Descartes’ of many physical properties such as
Descartes’ Theory of Substance DualismThroughout the history of man, philosophers have tried to come up with anexplanation of where our minds, or consciousness, came from and how we are able tohave a nonphysical characteristic of ourselves.
Does our physical brain automaticallygive us nonphysical characteristics like feelings, thoughts, and desires or is theresomething 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 otherentities exist such as ghosts or souls? One man came up with a theory to explain the twodifferent properties in our universe in which he called Dualism. Hopefully with histheory of Substance Dualism, we can come up with some sort of answer to thesequestions.French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) believed two such propertiesexisted in life, the physical and the nonphysical.
He broke his theory of Dualism into twoforms: Substance Dualism and Property Dualism. He explained that Substance Dualismis the claim that nonphysical substances exist, and Property Dualism is the claim thatthere 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 theproperties attach to in making that object. Many philosophers agree that substance is amysterious entity that is hard to explain. It’s like a kind of flypaper to which propertiesadhere, but flypaper that has no properties of its own, not even the property of beingsticky (Barcalow, pg. 71). Without substance, there are only properties of an object, notthe object as a whole. page 2Descartes went on to believe that there are two types of substance: physical andmental.
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 almostall of the time. Meaning that events and states in our mind can cause physical events inour 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 relationbetween the physical and mental. Descartes’ theory of Substance Dualism was his bestway 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 manyobjections one can make about Substance Dualism, but mainly there are three. First ofall, some believe causal interaction between the body and mind is a physicalphenomenon.
For example, throwing a baseball is the result of one’s arm being swungback in a smooth motion and using force to release the ball (science has proven that forceis physical). What caused the arm to throw the baseball? The muscles in the armcontracted, thus the arm raised. The electrical impulses that originated in the brain toldthe arm to throw the ball. Some people find it impossible that something nonphysical cancreate 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 andmeasure our thoughts and feelings, how do we know they exist? Do ghosts exist? Howdo we know? We don’t. We can’t physically see or feel them just like the interactionbetween our body and mind. We have yet to find a way to physically observe theinteraction.
page 3The third main objection is the problem of evolutionary development of allspecies, including humans. According to science, all living organisms evolved fromone-celled, self-replicating molecules (Barcalow, pg. 76). So at what point in time didthe nonphysical mind and consciousness exist? Did the dinosaurs have minds, or asDescartes believed, did the mind only exist with human evolution? This we cannotanswer. 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 themind is the only nonphysical entity that can create energy and force. There doesn’t seemto be anything else that is nonphysical that can create energy, except the mind. Thesecond objection is somewhat easier to answer. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’tmean it doesn’t exist. A majority of the population of the world believes in some sort ofGod or higher power, but we scientifically can’t prove that one exists.
There might be aGod, but we really don’t know for sure. So why can’t we believe in Descartes’ theory ofSubstance Dualism? The third objection is the toughest to answer. We as people justhave to assume that at some point in fetal development, our brain grows to become socomplex, that the mind and consciousness become one with our brain.I, myself, believe in Substance Dualism and Interactionism. I don’t think there isreally any other way to explain the relationship between our physical body andnonphysical mind. Descartes makes sense in his theory and the objections Barcalowcame up with can be answered.
Unless someone comes up with a theory that is better andcan disprove Descartes, I’m sticking with Descartes. I mean, something told my handswhat to type.Overall, the mind and body relationship is a tricky subject. We as humans don’tfully know where the nonphysical properties of our mind came from nor do we know ifone exists. So far, Descartes came up with the best theory to explain it, but not everyonebelieves it.
There are also a few objections to his theory that raise questions as to if it can page 4be believed. I believe Descartes was a man truly ahead of his time and helped in theprocess of explaining the entities of human life no matter if anyone believes him or not.Philosophy