Mind Body Relationship According To Descartes Philosophy Essay

Mind and what it connotes is the battered offspring of the union of psychology

Soul, mind and body are three important and core subjects under study when discussing the philosophy of human beings. The understanding of the relationship between soul and body has always been a source of concern among philosophers. The existence of soul and justifying mind as a separate entity from brain is never completely understood. The relationship of mind with the body i.e. how the mind controls the body and how changes in the body affect the mind is always been a main issue in studying philosophy of mind. Mind philosophy is a complex subject. Some of the functions of the mind work independently from body. But others do work in collaboration with the body. Philosophers have accomplished variety of studies to understand the actual role and existence of mind that includes if mind is a physical or non-physical matter, if it’s the part of the body or the soul? And other issues like that. Dualism gives a good explanation of all these problems. Though there are objections to it. But it does address all issues of independent working of mind and body.

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Human nature is in turn a complex subject and it is difficult to grasp full knowledge of philosophical explanations of human beings… Descartes used to believe that mind interacts with the brain. Though he used to consider mind as spiritual and immaterial and brain as spatial. This paper discusses why human nature and human being have problematic philosophical explanations and how mind-body relationship makes it complex and difficult to understand.

The philosophy of mind gives a contemporary view of the entity mind or soul. The contemporary views do accept soul as an independent existent. The main concern of the contemporary approach is also to understand the relationship between the physical working of brain and states of mind. My theoretical outlook for the problem stated would be dualism. According to which mind is a non-physical entity and it can exist separately from the body.

In this essay firstly I will explain the phenomenal features of human experience which differentiate them with other living things. The power of intelligence and consciousness produces such features. Then in the light of theories and philosophies presented by renowned philosophers such as Aristotle and Descartes, I will analyze these phenomenal features in the context of soul-body relationship. After this, a brief explanation of the concept of dualism will be presented which will serve as a theoretical outlook for this paper in discussion ahead. With the help of dualism I will explain these features. Then, there will be a brief explanation of a major objection to the concept of dualism and that is how mind and body communicate with each other? I will try to justify my response over this objection in the next part. Then I will conclude the paper having all important points.

There are some features of human beings which differentiate them from other living things. With the thinking power, use of intelligence and intellect and consciousness has give human beings the power to rule the world. These phenomenal features are the most important characteristics of human mind. It’s charismatic that how human mind is capable of producing all these emotions with exceptional brilliance. I will explain some of these phenomenal features.

Reason is one of the phenomenal features of human being through which. With the help of this a person can draw results from the given data or observations and can make hypothesis and assumptions. Moreover, one can support its argument through reasoning. Reflection is a process depending upon thinking; augmenting and analyzing one own self. It’s more of spiritual phenomena where one examines one’s own conduct, feelings and actions. Emotion means the mood, feel, temperament, attitude, state of mind and heart over certain action or happening. It mostly is a part of one’s personality. Motivation is a very important part of emotion. Abstraction (as discussed in the course) is a thought process which includes ideas on a general level. More general and common features or details are put together and specific details and features are left out. It involves a process of classification.

Faith is one of the very strong phenomenal feature of human being. It requires a process of events and mental activity and thought process to finally able to develop faith over a certain phenomena or understanding. Socrates believed in transcendentalism and he believed that each human being is like a spark of the over soul. He also thinks that soul will be separated by the body just in case of death and it is kind of a form. ‘Faith’ was the head start of the discussion of our course. Understanding and wondering which reasons and miracles had made us believe in God? The example of two places which had a bridge in between them is great in emphasizing faith. A person will cross even an unbalanced bridge if he has faith in his constructor, but he will never cross the bridge if it’s perfectly fine and has no belied a faith in its constructor. So we see that courage is the outcome of faith. And faith is achieved by different reasons. In fact every human being has his own reasons for faith. The idea of Skinner on PFHE is hopeless; it is not deliberately true that we do everything by aiming at some benefit. It’s not verified in every case. We see that naturalism has been derived from metaphysical realism. Moral valuation is a study of approach, direction and way in which or through which human beings believe and develop some kind of values or beliefs. Human beings does compare things and make a choice, this behavior is valuation. The techniques to inquire investigate and acquire new aspects, information and knowledge by gathering observations, collecting evidences, making hypothesis and then proving certain hypothesis is called scientific inquiry. The emotion, urge of human being to explore, investigate, inquire and learn more about a certain thing is called curiosity. It’s the driving force of advancement in science and technology.

