What Am I? Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem

What Am I? Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem

What Am I? Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem

What Am I? Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem

Synopsis

In his Meditations, Ren'e Descartes asks, "what am I?" His initial answer is "a man." But he soon discards it: "But what is a man? Shall I say 'a rational animal'? No: for then I should inquire what an animal is, what rationality is, and in this way one question would lead down the slope to harder ones." Instead of understanding what a man is, Descartes shifts to two new questions: "What is Mind?" and "What is Body?" These questions develop into Descartes's main philosophical preoccupation: the Mind-Body distinction. How can Mind and Body be independent entities, yet joined--essentially so--within a single human being? If Mind and Body are really distinct, are human beings merely a "construction"? On the other hand, if we respect the integrity of humans, are Mind and Body merely aspects of a human being and not subjects in and of themselves? For centuries, philosophers have considered this classic philosophical puzzle. Now, in this compact, engaging, and long-awaited work, UCLA philosopher Joseph Almog closely decodes the French philosopher's argument for distinguishing between the human mind and body while maintaining simultaneously their essential integration in a human being. He argues that Descartes constructed a solution whereby the trio of Human Mind, Body, and Being are essentially interdependent yet remain each a genuine individual subject. Almog's reading not only steers away from the most popular interpretations of Descartes, but also represents a scholar coming to grips directly with Descartes himself. In doing so, Almog creates a work that Cartesian scholars will value, and that will also prove indispensable to philosophers of language, ontology, and the metaphysics of mind.

Excerpt

By attending to their different essences, integrative dualism proves dm and db to be numerically distinct. This preserves one of our four major assumptions—(iv) whatness separability—but with a twist because we keep the letter of the assumption but change its spirit. For now, the essence of each of the two subjects is not generic. What dm is is the mind of a man; what db is is the body of a man. Thus dm and db differ in their essential properties. Subjects that differ over properties are two distinct subjects. We conclude that dm and db are numerically distinct. However, are they really distinct? This leads to the remaining three assumptions.

Dm and DB: Complete Subjecthood and
Existence Apart

Whether dm and db are really distinct depends on our understanding of the notion of substance, or complete subject. Suppose we fix on the existential sense of complete subject: a complete subject (substance) is one that can exist all by itself. Thus an existential real distinction between purported subjects A and B demands that at least one of them can exist without the other. in this existential interpretation, integrative dualism denies complete subjecthood to rd, dm, and db. in turn, the pair dm and db (as well as DM-RD and DB-RD) are not existentially really distinct.

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