The Problems of Cartesian Dualism

October 28, 2010 at 10:09 pm 2 comments

Cartesian Dualism

As you might have gathered from my previous posts, I have (re)read some works by the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes this month.

In connection with a little more background study on Descartes, I came across one of the leading contemporary philosophers on cognitive science, John Searle, perhaps best known for his “Chinese Room Argument” against the consciousness of computer-generated intelligence. He is also an outspoken critic of Descartes and thinks that we need to get rid of the very framework of discourse that Descartes created for us.

One of the least ambitious things Searle has said about Descartes was to simply summarize the main problems of Cartesian dualism. Here they are:

1. The most important problem is interaction: How can the mind and the body interact? How can one causally affect the other?

2. Freedom of the will. If the mind is free, but the body is determined, it looks as if the freedom of the mind makes no difference.

3. Other minds. How is it that I can know that other people have minds, since the only mind to which I have direct access is my own mind?

4. Skepticism in general. If I am locked in my own experiences, how can I ever really know anything of the external world?

5. Sleep and coma. How is it possible that people can be totally unconscious, if a person consists of a mind, and mind is essentially conscious?

6. Animals. Animals behave as if they had minds, but if so they would have to have immortal souls because minds are indestructible.

There have been various attempts to solve these problems within the Cartesian framework, both by Descartes himself and by people coming after him. According to Searle, all these attempts have failed.

Any Cartesians out there who would like to contradict Searle?

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Edward T. Babinski  |  November 1, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Split-brain research also raises some questions. I’ll be blogging about it in future.

    Also, visit Victor Reppert’s blog, Dangerous Idea. He endorses dualism. He’s also a nice guy, worth sharing questions with.

  • 2. Victor Reppert  |  November 2, 2010 at 3:17 am

    Lots of versions of dualism out there. See, in particular, William Hasker’s The Emergent Self, in which he defends dualism, but of a different type than Descartes.

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