Descartes on Composites, Incomplete Substances, and Kinds of Unity

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 90 (1):39-73 (2008)
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It is widely-accepted that Descartes is a substance dualist, i.e. that he holds that there are two and only two kinds of finite substance – mind and body. However, several scholars have argued that Descartes is a substance trialist, where the third kind of substance he admits is the substantial union of a mind and a body, the human being. In this paper, I argue against the trialist interpretation of Descartes. First, I show that the strongest evidence for trialism, based on Descartes' discussion of so-called incomplete substances, is highly inconclusive. Second, I show that a kind of unity (‘unity of nature’), which is had by all and only substances, is not had by human beings. The fact that the proper parts of a human being, namely a mind and a body, are of different natures entails that what they compose has at most a ‘unity of composition’. And a thing cannot be a substance in virtue of having a unity of composition. Therefore, Cartesian human beings are not substances.



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Dan Kaufman
University of Colorado, Boulder

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