PL 120: Philosophy of Human Nature3/1/04I in the MindI. Introduction”I think, therefore I am” (Abel, 194). At first glance this statementcould be passed over; yet it is the idea that it poses that has led it tobe the most debated of Philosophy’s many questions. After muchdeliberation, Rene Descartes came to the conclusion that “I am, I exist”(Abel, 195).
But what is this “I” that Descartes speaks of in his secondmeditation? Descartes believed this “I” to be something non-extended, thatis to say it is nonphysical. I believe that parts of the “I” arenonphysical, but since we are physical by nature not everything of the “I”can be explained in a nonphysical way.II.
ExpositionIn Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy he argues, as adualist, that there is both a mind and a body, but before he came to thisconclusion he first had to determine his own existence. This was achievedin this second meditation by realizing that is possible he was deceived asto having a mind and body. After he discovers his ability to doubt and tounderstand, he is able to prove his required existence as a consequence.
What we doubt or understand may not ultimately correspond, but we can neverbe uncertain that we are in the process of thought and therefore we proveour existence as a “thinking thing” (Abel, 196).In his fifth and sixth meditations, Descartes relies on the existenceof a non-deceiving God to show that the world exists. He uses a dreamargument, in which none of our ideas are caused by external objects and areinstead simply put there by God. Andsince they are put there as such, it is possible the objects do not exist.Or it is possible that a demon may be trying to deceive us and is simplytrying to get us to perceive things that are not really there. But becauseGod is all-perfect he would not deceive us in this way. “Since God is not adeceiver, it is quite clear that he does not transmit the ideas to meeither directly from himself, or indirectly via some creature whichcontains the objective reality of the ideas not formally but onlyeminently,” therefore, that which we perceive in the physical worldactually exists (Abel, 201).Descartes believed that if he could clearly understand one thing,then it must be distinct from something else, there by making two thingsdistinct.
He used this principle to show that the mind is distinct from thebody and that it can exist without it. Since he can conceive both the mindand the body as distinct, means that they can exist independently of eachother; yet they are closely intermingled with each other, as seen with suchfeelings as hunger or thirst. For if it was just the body perceiving thehunger or thirst, “it should have an explicit understanding of the fact,instead of having confused sensations of hunger and thirst. For thesesensations of hunger, thirst, pain, and so on are nothing but confusedmodes of thinking which arise from the union and, as it were, interminglingof the mind with the body” (Abel, 201).III. ChallengeThe two greatest challenges to Descartes’ theory of the mind is howthe nonphysical “I”, can be related to the physical body.
This challenge isknow as the mind-body problem and has plagued philosophers for centuries.And the second challenge isthe materialist view that the “I” is simply part of the brain and thatthere is no nonphysical mind.Both challenges pose equally difficult problems to Descartes’ theory.Descartes’ response to the mind-body problem was that the mind and bodywere “closely joined” and interacted at the pituitary gland in the brain(Abel, 200).This explanation does not make much sense, since it there is noway for the nonphysical (mind) to interact with the physical (body/brain),at least not as how Descartes explained it. Descartes’ response for thematerialist view was that the mind must be nonphysical because the onlything you can be sure of is that you are able to use your mind to think andyou don’t need a body for that because they are independent of each other.IV. Defense of ThesisParts of the views of a nonphysical mind and a physical mind seemvalid to me.
While I see how Descartes came to the conclusion of acompletely nonphysical mind, I don’t fully agree with his view on it. Nordo I fully agree that the mind is entirely physical. The problem with themind-body argument, at least to me, is that it leaves little room for thesoul.
Yes, Descartes believed we have a soul that is nonphysical, but healso believed the mind was nonphysical as well. The materialist view isthat there is no soul because everything is physical, which I do not agreewith at all. I believe that much of the mind and the soul are one in thesame.
And what is not the same from the mind to the soul is physical innature. Because of this neither stance completely covers my view on thesubject.I do not agree with Descartes’ theory of the pineal gland as theinteraction point between mind and body.
I cannot explain how the mind/soulinteracts with the body because the only terms I know to use are limited toa physical nature. I believe there are a great many things that are beyondour ability to explain or even comprehend, because we as humans are not all-perfect, and some things cannot be explained by mere human terms.V. ConclusionThere is no easy answer in the case of the mind-body problem.
Whilemuch can be explained in a physical way, just as much can only be explainedin a nonphysical way. I believe that Descartes was more correct thanmaterialists in his views, but he still did not completely explaineverything. We have a physical form, but we also have a nonphysical soul.The “I” that Descartes named is consciousness. “I” allows us to think,reason, and choose. It allows us to interpret what our bodies perceive inthe world around us. The body, because of its physical nature, cannot existwith out the mind/soul, but the mind/soul nonphysical nature allows it toexist without the body. Descartes was on the right path in his explanationof the mind, but he stopped short and thus missed was not able to completethe definition.
Works CitedDescartes, Rene. Meditation on First Philosophy. In Fifty Readings inPhilosophy,Ed.
Donald C. Abel, 2nd ed (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), pp. 194-202.Donald C. Abel. Fifty Reading in Philosophy.
2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill,2004.