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Rene Descartes Proposed Theory Of Mind Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1504 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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As described in his meditations Rene Descartes’ proposed a theory of mind (Prado, 2009). Meditation VI argued that the mind and the body are distinct substances. By this he meant that human beings are made up of two kinds of stuff, a material substance that can be extended and an immaterial substance that could not be extended. He suggested that immaterial substances were sufficient for mental events only and therefore the mind was made up of an immaterial substance where as the body was made up of a material substance (Descartes, 1963). Descartes’ put forward two arguments regarding the connection of the mind and the body, these arguments consisted of the divisibility argument and the understanding argument. I will be examining the divisibility argument in which he states that “…there is a vast difference between the mind and the body, in respect that the body, from its nature, is always divisible and that mind is entirely indivisible.” From this, he therefore concluded that his mind and his body were two separate entities. I disagree with this statement because I believe that the mind and the body are of a single entity and in order for them to have the causal interactions in which they possess, they must be made of the same stuff.

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Descartes’ builds his assumptions on Lebiniz’s law in order to prove mind-body dualism (Prado, 2009). Leibiniz’s law states that if entities X and Y are the same then it must be true that X and Y have the same properties. However, if X and Y do not have the same entities then they are of different properties. Descartes’ uses this as a basis for his premises, such that the body is made of material stuff and the mind is made of immaterial stuff therefore the mind and body do not have the same properties. However in response to this, I would that the mind and the body interact in such a way that the mind influences the body and vice versa.

(1) Bodies and divisible

(2) Minds are indivisible

(3) Therefore, the mind is distinct from the body

In Descartes’ divisibility argument premise two states that the mind is indivisible. For this to be true we must already conclude and accept that the mind is an immaterial substance. However, this begs the question since the mind cannot be purely made of immaterial substance. I believe that the mind cannot be purely an immaterial substance because the mind and brain interact. It is not plausible for two substances that are made of completely different materials to interact in such a way that the mind and brain do. For example, the mind tells the brain that it wishes to go to the movies and the brain transforms these thoughts into actions and takes the person to the movies. This argument may be criticized by Descartes’, because he holds that his body is divisible such that his arms and legs could be cut up and so could his physical brain, however he explains that it is not plausible that the mind can be separated into such parts.

Although Descartes’ agreed that the mind and body interaction exists. The basis of which he believed this was shown to be incorrect. He believed that the pineal gland was responsible for the mind and body interaction. He regarded it as the place in which the mind resides. Furthermore he stated that “the small gland which is the principal seat of the soul is suspended within the cavities containing these spirits, so that it can be moved by them in as many different ways as there are perceptible differences in the objects. But it can also be moved in various different ways by the soul, whose nature is such that it receives as many different impressions-that is, it has as many different perceptions as there occur different movements in this gland. And conversely, the mechanism of our body is so constructed that simply by this gland’s being moved in any way by the soul or by any other cause, it drives the surrounding spirits towards the pores of the brain, which direct them through the nerves to the muscles; and in this way the gland makes the spirits move the limbs.” Descartes’ was clearly mistaken about the function of the pineal gland, which is now known to be a sleep inducing organ that produces serotonin (Martin, 2003). Apart from the suggestion that the pineal gland is the link between the mind and the brain Descartes’ makes no further comments about the mind-body interaction.

In addition, the mind being made of immaterial substance violates the laws of conservation of energy. The law of Conservation of Energy states that in any system the energy remains constant. Consequently, energy cannot be created or destroyed (Walker, 2007). We can all agree that the mind is located within the brain but now there is the problem of interaction. In order for the mind and body to interact there must be a channel in which this communication occurs.

In Response, Descartes would state that if they could still be of different entities; then they could transform the energy from immaterial forms to material forms. However when things such as a solid is turned to liquid and vice versa there is a chemical change that is accompanied by a physical change. If this were so, then when the mind changes, the brain will alter itself with the mind.

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Descartes’ believed that the mind could exist without the body. This statement lacks strength because he fails to distinguish between the mind and the soul. In this sense it is as though Descartes’ uses the words “mind” and “soul” interchangeably and appears to explain the religious view of the soul when he speaks of the mind in his meditations. The mind itself whether immaterial substance or not, cannot survive without the body, it is however plausible for the soul to live on after the body has passed. I believe that it is unconceivable that the mind can exist without the body because the brain is a part of the physical body and the mind is a part of the brain or at least brain processes, which is aware and conscious. Humans are also unable to live without their brains as it is a crucial part of survival. The brain regulates hormones and controls vital organ functions, even though we are unaware of when these processes occur. Therefore, the mind coexists with the brain and cannot exist without it.

“For in truth, when I consider the mind, that is, when I consider myself in so far only as I am a thinking thing, I can distinguish in myself no parts.” Descartes’ uses this statement to suggest that the mind is indivisible and that when he considers himself in his mind that he only knows of one entire thing. It is true that the mind is a thinking thing however Descartes’ fails to distinguish between a thinking thing and divisibility. There nothing that makes it certain that a thinking thing cannot be divisible.

In addition, the divisibility argument does not account for various other factors including diseases of the brain or psychological disorders such as multiple personality disorder. Modern science has shown that contrary to Descartes’ divisibility argument, when a part of the brain is removed a part of the mind gets impacted (Pinel, 2009). Although these effects are not evident when an arm or a leg is cut off, there is evidence which supports the idea that when a certain part of the brain, such as the frontal lobe is removed, the consequences result in severe impairment in their personality as well as their ability to reason (Martin, 2003). Furthermore Studies on the brain have shown that a disease in the brain can affect mind processes, in particular Alzheimer’s disease has a detrimental effect on memory and personality (Galasko, Klauber, Hofstetter, Salmon, Lasker, & Thal, 1990). Additionally, research on multiple personality disorder has shown that the mind can be divisible, such that an individual can display the ability of multiple minds as well as change between their personalities (Pinel, 2009).

For this argument Descartes’ would reply by saying this does not mean that there are multiple minds but multiple aspects of one mind. Conversely, I would argue that if it were the aspects of multiple minds within the one brain than how can it be explained that one personality could be right handed and the other be left handed. Therefore, it is possible that minds can be divisible.

The purpose of the divisibility argument was to prove that the mental states are different to brain states. However, I believe that Descartes’ arguments were lacking in such a way that he already assumed that the mind was indivisible. The divisibility argument alone cannot show that the mind and the body are distinct substances. Further evidence is required in order to examine the way in which the mind processes information and how this information gets from our minds to the physical world.


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