Analysis of Descartes’ Mind/Body Distinction

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In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes states “I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in as far as I am only a thinking and unextended thing, and as, on the other hand, I possess a distinct idea of body, in as far as it is only an extended and unthinking thing”. [1] The concept that the mind is an intangible, thinking entity while the body is a tangible entity not capable of thought is known as Cartesian Dualism. The purpose of this essay is to examine how Descartes tries to prove that the mind or soul is, in its essential nature, entirely distinct from the body and whether or not he is successful. While I agree with his theory that the mind and body are distinct, I do not believe the mind is non-extended and I do not agree with Descartes’ assertion that the mind is capable of existence beyond the body. One of the ways in which Descartes attempts to prove that the mind is distinct from the body is through his claim that the mind occupies no physical space and is an entity with which people think, while the body is a physical entity and cannot serve as a mechanism for thought. [1] I believe most of this portion of his position to be true. The body quite certainly has a physical presence and is not capable of controlling or thinking for itself. I begin to disagree with Descartes’ theory at the point where he states that the mind is non-extended. The mind is assuredly capable of thought, as Descartes states, and has intangible elements in the form of memories and personality characteristics; however, I believe that the mind is an extended entity because physical matter is required for these elements to exist. In my opinion, this means that the only logical conclusion is that the brain is the physical extensi... ... middle of paper ... ... ceases to function. Descartes makes very interesting points on the differentiation of the mind and body in Meditation on First Philosophy. His position on the body being a strictly physical entity while the mind is not is a superb point of reasoning that can be applied on many different levels with many different results. Overall, I believe that there are some areas of Descartes’ position that could be modified or expanded upon given what has been learned about the brain through modern science. Nonetheless, given the knowledge available during his lifetime, I believe that Descartes is generally successful in proving his viewpoint to be the correct one. Works Cited [1] Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. 1641 [Translated by John Veitch (1901)] Meditation 6, http://www.classicallibrary.org/descartes/meditations/9.htm
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