Many philosophers explained unique features of human beings through different concepts and tried to develop a connection between these features and working of the body. Aquinas used the natural theology; I still recall the long debate on natural and revealed theology. But I think Aquinas was true to some extent on proving the existence of God by the means of the natural processes and nature itself. The “First Mover” theory can be taken into account too. While if we see St. Thomas we will come to know that being a Christian he declined Aristotle points of views. He thought that God is actually a cause for all the natural things that had happened.

Aristotle gave the philosophy of Hylomorphism, according to which soul is something which makes a body alive. Soul is a set of properties; a form….such as glass is the form of water in it. According to Aristotle soul is related to body as a form of matter. So whatever phenomenal features of human being are that are the characteristic of body because soul is the part of the body which is accomplishing all these phenomenal features. Aristotle explained the unity of soul and body, both needs each other to work.

Descartes gave the philosophy of dualism, according to which mind is a separate existence from brain and is a non-physical entity. All these phenomenal features are part of mind. He was first to identify mind with consciousness, awareness and intelligence. According to him brain is a material substance which is a part of body but mind exists separately from the body. The mind according to Descartes was a non-material entity. And he considered body as an extended and non-thinking thing. He argued that mind can exist apart from its extended body. And therefore mind is not a part of the body, it’s a different substance. Because the essence of mind is in the power of thinking. the actual idea behind his philosophy is that mind and body can interact. He argued that only humans have minds. Animals do not have minds. They lack the feature of self-consciousness. Living things can have three grades of sensation: physical, conscious, self-conscious. According to Descartes animals and human have only first sensation in common and that is physical. For example if an animal has felt a sensation e.g., the only possible reactions would be physical like dancing, screaming etc. But they will not consciously feel anything because they lack understanding of mind.

Jean- Paul Sartre presented the philosophy of Existentialism. According to this philosophy an individual is responsible for its existence and for the standard/quality of life he is living. Sartre did justice with his opinion about the individuality of human beings. Sartre’s example of animal and plant was the most amazing of all. He distinguishes animals and plants from human beings by saying them unconscious and more mechanically operated things. It supports the phenomena of Atheism. This philosophy justifies that human being is responsible for its own actions despite of the obstacles in life.

Now, I will explain the phenomenal features of human beings in the light of dualism.

Dualism is an approach which basic idea resides upon the fact that mind is a non-physical matter i.e. it is not a part of the brain. It is non-physical. Many philosophers worked on dualism but a more famous version of dualism was given by Rene Descartes who maintained that mind is a non-physical thing. According to this mind is not a part of brain. According to Descartes mind is a thinking thing. We can take the example of container to elaborate it. Consider human being as a container which has body and brain in it along with a SEPARATE non-physical mind. Mind thinks, hopes, believes and have the consciousness and intelligence to deal with situations. Moreover Descartes argued that mind is a separate non-physical entity which can exist without the body.

Phenomenal features of human beings can be well explained through Dualism.

All the phenomenal features explained above are states of mind which are attributes of a non-physical matter. A physical matter cannot think, reason, and argue. These feelings of curiosity, believes, enquiring, emotion and reflection are the products of mind. Mind is the force which pushes the body to work to learn more about a certain thing. For example a person read something, it always has some effects on his/her mind. Mind will ponder about that subject and ideas are built through it, which as a result produces curiosity to learn more. And scientific inquiry takes place to reach to a certain solution. And the mind develops values and believes on the basis of the observations and results around it. And all these features of human being which are related to awareness, consciousness and intelligence are the products of mind. Mind is the one producing and operating them. If dualism is not true then mind is only the physical brain. Then in this situation we cannot think of a material substance to possess the qualities of consciousness which is the central ingredient for possessing phenomenal features. We cannot then expect features like consciousness, emotions, curiosity, sensations, desires, beliefs etc. So there has to be something which is responsible for these behaviors, and that is mind which is not material and which is a non-physical substance.

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Interactionism is a view of dualists, which can explain well these phenomenal features which occur as an interaction of mind and body. Thomas is said to be the symbolic founder of interactionism. Thomas thought that people were not exclusively controlled by the socialism and social pressures. Mental states always have this link with physical states. When we see something, we use our eyes and eyes send message to mind which invokes some kind of emotion, action or feeling.

If a person has got an injury, he will feel pain and he will cry for help. And if somebody hears him, he will experience an emotion to reach for help. So the process continues with the series of interactions. And we can see the example of a sailor and a ship. The sailor can feel the bruise he has on his hands but he can’t actually feel the pain when the ship is damaged or broken.

There is also some objection for this school of philosophy. One of the major objections is casual interaction. A major objection to this view is that how mind interacts with the body i.e. how physical states interact or send a message to mental states and vice versa. If mind is a non-physical matter then how it is interacting with a physical matter. There is no explanation to this.

