other hand, the mind, the belief, and emotions are not physical things in nature thus cannot extend or cannot be extended by any means or split into particles that can really occupy space just like other matter. Descartes refers to these things as "res cogitans." In this context, therefore, Descartes' assertion implies that a human being is both a material thing and also a thought like a thing. If a substance can be measured say for instance in length, width and breadth, then it is a material thing else, it is a thought like a thing. Human beings for this though, are considered both in the sense that they consist of the material such as bones and flesh and also immaterial/ thought-like because of the emotions, spirit, beliefs and the mind in general (Ask a Philosopher, 2011).

The Role of Leibniz’s Principle of Indiscernibility

On a natural thought, human beings are taken to be similar with other animals and even to non-living things such as chairs and boxes, that they are also material things. And that we take up similar space and share some other similarities such as the presence of limbs. According to Descartes though, a human being is viewed as very different and non-material things, that we are unlike other material things such as chairs because our body parts are distinct from us. His objective, therefore, is to persuade us as we consume his philosophy that as humans, we are totally separate in structure and reason from our body hence his theory of dualism, humans and their bodies are two things and not one.


It is evident that Descartes' argument on indivisibility is anchored on the premise that the mind and the body are considered different because they have different properties. Further, he argues that unlike the body, the mind cannot be separated into parts. Descartes says this "when I consider my mind, that is to say, myself insofar as I am only a thinking thing, I can distinguish no part.” This argument clarifies that it is with the whole mind that a thought can be coordinated, make a will, have a doubt and so on. The elements of thought, doubt and/or will are just but different ways of thinking and not in themselves parts of the mind. In contrast to this, is the body which indeed has parts, one can easily lose a part of a body such as a leg for instance. Therefore, Descartes’ arguments hold basis that the body and the mind are surely distinct things and exist apart.

Leibniz’s principle of indiscernibility of identical also plays a role in the argument of Descartes. According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1996), the principle of indiscernibility which was formulated by Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz asserts that “no two distinct things exactly resemble each other.” Typically, this principle means that there are no two distinct items or objects having similar properties, logically, therefore, if two things are identical, they probably share the same properties because ideally, one thing cannot have different properties from itself. Considered in its totality, therefore, this principle conforms with Descartes' arguments of indivisibility in which if one thing has totally different properties, then they cannot be one and the same, the case of the mind and the body (Forest, 1996).

Dualism and the Possibility of Life After Death

In my opinion, Descartes' argument relies on the claim that the nature of the mind is thought and that the nature of the body is extension giving rise to the duality of natures which further results into the duality of substances. The concept of dualism is seen in the possibility of life after death. If the concept of dualism was to go by, therefore, if the body and the mind can exist independently and apart, then there is a possibility that our souls can survive even in death when the body finally dies. This argument is further supported by Schoolworkhelper (2018) in the article “Dualism arguments: pros and cons.” In the argument, most religions in the world today believe in life after death. The belief is that there is an immortal soul that survives death. In this case the immortal soul is the mind, actually, it is not easy to interchange the mind and the soul.

 At the time of Descartes, people believed in the existence of ghosts, today, the existence of ghosts is no longer believed in as much. Ghosts are not material in nature and hence cannot be extended, neither can they be seen just like the mind, it is inconceivable that it is actually possible to see something that has no material in them like ghosts. Had it been a possibility that a ghost is visible, then they must be material and can be divided into parts, extended and even measured just like other types of matter (Blutner, 2016). On this argument, therefore, Descartes’ argument on the dualism of the body and mind hold basis.    

In conclusion therefore, Descartes’ argument on the mind and body dualism hold some basis when considering the distinctness of the body and the mind despite having some doubtable assertions. Descartes is of knowledge that the mind and the body have differing essences which are mutually exclusive. In this, what one clearly perceives of the mind he is not necessarily perceiving of the body. The mind and the body work separately and distinctively from each other.

References

Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: E7720. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720. 

Lecewing, M. (2016). Descartes’ Argument for Distinguishing Mind and Body Http://ljournal.ru/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/d-2016-154.pdf.

Mytutor. (n.d.). What is the divisibility argument for substance dualism? Retrieved May 13, 2018, from https://www.mytutor.co.uk/answers/10483/A-Level/Philosophy/What-is-the-divisibility-argument-for-substance-dualism

Feser. E. (2015). Descartes’ “Indivisibility” argument. Journal of Surgery,01-07. Http://www.avensonline.org/fulltextarticles/JSUR-2332-4139-S1-0001.html. 

Schoolworkhelper (2018) Dualism Arguments: Pros & Cons. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://schoolworkhelper.net/dualism-arguments-pros-cons/

Ask a Philosopher (2011, July 26). Descartes' argument for mind-body dualism. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://askaphilosopher.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/descartes-argument-for-mind-body-dualism/

Mohammed, A. (2017). Kritike: An Online Journal of Philosophy,11(1).

Skirry, J (n.d). The Mind-Body Distinction. Retrieved May 13, 2018, from https://www.iep.utm.edu/descmind/ 

Forrest, P. (1996, July 31). The Identity of Indiscernible. Retrieved May 14, 2018 from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-indiscernible/

Sparknotes. (n.d.). Principles of Philosophy. Retrieved May 13, 2018, from https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/principles/section8/

Blutner. (2016). Mind & Body. Cartesian Dualism. Retrieved May 14, 2018 from Http://ljournal.ru/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/d-2016-154.pdf.

Britannica, (2017, June 19). Mind-body dualism. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/mind-body-dualism

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