Descartes’ Arguments for the Existence of Body as Distinct from the Mind and His Justifications to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia

Descartes’ Arguments for the Existence of Body as Distinct from the Mind and His Justifications to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia

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Descartes

Two years after Descartes published his meditations on first philosophy, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia wrote with questions concerning the relationship between the immaterial soul and the corporeal body- specifically how anything immaterial could produce physical effects. She was neither the first nor the last to question this practical application of Descartes’ dualism, but her questions elicited the most comprehensive attempt to answer the question. In this paper I will examine Descartes’ arguments for the existence of body as distinct from the mind; outline Elisabeth’s objections and proposed solutions, and argue that Descartes’ responses to Elisabeth are inadequate to address the problem of mind-body interaction without resulting in contradiction.
Descartes sets out in meditation six to determine what justification there might be for the existence of external bodies and whether bodies are distinct from his mind. Not only does he conclude they are distinct, they are distinct kinds of things (with different primary attributes). (Ariew, 2009, p 62) Mind is a thinking substance, and Body is extended.
In discussing the existence of external bodies he begins with an explanation of the way the imagination differs from the intellect. The imagination depends upon something distinct from him, memories of sensations or something else that seems focused outward toward a physical world perceived through bodily senses (p. 62). This alone makes it seem probable to him that the body does exist. However, he is not so quick to conclude an external world based on that alone, nor is he so quick to doubt its existence just because it’s possible there is some faculty in himself that produces these perceptions that he isn’t aware ...


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...ing, body is an extended thing, and the two are united. However these three propositions are inconsistent with each other. Descartes can have any two, a separate mind and body, a thought that can cause other thoughts, or a body that can cause movement in other bodies. But all three propositions together result in a contradiction. Descartes explanation of the primitive notions gives us a better grasp of how he conceives of the union between mind and body, but it still fails to answer Elisabeth’s direct question, leaving a problem of mind-body interaction that any dualist must face.

Ariew, Roger, & Watkins, Eric. (Eds.). (2009) Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources. (2nd ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.

Atherton, Margaret. (Ed.). (1994) Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.

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