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Descartes is best known for his renowned theory on the separation between thought and body. This paper will investigate Descartes' argument and explore the issue raised by Princess Elizabeth. Descartes states in his Meditations that there are two types of substances. The first is the body, whose primary attribute is spatial extension, and the second is the mind, or soul. According to Descartes, the basic quality of the mind is that it thinks. These arguments served as the foundation for his substance dualism theory (Rozemond 56).
He claimed that the mind and body were separate processes. According to his view, the body is a machine working according to its own laws. Barring any interference from the mind, this machine proceeds deterministically, in its own right. Any influence from the undetermined mind requires the ‘pulling of levers’ in a determined machine. Descartes concludes that, although the mind and body are distinct, they exist in a two-way causal interaction (Rozemond 58). Events in the mind can, therefore, alter the state of the body. In the same way, functions in the body can induce events in the mind.
In her correspondence with Descartes, Princess Elizabeth famously brought up the problem with mind-body dualism. Her question was based on the interaction between the mind and body. She probed the ability of an immaterial substance to interact with a material substance. She based her query on existing accounts which tied causal efficacy to material extension. She observed that Descartes, in his works, had excluded extension from his notion of the soul (Descartes). Her query was on the ability of the mind to influence the body; not vice versa. Using the machine analogy, her query was principally on ‘how’ the levers were pulled.
Descartes, Rene. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Rene Descartes. University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Rozemond, Marleen. Descartes's Dualism. Cambridge: Havard University Press, 1998.
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