Rene Descartes: The Mind-Body Problem

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Rene Descartes’ view on the mind-body problem is one that is much debated even today, nearly four centuries since his demise. To discuss the mind-body problem, we must first establish the definitions of mind and body, and how Descartes came upon these definitions. Following that, we can then discuss the validity of his views, and some of the criticisms his views have received. To explain how Descartes arrived at his views of the mind and body, we must look into his process of systematic doubt. The first step was to doubt everything that could be doubted: his senses, his prior knowledge (a priori), and his knowledge of the world (a posteriori). From this, he deduced that the only truth was that he existed, for no doubting can occur without a doubter. Thus arose the idea of mind, “a substance the whole essence or nature of which is to think”. Descartes then derived the existence of God from the idea of perfection; our idea of perfection must come from a perfect being (i.e. God), for imperfect beings such as ourselves cannot possibly conceive by ourselves the idea of perfection; that there is an idea God proves that God does indeed exist for God is the sum of all perfection. From this, Descartes derived the existence of matter. To Descartes, “extension in length, breadth, and thickness constitutes the nature of corporeal substance”. According to Descartes, we perceive and experience the corporeal world around us, and the only reason we do not doubt the existence of matter is
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