When a person is injured, how the message is transferred toward mind which as a results cause the state of pain. When mind is not a part of body then how this communication is working? Obviously, we assume there will be a series of events which will finally let this pain feeling happen. There will be nerves playing around sending the message finally to the brain. But then how brain (a physical matter) will send or transfer this message to mind (a non-physical matter). That is a very big question mark?

Descartes himself did not have a proper answer to this problem. His meditations which we have elaborately studied in this course have revealed to us many of his point of views. He says that we can doubt all the things and he considers mind as indivisible and body as divisible. He was of the view that this interaction of soul and body or mind and body is through PINEAL GLAND, which is a gland in human brain. He says how the idea of a ruling absolute power exists in our minds? Thus he says that we distinctly perceive. All he was trying to do was to prove the immortality of the soul. He maintained that casual interaction is taking place through pineal gland. But this is not a very good explanation. Again the problem is same, how a non-material mind is interacting with pineal gland (which obviously is a physical matter). Some of Descartes’ students, ef Arnold Geulincx adopted a different frame of mind for this problem. And I find that solution very satisfactory. According to Arnold that all these mind-body interactions are a result of direct intervention of God. So, when God wants, these interactions happen otherwise not. These interactions are not because of a certain mechanism or through some medium; they happen and occur when there is God’s will. Only God knows how it works, he is responsible for this stimulation.

Human body and human nature is a very complex subject. The human nature cannot be understood easily. There are phenomenal features of human beings which differs them from other living things and those phenomenal features have convinced us that there is something non-physical in human body which is responsible for these phenomenal features. Dualism answers some of such questions and consider mind a non-physical entity responsible for such features and it is a separate entity from brain. But a major objection to dualism is that how mind interacts with the body? What is the medium of communication between a physical and non-physical matter? And a satisfactory answer would be that God is above all. The interaction between mind and body is dependent on God. And may be only he knows and he is responsible for such bizarre communication.


. At some deep level we dearly love and cherish it and see behind its surface great potential but, because of our own inadequacies, we continuously abuse t, harshly and abruptly pummeling it for imagined excesses, and occasionally even lock it away in some dark closet where we cannot hear its insistent whines.

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The history of the use of the term reveals two conflicting impulses: the tendency to treat mind as a metaphysical mechanistic system, and the tendency to view it as convenient biological metaphor representing the manifestation of the, still not understood, neurophysiologic processes of the brain. The following are the more important and common uses of the term and this basic conflict can be seen in all.

Mind as the totality of hypothesized mental processes and acts that may serve as explanatory devices for psychological data. In recent years this has become the dominant use of the term. Here, mental components are hypothesized because they have, in the proper theoretical frame, considerable explanatory power. Of interest here is the reluctance, even refusal, of about the neurophysiological structures to which it might relate. The focus is typically on the effectiveness of the hypothesized model of mind to explain- not merely studies. The most frequent users of this meaning are workers in artificial intelligence, modern cognitive psychologists and several schools of philosophy, e.g. functionalism.

Mind as the totality of the conscious and unconscious mental experiences of an individual organism (usually although not always, a human organism). Actually, this use represents an effort to avoid the above-mentioned metaphysical problem but it produces a because of the confusion over how to characterize consciousness. Often even those with a behavioristic approach will “back door” themselves into speculating about mind in this fashion but they will invariably replace consciousness with behaviors and acts.

Mind as a collection of processes. Probably the next most commonly held view, the argument here is that the several processes generally studied under the rubrics of perception and cognition collectively constitute mind. Here, there is no real effort to define; only to enumerate and to seek to understand those processes enumerated.

Mind as equivalent to brain. This position which goes back to William James must in the final analysis be true. Its major liability, about brain function. As a result, it is philosophical position.

Mind as an emergent property. The argument here is that of emergentism, that when a biological system reaches a point of sufficient complexity and organizational structure mind emerges.

Mind as a list of synonyms. For example, psyche, soul, self etc. Nothing is gained by this use and the definitional problems are compounded.

Mind as intelligence. Really only a colloquial use of the term as in phrases like, “She has a good mind”.

Mind as a characteristic or trait. Also used nontechnical as in phrases like, “the mind of an artist”, or “the Northern European mind”.

‘The Brain’, no discussion can be complete without mentioning the experiment of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936). Ivan Pavlov and his followers showed, unconditioned and conditioned reflexes of the brain underlie mental activity. When external objects act on the nerve endings of the sense organs, strictly determined bioelectric impulses are sent to the brain via the nervous system. They evoke a number of complexes physic-chemical changes during which the impulse (signal) received is changed and evokes a response reaction of the organism. The brain, on the bais of this signal, sends a response impulse to the corresponding internal organs or locomotory organs, causing the most purposive action. When an animal sees food it secretes saliva, when a human touches a very hot object, he instantaneously withdraws his hand. The process is known as an unconditioned reflex or instinct.


