Descartes' argument for mind-body dualism

Philosophical Forum 1 (3):259-273 (1969)
After claiming on the basis of the Cogito argument that he can assert with certainty that he exists, Descartes turns to an examination of his nature. He concludes that he is a nonmaterial, nonextended entity whose essence is to be conscious. Critics have insisted that this con¬clusion is not justified by the arguments he offers in its support. They object in particular to his attempt to justify the claim that he is a nonmaterial entity merely on the grounds that he can doubt the existence of a material world but cannot doubt his own existence. In my paper I explain how, by the introduction of certain reasonable premises, Descartes's arguments may be made to appear much less implausible and his mistakes much more interesting than his critics have acknowledged. I argue that, given the premise that he can conceive of himself as existing without a body, he can conclude not only that he is not essentially a material being but that his essence excludes his being a material entity. Descartes' error lies not so much in the movement from his premises to his conclusion as in his failure to clarify sufficiently his premise that he can doubt the existence of matter without having to concede his own nonexistence. In asserting that premise some criterion of his identity is presupposed. I discuss two which are compatible with his claim that he is a soul. Using one of those criteria, a psychological one, he can justify his premise, but he cannot use the argument I have proposed in his defense to reach the desired conclusion. That argument requires that he conceive of himself as a substance and employ a criterion of substantial identity as the criterion of his identity. Yet if he adopts this criterion he can assert his premise only if he is a nonmaterial substance. Thus, asserting it begs the point at issue. It is only by confusing two possible conceptions of "himself" that he seems to be able both to assert a priori that he could exist as a soul and infer from this that he is a soul.
Keywords Mind-body, dualism, immaterial existence  Caartesian essence, mind, soul  Descartes, human body
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive Douglas C. Long, Descartes' argument for mind-body dualism
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Maria Helena Rozemond (1989). Descartes's Conception of the Mind. Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles
Daniel Holbrook (1992). Descartes on Mind-Body Interaction. Southwest Philosophical Studies 14:74-83.
Michael Wreen (2005). Descartes, Doubt, and Dualism. Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy 8.
Tad M. Schmaltz (1994). Malebranche on Descartes on Mind-Body Distinctness. Journal of the History of Philosophy 32 (4):573-603.
Justin Skirry (2001). A Hylomorphic Interpretation of Descartes's Theory of Mind-Body Union. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 75:267-283.
Sarah Broadie (2001). Soul and Body in Plato and Descartes. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 101 (3):295–308.
Marleen Rozemond (1995). Descartes's Case for Dualism. Journal of the History of Philosophy 33 (1):29-63.
Steven-J. Wagner (1983). Descartes's Arguments for Mind-Body Distinctness. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 43:499-518.
Justin Skirry (2004). Does Descartes's Real Distinction Argument Prove Too Much? American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 78 (3):399-423.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

488 ( #2,634 of 1,938,536 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

53 ( #8,656 of 1,938,536 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.