Is the mind a separate and distinct substance from the body?
The above question has been one of philosophical interest for centuries, highlighting what is known as the mind- body problem. This issue explores the extent to which the mind and the body are separate and distinct or the same thing. René Descartes was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form that it exists in today through a series of published Meditations in which he argues that the mind can exist outside of the body, and the body cannot think for itself; this notion, famously defended by Descartes, is called Cartesian dualism. Acknowledging that the mind and body, indeed, have different functions, the purpose of this paper is to expound upon and defend Cartesian dualism, as explained by Descartes. This will be done by first explaining Descartes’s standpoint and how he came to create and believe in the idea of dualism; then, the counter arguments of Descartes’s rivals, Gilbert Ryle and Elisabeth of Bohemia, will be evaluated; lastly, in light of the counter arguments, this paper seeks to ultimately explain which of the mind and body take charge over the other and how the two interact if they are, indeed, separate and distinct.
In his second Meditation, Descartes explores the idea of existence, specifically his doubts surrounding it; his radical doubt heavily prompted him to examine the fundamentals of what we think is certain. He asserts that most of one’s knowledge is attained through the senses but anything we learn or infer from these senses can be doubted because all sense perception can be deceived. From this thought line, Descartes concludes that although he can conceive the possibility that his perception of his own body could, in fact, be false, he cannot definitively conceive the possibility that he is without a mind. He argues this is so because of the fact that he is able to doubt to begin with, “I myself did exist since I persuaded myself of something” (Descartes, 1993). Further, even if he was to be deceived into believing that he has senses and a body, he acknowledges that he must be something existing in order to be deceived This portion of Descartes’ claim may be stated more explicitly as follows:
a). I cannot deny that I have doubts
b) My doubts occur due to my thinking
c) Because I cannot deny that I have doubts, I cannot deny that I think
d) If I can think, I must exist
Put simply, Descartes comes to the conclusion known today as cogito- I think therefore I am. The mere fact that one can think at all, Descartes argues, guarantees their existence. This establishes the base of the argument that the mind is separate from the body as the mind is the ‘thinking entity’ that denotes existence even a part from the physical entity of a body.
After establishing his own existence by the Cogito argument, Descartes seeks to expound upon the nature of this ‘self’ that he claims to know with certainty to exi...