Appraisal of René Descartes Essay

Appraisal of René Descartes Essay

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In his works, Meditations on First Philosophy and The Passions of the Soul, René Descartes lays out his views on the mind. Descartes is a dualist, specifically an interactionalist, which is someone who believes that mental states and physical states are distinct from one another, yet still affect each other. This view, however, faces significant obstacles, to which Descartes believes he has an answer for. In this paper I will outline Descartes’ argument for the distinctness between the mind and body, explicate the problems his theory faces, and conclude that his dualist account cannot survive the objections.
In the Meditations, Descartes was concerned with finding certainty and he employed the method of doubt in his quest. He grants that everything he has been certain of thus far has come from his senses, yet he also realizes that his senses often deceive him. For example, when something far away appears tiny, but it is actually large, or the difficulty in determining whether one is dreaming or not are noteworthy reasons not to doubt your senses. He then, gives an argument about an evil demon that has been deceiving him and all of his thoughts, and arrives at the point of doubting his senses, his body, and even mathematical truths such as two plus two equals four. After fearing that without a body, he too may not exist, he realizes that as long as the demon is deceiving him, there is a thing that exists that is being deceived, himself. Thus, no matter what he is unable to doubt his own existence insofar as he is thinking. What he exists as, however, he is not sure of, other than a thinking thing, a thing that “doubts, understands, affirms, denies, is willing, is unwilling, and also imagines and has sensory perception...


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...th a material extended thing by saying that an immaterial non-extended thing interacts with a material extended thing. Furthermore, he fails in his attempt to explicate how it interacts with the rest of the body, for the nerves, blood, etc. are all physical, material substances as well.
Although a brilliant and compelling argument, Descartes’ dualism is unable to survive the two objections brought against it. Namely, that it is impossible to conceive of something that does not exist in space and time, and that if such a thing were to exist, how would it interact with something that does exist in space and time? His main reasoning for the distinctness seems to be flawed, and his solution to the interaction gets him nowhere. Thus, we are left with the general notion that mind and body are not separate entities of different substance that affect one another.

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