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I possess a distinct idea of body, inasmuch as it is only an extended and unthinking thing, it is certain that this (my soul by which I am what I am), is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body, and can exist without it. (Descartes pg.177) Throughout the history of mankind, there have been many philosophers who have attacked the thought and ideas that refer to the human soul and body, in an attempt to produce a theory that truly explains how the soul and body exist and interact. Although many have tried, few have succeeded. In Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes developed a theory about the soul, body and mind which describes the nature of each and how the interaction between them occurs. This argument is known as dualistic interactionism. The question is, Is Descartes argument for dualistic interactionism sound?

Before I attempt to answer this question, I would like to describe Descartes argument for dualistic interaction-ism. Descartes held that the brain (along with the rest of the body) is purely mechanistic in its principle of operation. This is true when the body is considered without soul, as he proposed was always the case in the animal world where soul is lacking. Thus animals are pure automatons. This mechanistic view of the body, including the brain, is not questionable if soul is not made any essential part of its operation.

So what then is the nature of the soul? Descartes answer is simple: the sense perceptions and physical passions of men are dependent upon the body, but awareness of them lies in the soul. He perceived that all his thinking originates through the senses. I had no idea in my mind which had not formerly come to me through the senses. (Descartes 175) He also states that the body (which you call your own) belongs to you more suitably and strictly than any other because you could never be separated from it. Therefore, you cannot perceive any object unless it is present to the organs of sense. Descartes then goes on to say that because the ideas you receive through the senses are much more animated, clear and distinct than any of those that can be implanted in your memory, they could not have originated from your mind, but instead from some other source. Seeing that it does not presuppose thought, and also that those ideas are often produced in me without my contributing in any way, it is thus necessarily the case that the faculty resides in some substance different from me. (Descartes pg.177) He then goes on to give to possibilities for this substance. One being God Himself, communicating with us immediately or having some noble creature communicating with us. The other is by corporeal objects, which he then narrows down to the soul. The important thing then is to inquire how the soul becomes aware (conscious and self-conscious) and how it succeeds in acting upon the body. Its awareness is due to the action of the body upon it, but how does it in turn act upon the body. I further notice that the mind does not receive the impressions from all parts of the body immediately, but only from the brain, or perhaps even from one of its smallest parts. (Descartes pg.180) The point of interaction, according to Descartes, is in the brain. However, the soul is not to be viewed as being limited to the brain. The brain is merely the point of interaction, not the station of the soul. The body is extended matter and the soul is unextended spirit. When, however, the extended is acted upon by the unextended, some definite point of interaction is required and it is to be found in the brain, as stated before. “The soul is united to all parts of the body conjointly.” (Descartes pg.176) The whole body is the soul’s housing so long as the body remains intact. When a part of the body, for example an arm or a leg, is cut off, there is no loss of part of the soul as a consequence because the soul is unitary and indivisible. It then occupies what is left of the body.

I notice that the nature of the body is such that none of its parts can be moved by another part a little way off which cannot also be moved in the same way by each one of the parts which are in between the two. (Descartes 180) Here Descartes describes the nature of the body in response to pain and other sensations. When you injure your foot, for example, you immediately feel pain in your foot, and as long as you didn t get injured anywhere else, you only feel pain in your foot. However, the reason you feel the pain in your foot is because your soul sends a message from the brain, where the body and soul interact, all the way down to your foot. The message passes through your entire body, but you only feel pain in your foot because the rest of the body remains unaffected.So Descartes simply states that there is a dualism of mind and body, and their interaction is clearly real. The brain is the major focal point for the mind or consciousness of the soul, however mind or consciousness is distributed throughout the entire body.

So we now arrive at the question, Is Descartes argument for dualistic interaction sound? In my opinion, I think that his argument is totally sound. If you really think about it, it makes sense. Not many people have ever came up with a logical explanation as to how the mind and body operate together. His theory of interactionism is his form of dualism. One extended and one unextended, they nevertheless interact, which occurs in the brain. The theory cannot be disproved as long as there are mental phenomena whose neural correlates remain unknown. For knowing that all my senses more frequently indicate to me the truth than falsehood respecting the things which concern that which is beneficial to the body, and being able to make use of my memory in order to connect the present with the past, and of my understanding, I ought no longer fear that falsity may be found in matters everyday presented to me by my senses. (Descartes 181) Therefore, I believe that his argument is definitely valid. We are dependent on our senses, and how can one doubt them? The senses produce a reality that cannot be produced any other way. The unextended soul interacts with the extended body in the brain, which is the center of all senses and feelings.


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