One of the classical metaphysical issues concerning the relationship between that which is mental and that which is physical. The issue has its origins in the ancient dualism of Plato and since then many “solutions” to the problem have been offered; the major ones, classified according to whether they are dualisms, monisms or compromises, follows;


Interactionism, where in mind and body are assume to be separate acting and mutually influencing each other.

Psychophysicalism (or parallelism), wherein mind and body are treated as two distinct, independent, but perfectly correlated elements.


Despite the obviousness of this problem, and the amount of attention given to it, Descartes himself never took this issue very seriously. His response to Gassendi is a telling example:

These questions presuppose amongst other things an explanation of the union between the soul and the body, which I have not yet dealt with at all. But I will say, for your benefit at least, that the whole problem contained in such questions arises simply from a supposition that is false and cannot in any way be proved, namely that, if the soul and the body are two substances whose nature is different, this prevents them from being able to act on each.

So, Descartes’ response to the mind-body problem is twofold.

First, Descartes contends that a response to this question presupposes an explanation of the union between the mind (or soul) and the body.

Second, Descartes claims that the question itself stems from the false presupposition that two substances with completely different natures cannot act on each other. Further examination of these two points will occur in reverse order.

Descartes’ principles of causation put forward in the Third Meditation lie at the heart of this second presupposition. The relevant portion of this discussion is when Descartes argues that the less real cannot cause something that is more real, because the less real does not have enough reality to bring about something more real than itself. This principle applies on the general level of substances and modes. On this account, an infinite substance, that is, God, is the most real thing because only he requires nothing else in order to exist; created, finite substances are next most real, because they require only God’s creative and conservative activity in order to exist; and finally, modes are the least real, because they require a created substance and an infinite substance in order to exist. So, on this principle, a mode cannot cause the existence of a substance since modes are less real than finite substances. Similarly, a created, finite substance cannot cause the existence of an infinite substance. But a finite substance can cause the existence of another finite substance or a mode (since modes are less real than substances). Hence, Descartes’ point could be that the completely diverse natures of mind and body do not violate this causal principle, since both are finite substances causing modes to exist in some other finite substance. This indicates further that the “activity” of the mind on the body does not require contact and motion, thereby suggesting that mind and body do not bear a mechanistic causal relation to each other. More will be said about this below.

The first presupposition concerns an explanation of how the mind is united with the body. Descartes’ remarks about this issue are scattered across both his published works and his private correspondence. These texts indicate that Descartes did not maintain that voluntary bodily movements and sensation arise because of the causal interaction of mind and body by contact and motion. Rather, he maintains a version of the form-matter theory of soul-body union endorsed by some of his scholastic-Aristotelian predecessors and contemporaries. Although a close analysis of the texts in question cannot be conducted here, a brief summary of how this theory works for Descartes can be provided.

Before providing this summary, however, it is important to disclaim that this scholastic-Aristotelian interpretation is a minority position amongst Descartes scholars. The traditional view maintains that Descartes’ human being is composed of two substances that causally interact in a mechanistic fashion. This traditional view led some of Descartes’ successors, such as Malebranche and Leibniz (who also believed in the real distinction of mind and body), to devise metaphysical systems wherein mind and body do not causally interact despite appearances to the contrary. Other philosophers considered the mind-body problem to be insurmountable, thereby denying their real distinction: they claim that everything is either extended (as is common nowadays) or mental (as George Berkeley argued in the 18th century). Indeed, this traditional, mechanistic interpretation of Descartes is so deeply ingrained in the minds of philosophers today, that most do not even bother to argue for it. However, a notable exception is Marleen Rozemond, who argues for the incompatibility of Descartes’ metaphysics with any scholastic-Aristotelian version of mind or soul-body union. Those interested in closely examining her arguments should consult her book Descartes’s Dualism. A book arguing in favor of the scholastic-Aristotelian interpretation is entitled Descartes and the Metaphysics of Human Nature.


Rene Descartes’ theory of Dualism is the most important dualistic theory in the history of philosophy. According to Descartes mind and body are totally different from each other. Body does not depend on mind and also mind does not depend on body. One’s nature does not present on other. The necessary nature of the body is extension and body is passive. But the necessary nature of the mind is consciousness, active and independent.

According to Descartes’ consciousness is present only within human mind. It does not present in stone, wood like this kind of matter and not even animal also. Descartes’ thinks that human mind and body can never mix with each other. Mind lodged in body as a totally separate substance . And for this kind of lodged -relationship human can control their bodily movement as they want.

