The Mind-Body Problem: Dualism Versus Dual Aspect Theory Essay, Research Paper
The mind-body problem, which is still debated even today, raises the question about the relationship between the mind and the body. Theorists, such as Ren? Descartes and Thomas Nagel, have written extensively on the problem but they have many dissenting beliefs. Descartes, a dualist, contends that the mind and body are two different substances that can exist separately. Conversely, Nagel, a dual aspect theorist, contends that the mind and body are not substances but different properties. However, although Nagel illustrates the problems with Descartes= theory, Nagel=s theory runs into the problem of panpsychism. In this paper, both arguments will be discussed to determine which, if either, side is stronger.
The Mind-Body Problem: Dualism Versus Dual Aspect Theory
Perhaps the oldest problem in the philosophy of the mind is the mind body problem. The mind body problem arises from two basic observations: we have minds and we have physical bodies. Descartes and Nagel are philosophers who examined this problem with the intent to learn the true relationship between the mind and body. Although they share this in common, their philosophies differ greatly. Through the examination of each philosopher=s position, this paper will attempt to show how Descartes and Nagel used two different theories, dualism and the dual aspect theory, to satisfy the mind-body problem and which argument is the stronger of the two.
Descartes argued in his AMeditations on First Philosophy@ that the mind is a thinking, non-divisible, non-extended thing and that the body is a non-thinking, divisible, extended thing. In his sixth Meditation, Descartes states A…I have a body with which I am very closely united, nevertheless, since on one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself in so far as I am only a thinking and not an extended being, and since on the other hand I have a distinct idea of body in so far as it is only an extended being which does not think, it is certain that this AI@ …is entirely..distinct from my body and that it can … exist without it@(Descartes 74). Descartes argument for this statement is seen in the following premises:
1) If I can clearly and distinctly distinguish a from b, than I can be certain that a is distinct from b.
2) I can clearly and distinctly distinguish my body from my mind.
3) My mind must be distinct from my body.
Descartes believes that since the mind and the body are two different things, then they can exist separately. This is the theory of dualism.
In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes continues with his discussion about the mind-body problem by addressing the relationship between the mind and body. Descartes states that Anature …teaches me by these feelings of pain, hunger, thirst, and so on that I am not only residing in my body, as a pilot in his ship, but furthermore, that I am intimately connected with it…@(Descartes 76). This relationship is the connection between the physical needs of the body and the mental acknowledgment of those needs. Although the mind and body are blended, the mind is the most essential.
Thomas Nagel approaches the mind body problem in a different manner. Nagel acknowledges that there is a close connection between mental life and the body, but he further questions the origin of our objective and subjective experiences. In response to the dualist theory, Nagel states that AI myself believe that though the truth of dualism of mind and body is conceivable, it is implausible@(Nagel 29). He further states that the main objection to dualism Ais that it postulates an additional, nonphysical substance without explaining how it can support subjective mental states whereas the brain can=t.@ (Nagel 29). Nagel is referring to the inadequate explanation for the complex processes that create mental states and consciousness. Instead, Nagel offers the dual aspect theory to explain the mind-body problem.
Nagel=s dual aspect theory differs from Descartes= theory in that instead of different substances, there are mental and physical properties. These properties or aspects depend on the brain. Nagel is drawn to the dual aspect theory Abecause of the apparent intimacy of the relation between the mental and its physical conditions, and because of a continued attachment to the metaphysics of substance and attribute…@ (Nagel 30). Nagel=s theory is that mental and physical are two properties of physical reality which is effectively neither mental nor physical. It differs with Descartes= dualism because it denies the existence of mental substance and physical substance. However, there are many problems with the dual aspect theory which Nagel freely admits and one of those problems is the possible mistake of Afitting subjective points of view smoothly into a spatiotemporal world of things and processes@ which is what the dual aspect theory is committed to do (Nagel 31).
Because the brain, according to Nagel, has the two aspects of physical and mental, then both the physical and mental depend on the brain. It would make sense, then, that if the brain was divided in half, then both halves would still have mental and physical properties. If you continue dividing in this manner, eventually the brain will be divided into atoms. The atoms, by this example, would also have mental and physical properties. Since atoms are the foundation of everything, this theory would lead us to believe that all matter has mental and physical properties. This is the argument of panpsychism which creates a problem for Nagel=s dual aspect theory.
The problem with panpsychism is that everything including rocks and tables would have mental properties. Nagel addresses this problem as an Aunsettling consequence@ of the dual aspect theory (Nagel 49). However, because Nagel=s argument runs into this problem, his argument loses validity.
Nagel realizes that his argument is not one hundred percent solid and uses his failed argument as a vehicle to address the need for new theories and new progression in the philosophy of the mind. Nagel offers an explanation for why the theories presently employed do not answer all the questions in the following statement:
To insist on trying to explain the mind in terms of concepts and theories that have been devised exclusively to explain nonmental phenomena is, in view of the radically distinguishing characteristics of the mental, both intellectually backward and scientifically suicidal.
Nagel’s argument for the dual aspect theory should be rejected on the basis of panpsychism, but his points about the problem with Descartes= theory of dualism should not be ignored. Nagel=s theory is more effective in explaining the relationship between the mind and the mental states than Descartes. However, neither theory should be fully accepted and the search for an answer to the problem should continue.
According to Nagel, the integrated theory of reality needed in order to solve the mind-body problem probably will not arrive for centuries, but when it does, Ait will alter our conception of the universe as radically as anything has to date@ (Nagel 51). I believe Nagel is right with this statement because not only do we need new Aintellectual tools,@ we also need to avoid limiting ourselves in our search for the true relationship between the mind and the body.
Descartes, Ren?. Meditations on First Philosophy. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1951.
Nagel, Thomas. The View From Nowhere. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.