Descartes' Arguments for the Distinction Between Mind and Body
For a long time, the nature of human mind has been a cornerstone for the philosopher’s theories. What exactly is your mind, your thoughts and desires? Is mind material at all, and if not, what is the relationship between non-material mind and physical things which are found inside your brain?
Aiming to answer these questions, commonly known as the body/mind problem, a 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes came up with an argument called Cartesian Dualism. In this view mind is a non-physical object and can’t be identified with the brain or the body it’s found in, even though Descartes agreed that interactions between the two exist.
Argumentation in favor of this view uses a principle called Leibniz’s Law. Leibniz, who wasn’t only a philosopher, but also a mathematician, has established a law which could be used in both of his fields of interest. According to this Law, in order for two things to be considered identical, all their properties must be identical, otherwise they are different. Speaking in math terms, if a has a property P and b doesn’t have a property P, then a =/ b. Descartes applies this principle to distinguish between body and mind. He claims one can’t doubt an existence of thought, since doubting it is in itself entertaining a thought. One can, however doubt having a physical body and entertain a thought about being a spirit or a ghost, existing only in a non-physical form. Since you can’t doubt having a mind and you can doubt having a body, according to Leibniz Law mind =/ body, followed by the Dualism conclusion.
The seemingly logical argument, however, has a subtle fallacy. Doubting something or being sure about something is in itself our attitude, which results from a prism of our perception. Therefore it is debatable whether something which itself is not material can truly be considered a valid property of an object. Following this premise, Descartes doesn’t give us an unshakable proof of Dualism view using this argument.Another argument Descartes uses to prove his viewpoint is called a divisibility argument. As he claims, body is different from mind because it is spatial. Our brain and the rest of our body are physical things which can be seen, felt and touched. We can’t say the same about the mind.
Therefore, applying the Leibniz Law once again, body and mind are different. An objection to this argument is that science in general and neuroscience in particular is still in the process of developing and expanding. We know very little about how brain functions. It is very likely that in the future science will be able to explain in detail physical processes occurring in our brain when we think. Therefore, mind will be linked to the physical world. It is hard for us to imagine at this point that mind takes space, but we have already established and proved that matter consists of atoms and molecules despite never …