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Descartes' Theory Of Substance Dualism

Descartes’ Theory of Substance Dualism Throughout the history of man, philosophers have tried to come up with an explanation of where our minds, or consciousness, came from and how we are able to have a nonphysical characteristic of ourselves. Does our physical brain automatically give us nonphysical characteristics like feelings, thoughts, and desires or is there something else there, the mind, that interacts with our bodies and makes us feel, think, and desire? Also, is the mind the only nonphysical entity in our universe or do other entities exist such as ghosts or souls? One man came up with a theory to explain the two different properties in our universe in which he called Dualism. Hopefully with his theory of Substance Dualism, we can come up with some sort of answer to these questions. French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) believed two such properties existed in life, the physical and the nonphysical. He broke his theory of Dualism into two forms: Substance Dualism and Property Dualism. He explained that Substance Dualism is the claim that nonphysical substances exist, and Property Dualism is the claim that there are mental properties that are different from physical properties (Barcalow, pg. 70). To put it another way, properties are what make up an object, and substance is what the properties attach to in making that object. Many philosophers agree that substance is a mysterious entity that is hard to explain. It’s like a kind of flypaper to which properties adhere, but flypaper that has no properties of its own, not even the property of being sticky (Barcalow, pg. 71). Without substance, there are only properties of an object, not the object as a whole. page 2 Descartes went on to believe that there are two types of substance: physical and mental. A human is composed of many physical properties such as skin, bones, muscles, and organs, but also have nonphysical properties such as thoughts and feelings. Therefore, humans are composed of two types of substance: physical and nonphysical. According to Descartes, our minds and bodies causally interact with one another almost all of the time. Meaning that events and states in our mind can cause physical events in our bodies and vice versa. For example, a tack puncturing your foot (a physical event) causes you to feel pain (a mental event) and causes you to say “ouch,” (a physical event) (Barcalow, pg. 72). As a result, the term Interactionism was used to explain the relation between the physical and mental. Descartes’ theory of Substance Dualism was his best way of explaining human life and how our minds are able to interact with our bodies. Of course, not everyone is going to agree with Descartes theory. There are many objections one can make about Substance Dualism, but mainly there are three. First of all, some believe causal interaction between the body and mind is a physical phenomenon. For example, throwing a baseball is the result of one’s arm being swung back in a smooth motion and using force to release the ball (science has proven that force is physical). What caused the arm to throw the baseball? The muscles in the arm contracted, thus the arm raised. The electrical impulses that originated in the brain told the arm to throw the ball. Some people find it impossible that something nonphysical can create energy or force. Another objection is that we as people cannot observe the mind. The phrase “seeing is believing” automatically comes to mind here. If we can’t actually see and measure our thoughts and feelings, how do we know they exist? Do ghosts exist? How do we know? We don’t. We can’t physically see or feel them just like the interaction between our body and mind. We have yet to find a way to physically observe the interaction. page 3 The third main objection is the problem of evolutionary development of all species, including humans. According to science, all living organisms evolved from one-celled, self-replicating molecules (Barcalow, pg. 76). So at what point in time did the nonphysical mind and consciousness exist? Did the dinosaurs have minds, or as Descartes believed, did the mind only exist with human evolution? This we cannot answer. We have yet to find out when in fetal development the nonphysical mind exists. Answering these objections is a tough task. For the first one, we can say that the mind is the only nonphysical entity that can create energy and force. There doesn’t seem to be anything else that is nonphysical that can create energy, except the mind. The second objection is somewhat easier to answer. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A majority of the population of the world believes in some sort of God or higher power, but we scientifically can’t prove that one exists. There might be a God, but we really don’t know for sure. So why can’t we believe in Descartes’ theory of Substance Dualism? The third objection is the toughest to answer. We as people just have to assume that at some point in fetal development, our brain grows to become so complex, that the mind and consciousness become one with our brain. I, myself, believe in Substance Dualism and Interactionism. I don’t think there is really any other way to explain the relationship between our physical body and nonphysical mind. Descartes makes sense in his theory and the objections Barcalow came up with can be answered. Unless someone comes up with a theory that is better and can disprove Descartes, I’m sticking with Descartes. I mean, something told my hands what to type. Overall, the mind and body relationship is a tricky subject. We as humans don’t fully know where the nonphysical properties of our mind came from nor do we know if one exists. So far, Descartes came up with the best theory to explain it, but not everyone believes it. There are also a few objections to his theory that raise questions as to if it can page 4 be believed. I believe Descartes was a man truly ahead of his time and helped in the process of explaining the entities of human life no matter if anyone believes him or not.

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