25 Aug 2022


Dualism: Descartes' Perspective on Mind and Body

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Descartes is a philosopher who believes that there is a distinct difference between mind and body. It is commonly referred to as mind-body dualism. According to him, the body is a non-thinking entity while the mind is a thinking entity, therefore, making them non-dependent on each other. One entity can survive without the other such an argument has brought about the question of the mind-body interaction. Scientists believe that one cannot move their limbs without the help their mind. A body parts lack of being in good condition can cause a discomfort sensation in mind. Dualism is divided into substance and properly dualism. Substance dualism shows the mind is made up of a type of element that is distinct and not governed by physics law. Property dualism, on the other hand, contains mental properties that present consciousness that is critical and are defined by science 1 . 

Dualism is made physical and mental entities that are either derivative or fundamental. Descartes believes that as much as the mind is an entity different from the body. He believes that it can be deceiving and gives an example of a dream where one dreams that they are physically at some place only to realize that the mind has been fooled. There is also the discussion of whether there is something that cannot be doubled. He believes that his vision may be doubted because it is all in mind. In contrary, he meditates on the reality of existence in that he questions his existence but later confirms that the only way he can exist is through being conscious. His existence is proved through his mind and conscious thought. Believing that he exists is the reason as to why he exists. Reasons as to why the mind is not identical to the body. In meditation one, Descartes does not believe in the existence of bodies, therefore, trying to show bodies do not exist. In meditation two, he demonstrates the difference between mind and body because he cannot doubt his existence 2 . 

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, There are qualities of the body and mind depicted in philosophy according to Descartes. The body’s conditions include; its physical properties, it occupies space and has weight. A mind’s quality is that it is not physical, mainly involves imagination and can be deceiving. As human beings, we are seen to associate ourselves more with the mind part of the body. It is mainly because it shows the existence of other physical bodies. The mind will show the existence of another entity which is the body 3 . 

Descartes shows that he doubts the existence of a body that his sight reflects. He imagines that it is possible for the mind to deceive him and therefore according to his meditation he does not exist at all. Because consciousness exists, ones conscious can convince them of the existence of oneself and that of another thing. Therefore one can depict that humans would associate mainly with their mind as compared to their body. Their mind is made up of consciousness. Therefore, it convinces them of an existence of oneself. It is therefore seen that for a body part of performing a particular duty. It has to relate with the mind. The relation will show the existence of another element and induce an action by an individual body 4 . 

Descartes shows the interaction between the mind and body. The mind as discussed is an entity that does not exist physically and therefore it depends on one's perspective or choice to believe its consciousness or not. In meditation one, Descartes shows how much he doubts the existence of what the mind portrays. According to him, the mind may portray an individual image, but the image may not exist. An excellent example is when one is dreaming. In a situation where one is dreaming, they tend to see physical things and perform a certain action that they later realize was all a dream and are non-existent. It acts as proof that the mind can also be deceiving to a human perspective 5 . 

In the second meditation, he chooses to relate both the body and mind. The body is well connected to the way the mind works in that once a human being feels a certain way. It is commonly caused by the physical sensation. An example is shown once a part of the body is experiencing a physical discomfort. Hunger is a feeling that is caused by lack of energy in the body, and therefore the stomach begins to digest its lining to gain nutrients. That act of digestion of the stomach causes a burning sensation that causes pain which is transmitted to the brain. The mind then reacts to the pain and causes one’s body to eat food that will be available. The brain processes the need for nutrients and instructs the body to eat to change the current discomfort being experienced 6 . 

Descartes initially begins his argument with the fact that both the mind and body can exist distinctly without needing each other. According to him, the mind is a thinking entity while the body is a non-thinking entity and therefore can live entirely without depending on each other. The main reason as to why that is the case is because the mind is mainly determined by consciousness while the body is a physical entity that performs an action. Hence dualism seems in body and mind where it involves physical and mental objects that could be fundamental or derivative. He shows that dualism is expressed through the different aspects of both mind and body. There is also the argument that body and mind are at the same point dependent on each other just like a computer. The mind is a program or software while the body is compared to hardware. A human being cannot exist without the mind and body 7 . 

In a different situation, it is seen that a person is still considered alive even when either the mind or body is dysfunctional. The mind can be dysfunctional, but one can still perform actions although they may need help from another being. There are also situations where one is physically incapable, but mentally they can reason out things. In most cases, those that are seen to have physical in capabilities tend to have their minds working entirely and are seen to be very intellectual becoming the best scholars in the Society 8 . 

There are problems seen with the theory of dualism that is brought about by Descartes. Firstly, is the fact that dualism does not show how consciousness can have an effect on the physical reality. Secondly, any activity that involves non-physical mind always violates physical laws. Thirdly is that there are situations where people suffering brain damage can still perform their motor abilities, all it does is affect the reasoning capability. Lastly, is the fact dualism gives room for ambiguity due to the many doubts that are leading to questions raised in the relation of mind and body 9 . 


Baker, Gordon P., and Katherine J. Morris. Descartes' dualism . Psychology Press, 2002. 

Kenny, Anthony. "Descartes a Study of His Philosophy." (1993). 

Rowlands, Mark. The body in mind: Understanding cognitive processes . Cambridge University Press, 1999. 

Rozemond, Marleen, and Marleen Rozemond. Descartes's dualism . Harvard University Press, 2009. 

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