Mind and Mechanism: An Examination of Some Mind-Body Problems in Descartes' Philosophy

Dissertation, Princeton University (1983)

This thesis examines some mind-body problems traditionally ascribed to Descartes' philosophy. One such problem focuses on inconsistencies in Descartes' general causal claims. Another problem, first put forward by Simon Foucher, concerns Descartes' purported espousal of the following inconsistent triad: mind-body causal interaction, mind-body distinctness, and "the causal likeness principle." The final problem is one regarding free will and determinism. ;In the first Chapter I examine the content and number of Descartes' causal principles. An analysis of the main concepts used in these principles, for example, "perfection," "eminent containment," and "formal containment," is provided. This examination includes a discussion of some medieval antecedents of these concepts. I argue that there is no blatant inconsistency generated by Descartes' causal claims. ;In the second chapter I utilize the analysis of "eminent containment" to show that Descartes was not committed to a "causal likeness principle." Since this principle is crucial for generating the "Foucher mind-body problem," I thus demonstrate that this problem is not one that applies to Descartes' philosophy. ;In this chapter I also examine Descartes' views about the details of psycho-physical change. While there is no blatant inconsistency among these views, I show that Descartes is committed to the inexplicability and indeterminism of the acts of the will. This presents a problem given Descartes' acceptance of psycho-physical interaction and of Laplace-like determinism. ;In the final chapter I argue that Descartes could have avoided this problem by denying Laplacean determinism, but since he lacks a clear position on the matter, it is not the move he himself makes. I also show how Descartes vacillates between a compatibilist and an incompatibilist view of free will
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