Descartes on Mind-Body dualism


Answer the following three questions.
The first question asks you to explain Descartes’s views on the mind and the body. The second question asks you to explain Elisabeth’s worries about his account. Answering these questions should engage closely with and make use of evidence from the text. The third question asks you to analyze the strength of Elisabeth’s objection. You’ll spend more time answering the first question than you will the second question. ( Do the citation)

First Question: Descartes aims to establish that the mind and body are distinct substances in Meditation VI. What is his argument for thinking that the mind and body are distinct substances, that nonetheless form a union? In answering this question, do the following:
• Explain how Descartes conceives of mental substance, and how Descartes thinks of material substance. Explain also why Descartes thinks they are two different substances.
o That is, what are the main properties of each substance? How does the fact that they share nothing in common as well as the fact that God can create whatever Descartes can clearly and distinctly perceive help prove they are separate substances.
• Explain why Descartes thinks he has good reason to think the mind and the body form a union.

Second Question: Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia raises an important objection to Descartes’s conception of mind/body union. What is her objection, and how does it spell trouble for Descartes? In answering this question, do the following:
• Explain the question Elisabeth asks Descartes about how the mind and body could interact, and why Elisabeth thinks Descartes would have a hard time explaining how the mind causes the body to move given his claims that they are two distinct substances that share nothing in common.

Third Question (Analysis): Provide an analysis of the strength of Elisabeth’s objection to Descartes. Do you think that she successfully reveals a fundamental problem for Descartes’s claims that the mind and body are distinct, but that they nonetheless form a union? Provide reasons for your answer.


              Descartes on Mind-Body dualism


Descartes was one of the greatest philosophers that proposed the mind plays significant importance to the other body parts. In his assertions, the mind affects the behavioral patterns of an individual. One of the main critiques of Descartes works was Elisabeth who convinced people not to believe in the Descartes teachings. In the essay, assertions of Descartes are discussed and also Elisabeth critiques on Descartes are highlighted.

Question 1

In terms of mental substance, Descartes argues that the state of mind highly influences the way the body generally operates. One of the main concepts which influence behaviors and other activities is thinking. Thinking is 100% associated with the human brain (Duncan 490). Without a good state of mind, then it is not easy to think effectively. The mental capabilities of the people determine the way society thinks. According to Descartes, the mental substance can exist independently without the need of other body parts, or simply without the need for the body (Descartes 2007). One property of the mind which can be derived from that statement is that the mind is a substance. According to human understanding, a substance is something which exists independently but still functions accordingly. Another property of the brain or mental substance, according to Descartes is that the mind is non-extended. What this implies is that unlike the body, the mind is not associated with any form of growth. Consuming a lot of food cannot in any way make the mind bigger. However, the mind develops accordingly with regard to learning. In terms of the body, Descartes argues that the body can also exist independently. It does not need to coexist with the brain for effective functionality. The body is therefore also a substance, according to Descartes. Many critics have been raised regarding that conclusion by Descartes, considering that the mental capacity influences most activities of the human body. Another property of the body as established by Descartes is that it is a non-thinking substance. The body is also extended, implying that it physically grows due to the activities it indulges in. Descartes was convinced that God placed the brain in the human body to gain control over his creation. Just like stones, human bodies could have been placed on earth to exist, but they would have very little influence. If placed on earth, the brain could also exist on its own but with nothing to influence due to its physical inability. This brings us to another argument by Descartes that the brain and the body are simply a union. He is certain that the two come together to ensure functionality and effectiveness, although each of them can exist on its own. A union is a combination of two independent substances to work as one entity, hence making Descartes’ argument reasonable (Duncan 485).

Question 2

One of the most well-known critics of Descartes work was Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia. She was very concerned with the conclusions being made by Descartes (Shapiro 2013).  Elizabeth was a learned individual who had enough knowledge regarding mathematics, physic, and psychology. Due to that, her criticism of Descartes work was highly considered (Shapiro 2013). Many people believed that what she was arguing was probably true and that Descartes was not giving a good supporting thesis towards his arguments. Elizabeth ended up raising various questions regarding Descartes argument. One of the questions which she came up with was how the brain, a non-extending substance, was able to influence the performance of the body, yet the body could not at all influence the performance of the brain. Such a question led to many people wanting explanations on how the two functioned completely separate. Elizabeth’s question was influenced by the belief that the body was meant to be with the brain since the body protects the brain. Before raising the question, Elizabeth believed that the extension of the body was as a result of the mind having an influence on it. The mind controls the body to eat and grow due to the sensory nerves associated with the sending of critical messages to the brain. The body gains from the brain in terms of sense while the brain benefits from the body in terms of protection. Elizabeth based her question on such a belief. Another question established by Elizabeth towards Descartes work was whether the union between the mind and the body caused another independent substance since the human body (mind and body) is one thing which exists on its own (Descartes, 2007). She was concerned with whether the body was a third independent substance formed as a result of a union (the union between the mind and the body). Descartes on Mind-Body dualism

In trying to answer Elizabeth’s questions, Descartes sounded uncertain. He seemed to ignore the question. It is like he did not have the most appropriate answers for such questions. Descartes’ answer seemed non-factual because he was not giving a clear explanation regarding the body and the mind. He ended up creating more uncertainty among the audience and Elizabeth to be specific. His answer to the questions raised by Elizabeth did not give a clear point of view or stand as to whether the human body is another substance which is formed as a result of a union. Descartes ended up contradicting himself when answering the question. Apart from that, his answers were not supported by any convincing evidence (Rozemond 435). Descartes on Mind-Body dualism

Question 3

The objection raised by Elizabeth was very strong. She was able to put Descartes in a position where he could not make most of his audience believe what he was saying. Her arguments completely contradicted those made by Descartes and were more factual. For example, she suggested that the state of the human body directly affects the functionality of the mind. When the body is physically weak and sick, the human mind cannot also perform as expected. It also ends up being weak. Due to that, weak or sick people cannot reason accordingly (Rozemond 440). The human body entirely controls how the mind reasons, according to Elizabeth. Her objection towards Descartes work made Descartes desperate for the search for certain answers. Descartes contradicted himself during his explanations and answers in that, when answering them, he seemed to move out of topic and explained other things which were not at all related to what had been asked. This shows how strong the questions raised by Elizabeth were. Her objections, therefore, resulted in the weaknesses of answers provided by Descartes. The weakness was also supported by the fact that Elizabeth’s questions were supported by facts, making many people believe in what she stood for. Due to her questions, many people ended up believing that the mind and the body are not two separable substances. Each of them cannot survive independently without the help of the other. They are not a union but a single entity. Due to the mentioned reasons, Elizabeth came up with a successful objection towards Descartes’ work.


To conclude, the main proponents of Descartes is that the mind has great control of the body, while Elisabeth disputed the fact by saying the body is the one which affects the mind and not the mind affecting the body.

                                                                 Works cited

Rozemond, Marleen. “Descartes on mind-body interaction: What’s the problem?.” Journal of the History of Philosophy37.3, 1999: 435-467.

Descartes, René. The correspondence between princess elisabeth of bohemia and rene descartes. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Shapiro, Lisa. “Elisabeth, Princess of Bohemia.” 2013.

Duncan, Grant. “Mind-body dualism and the biopsychosocial model of pain: what did Descartes really say?.” The Journal of medicine and philosophy 25.4, 2000: 485-513.

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