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Is There a Problem of Cartesian Interaction? DAISIE RADNER PHILOSOPHY IS A RESPONSEtO problems. The problems may come from outside philosophy--from science, for example--or they may have been inherited from previous philosophers. In the course of solving one set of problems , a philosophical system may in turn engender another set. The author of the system, focusing on its success in handling the problems it was originally intended to solve, may tend to underrate the problems generated by the system. Another philosopher who does not share his commitment to the system is free to admit the seriousness of the problems it engenders and to do whatever it takes to solve them, even if this involves radical interpretation or even denial of certain basic principles. The interaction between mind and matter has traditionally been considered a serious problem for Descartes' philosophy and a motivation for Malebranche's occasionalism, Spinoza's parallelism, and Leibniz's preestablished harmony. Mind-body interaction was not a problem that the Cartesian philosophy was originally intended to solve, but one that grew out of the Cartesian system itself. Descartes set out to provide a firm philosophical foundation for the sciences, especially the new physics. He was also interested in providing a philosophical basis for the religious doctrines of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Dualism served him well for both purposes, but it raised questions of its own. How can thinking and unextended substance act upon extended and unthinking substance, and vice versa? Descartes refused to admit that there was any real difficulty. When Gassendi voiced the problem, Descartes' response was that "these objections, among other things, presuppose an explanation of the nature of the union between soul and body" and that "the whole of the perplexity involved in D5] 36 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 23:~ JANUARY 1985 these questions arises entirely from a false supposition that can by no manner of means be proved, viz. that if the soul and the body are two substances of diverse nature, that prevents them from being capable of acting on one another."' When the same question was raised by Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia , Descartes again appealed to the notion of mind-body union, "on which depends our notion of the soul's power to move the body, and the body's power to act on the soul and cause sensations and passions. ''* He acknowledged that it is difficult to understand how two distinct substances such as mind and body can form a union. Nevertheless he insists that the notion of union is something "which everyone has in himself without philosophizing.'3 Subsequent philosophers were far from satisfied with Descartes' treatment of the problem. In the Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion Malebranche insists that the notion of union helps not at all to explain how extended substance can act upon the mind. ARISTES. I believe, Theodore, that God has united my mind to my body so that in consequence of this union my mind and my body can act reciprocally upon one another, in virtue of the natural laws which God always follows very closely. That is all I have to say. THEODORE. You do not explain yourself, Aristes. It is a sufficiently good indication that you do not understand. Union, general laws--what kind of reality do you understand by these terms?4 In short, if the solution to the problem of mind-body interaction depends on an explanation of the nature of the union between mind and body, then Descartes has no solution. Spinoza, too, finds the notion of mind-body union singularly uniiluminating. "I can hardly wonder enough that a philosopher who firmly resolved to make no deduction except from self-evident principles , and to affirm nothing but what he clearly and distinctly perceived, and who blamed all the schoolmen because they desired to explain obscure matters by occult qualities, should accept a hypothesis more occult than any occult quality. What does he understand, I ask, by the union of the mind and body? ''5 Leibniz even goes so far as to suggest that Descartes was ' Letter to Clerselier 02 January 1646). Oeuvres de Descartes, ed. Charles Adam and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 35-49
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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