Essay on Descartes´ Mental and Physical Substances

Essay on Descartes´ Mental and Physical Substances

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When Descartes published his ideas in his Meditations on First Philosophy, his ideas were not new, but nonetheless groundbreaking. He proposed there were two separate types of matter or stuff that can exist independent of each other. These are physical substances and mental substances. The physical can only occupy space in the real world, and cannot do any of the things we attribute to mental faculties, such as thinking and reasoning. Though the mental cannot be present in the material world, it can surely have an effect on what the physical body does. Substance dualism, therefore, gives way to the idea of an immortal soul that occupies a different realm than our physical bodies.
The question then is how do the mental substances affect the physical, and vice versa? Because obviously when I stub my toe, though I am only feeling a physical pain, I still feel it as a mental event and, if you will, it affects my “soul”. If these two substances occupy different realms, how can they possibly interact? This is called the mind-body problem, and has been discussed ever since Descartes published his ideas in the sixteenth century. There are two sides to the problem; one dealing with how something mental can cause something physical, and the other addressing how something physical can cause something mental. The real question we must grapple with is how can brain processes cause mental phenomena to begin with? Or how can brains produce the mind, if they even do?
Epiphenomenalism is the idea that mental states are merely byproducts of physical states, and begs the question of how mental states could cause a physical state and have an effect on the physical world. According to this view, John Searle likens consciousness with the froth in ...


... middle of paper ...


...now about other minds that are out in the world?
At first glance, his theory does look a little bit like property dualism, but upon further examination one finds that it is not. Unlike many of the traditional theories of the mind, he bases his theory on what modern science has told us, instead of building upon past theories he claims are incorrect in their vocabulary. Searle is clear-cut when he states his view is based on science, and thus does not require postulating any additional realms or substances, a la Occam's Razor. Therefore, Searle's biological naturalism is adequate in differentiating itself between property dualism. I believe Searle provides a good account of the mind and consciousness, and although his view falls short in other areas, I believe he is on to something very important and relevant to everyone who is concerned with the mind-body problem.

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