According to Descartes’ body is like a machine and mind is like a controller of that machine.

Here Descartes gives an example ,,

The relation between mind and body is not like the relation between ship and the captain of the ship. Mind -body relation is a very close relation. Because if the ship damage or destroy, the captain does not feel any pain. But if there is any kind of pain in the human body, then it is painful for human mind also. So, we have to accept that mind body relation is a very close relation.

Now Descartes’ talking about interactionism.

Here he says that, in our daily life we can realize sometimes mind effect on body and sometimes body effect on mind. Sometimes mental activities causes bodily changes and sometimes bodily activity causes mental changes.

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Like , if mind is upset or disturb the strength of the body is down. And if mind is happy the strength of the body is grown up. Here mind is the cause of bodily changes. Likewise, if the body is ill then the thinking power of the mind is down automatically. And if the body is well then the thinking power of the mind will grow automatically.

To describe all of these kinds of actions we need to accept the theory of interactionism.

But if we follow Descartes’ dualism and take mind and body as a separate and opposite substance then this kind of interactionism is never possible. Because if there is no similarity between two things then no relation can possible between them. Because there must be a quantitative balance and qualitative resemblance between cause and effect.

Descartes’ first take mind and body separate and opposite substance. And break all the relation between them. But after that he himself again mention about interactionism.

Descartes’ has to face many problem for this kind of thinking. Because how can it would be possible to create any relation between two opposite kind of substance?

Here Descartes’ solve the problem in two different ways. –

1. In case of mind-body relation Descartes’ talking only about the ‘relation of coexistence’ and the constitutive unity but not the ‘unity of nature’. According to Descartes’ – if there is any constitutive unity then body and mind do not interact through their nature, the interact as an attachment of two separate object and through this interaction their distinctness do not change.

2. in the book of ‘the passions of the soul’ Descartes’ says that, the relation between mind and body is not with the each and every part of the body. This relation is only with the pineal gland of the brain. This pituitary gland or pineal gland is the main and only gland for the relation of interactionism. Physical changes directly effect to the pineal gland and it is the cause of mental changes. Likewise mental think or mental will directly effect to the pineal gland. And this is the cause of physical changes. In the book of ‘the passions of the soul’ Descartes’ tell this small gland ‘seat of animal spirit’. Body and mind effect on each other through this gland.

So, according to Descartes’ the interactionism between two opposite kind of objects can happen indirectly with the help of the pineal gland.


There are many criticism of Descartes’ interactionism.

Descartes’ mention ‘constitutive unity`, but in this unity the nature of mind and body does not change- this solution is not acceptable. Because if there is any constitutive unity between two separate substance, then there must be some changes in their nature.

Descartes’ accept the relation between mind and pineal gland. But the acceptation of only pineal gland without body could not solve the problem. It only replace the proble from one place to another. Mind influences pineal gland directly. This implies mind influences body because pineal gland is the part of the body.

According to the casual rule of natural science interactionism or cause – effect relation is not possible between two opposite kind of things like mind and body. The rule is that there must be some kind of quantitative balance and qualitative resemblance between cause and effect.

The theory of interactionism about mind and body ignore ‘the law of conservation of energy’. According to this law the total energy of this material-world is constant. It only change from one form to another.

But if we follow the interactionism we have to accept that when body effect on mind, some sort of bodily energy store into mind and total bodily energy (material energy) decreases and vice-versa.

So, it ignore the rule of ‘the law of conservation of energy’.

If we take mind as a separate substance from material body, we have to face those two problems —

a) The problem of identification.

b) The problem of individuation.

Because if conscious mind is invisible and untouchable, then how can we identify mind ? ( As conscious mind can not be situated in space ).

And identification is not possible then individuation is also not possible .

So, it is totally meaningless to accept mind totally separate from body.

If there is nothing like mind except body, the problem of interactionism about mind and body will be a meaningless problem.

Descartes’ says that extension is the ‘necessary nature’ of matter. But it is not acceptable by modern scientist like, Lord Belfour, James jeans, Eddington and others. In modern science immaterializing the matter become possible. Matter is not a mere, extensive, solid substance.

If we analyze matter, we will get some kind of energy like – electron and proton at the last part of the division. And if energy is the main thing of the world then Descartes’ dualism is not acceptable. Because there s nothing like extendable matter.


We can never deny the existence of mind. Only mind can deny mind, so that mind s establish. And we cannot deny the relation between mind and body in a very simple way. In our everyday experience we can feel that there is a cause-effect relation between mind and body.


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