Sample Essay

The real distinction of body and mind based on their completely diverse natures is the root of the famous mind-body problem: how can these two substances with completely different natures causally interact so as to give rise to a human being capable of having voluntary bodily motions and sensations? (Wilson, 1972)

Princess Elizabeth in her correspondence with Descartes noted this problem and explained it in terms of contact and motion. The main thrust of her argument was that the mind must be able to come into contact with the body in order to cause it to move. It’s argued that contact must occur between two or more surfaces, and, since having a surface is a mode of extension, minds cannot have surfaces. Therefore, bodies cannot come into contact with minds in order to cause some of their parts to move. Furthermore, a similar problem can be found going the other way: for example, how can the motion of particles in the eye, traveling through the optic nerve to the brain cause visual sensations in the mind, if no contact or transfer of motion is possible between the two? (P.Geach & Anscombe, 1971)

This challenges Descartes view that mind and body are two distinct substances, because the actual existence of modes of sensation and voluntary bodily movement indicates that mind and body do causally interact. But the completely different natures of body and mind seem to preclude the possibility of this interaction. Therefore, if this problem cannot be resolved, then it could be used to imply that body and mind are not completely different but they must have something in common in order to facilitate this interaction. Given the argument, it would suggest that the mind is an extended thing capable of having a surface and motion. Therefore, Descartes view that the mind and body are separate entity is not justified. (P.Geach & Anscombe, 1971)

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