Cartesian Dualism

Cartesian Dualism

Descartes argued that human beings are made up of two things:  A mind (res cogito, or “thinking substance”), and a body (res extensa, or “extended substance”). These two substances are exact opposites: the mind is invisible and possesses no mass or shape, the body is visible and has mass and shape. The idea that we are both a mind and a body, and the two interact (my mind decides to raise my left arm, and the arm moves)  is called Cartesian Dualism.  

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But some have argued that Cartesian Dualism is philosophically impossible.  For if a mind has no mass, no weight, and is not extended in space… can it move, or be moved by, my body?  It should go through my body like a ghost!  Note: the brain is also a part of our physical body.  In a nutshell, the mind-body problem is the question of how two substances which have nothing in common (one having mass and the other not) can interact with each other.

Because of the difficulty of this problem, some philosophers have embraced materialism: the doctrine that there is no separate substance called mind, and that thoughts and feelings are nothing but neurological activities in the brain (everything is physical).  Others have accepted idealism: the idea that everything that exists is made of mind, and the material universe is an illusion.

The question:

1) First, define, IN YOUR OWN WORDS, both Cartesian Dualism and the mind-body problem.

2) Answer: Do you accept Cartesian Dualism: namely, that we are both a mind and a body?  If so, how do you resolve the mind-body problem?  If you don’t accept Cartesian Dualism, explain why not. Perhaps you are sympathetic to materialism or idealism (see the prior paragraph).



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