Elaborate the Cartesian understanding of the relation between mind and body in detail.

Cartesian means of or relating to the French philosopher René Descartes. Descartes maintains that we do indeed have both minds and bodies- and that the two are not ultimately one and the same thing, but rather are radically and irreducibly different sorts of thing, which exist in an intimate union. Attribute of body is extension. The attribute of mind is thinking. Body is passive while mind is active and free.

These two substances are absolutely distinct. Mind/ soul is res cogitans; as far as I am a thinking and unextended thing I have clear and distinct idea of myself. Therefore, I, that is, my mind, through which I am what I am, is entirely and truly separate from my body and may exist without it. I can conceive myself as entire without the faculties of imagination and perception, but I cannot conceive these without the faculties of imagination and perception, but I cannot conceive these without an intelligent substance in which they reside. Imagination and perception are distinct from myself, they are like modes are to things. Descartes includes will and also such higher emotions as are not the result of the union of mind and body in thought. According to Descartes, a thinking thing is one that doubts, understands, conceives, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, imagines as well as feels. Thought embraces everything which we now label ‘consciousness’ and is not restricted to the intellectual and cognitive activities of the mind. Neither extension nor figure, nor notion pertains to the thinking thing. My knowledge about my mind precedes that of any corporal thing. I may not doubt whether there is any body in existence, while I already perceive that I think.

Descartes follows this extreme dualism between mind and body so that the nature is left free for the mechanical explanations of natural science. Mind is separated from nature with its own territory. However, this duality of mind and body puts Descartes in a difficult position. On the one hand his application of the criterion of clarity and distinction leads him to emphasize the duality of mind and body. On the other hand, he does not want to accept the conclusion that the soul is lodged in the body which it uses as an instrument. This is the conclusion that Descartes could not accept. Empirical data went against such a conclusion, leave alone the theological objection. He was aware of the interaction between soul and body and that they in some sense constitute a unity. Descartes tries to explain this problem by locating the soul and its activity in a gland in the very centre of the body. However, this localization does not solve the issue; but Descartes had no intention to deny the interaction. He tries to get out of the problem finally by saying that mind and body are incomplete substances viewed in relation to man who is unity which they for together. A clearly unsatisfactory solution to the problem.

According to Descartes, mind and body compose a substantial unity. All the sensations just mentioned are merely confused modes of consciousness, the result of this union; man is not a pure sprit, Motion in animals, and often in ourselves, occurs without the intervention of reason; the senses excited by external objects simply react to the animal spirits and the reactions are mechanical-the animal is nothing but a machine. But in man bodily motion may produce sensations. If I were merely a thinking being, if my soul were not some how intimately conjoined with my body, I should, for example, know that I am hungry, but not feel hungry. I should not have sensations and feelings which are confused modes of consciousness resulting from the intimate union of body and mind.

Just how this intimate union is to be conceived, is not made clear by Descartes and indeed, it is not possible within the framework of his dualism. Descartes warns against confounding mind and body with one another. Thought and extension are combined in man, in unity of composition but not in unity of nature: the union should not be compared with a mixture of two bodies.

Descartes suggested that the body works like a machine, that it has the material properties of extension and motion, and that it follows the laws of physics. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, was described as a nonmaterial entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics. Descartes argued that only humans have minds, and that the mind interacts with the body at the pineal gland. This form of dualism or duality proposes that the mind controls the body, but that the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion. Most of the previous accounts of the relationship between mind and body had been uni-directional.

Descartes suggested that the pineal gland is “the seat of the soul” for several reasons. First, the soul is unitary, and unlike many areas of the brain the pineal gland appeared to be unitary (though subsequent microscopic inspection has revealed it is formed of two hemispheres). Second, Descartes observed that the pineal gland was located near the ventricles. He believed the animal spirits of the ventricles acted through the nerves to control the body, and that the pineal gland influenced this process. Finally, Descartes incorrectly believed that only humans have pineal glands, just as, in his view, only humans have minds. This led him to the belief that animals cannot feel pain, and Descartes’ practice of vivisection (the dissection of live animals) became widely used throughout Europe until the Enlightenment. Cartesian dualism set the agenda for philosophical discussion of the mindbody problem for many years after Descartes’ death. The question of how a nonmaterial mind could influence a material body, without invoking supernatural explanations, remains controversial to this day.

(Source: BPY008/Unit-5 Descartes/Page 11)

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