PHILO 25B UC Berkeley René Descartes: The Mind-Body Distinction

timer Asked: Mar 7th, 2019
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  1. First Step: reconstruct the premises and conclusion of the Sixth Meditation argument that there is a real distinction between mind and body. The relevant stretch of text is here:

First, I know that all the things that I clearly and distinctly understand can be made by God such as I understand them. For this reason, my ability clearly and distinctly to understand one thing without another suffices to make me certain that the one thing is different from the other, since they can be separated from each other, at least by God. The question as to the sort of power that might effect such a separation is not relevant to their being thought to be different. For this reason, from the fact that I know that I exist, and that at the same time I judge that obviously nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except that I am a thinking thing, I rightly conclude that my essence consists entirely in my being a thinking thing. And although perhaps (or rather, as I shall soon say, assuredly) I have a body that is very closely joined to me, nevertheless, because on the one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, insofar as I am merely a thinking thing and not an extended thing, and because on the other hand I have a distinct idea of a body, insofar as it is merely an extended thing and not a thinking thing, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body and can exist without it. (Modern Philosophy, p. 64, left column).

  1. Second Step: evaluate this argument.
      1. If you think this is a good argument, you can either 1) offer further support for the argument or 2) present and explain a possible objection to this argument and explain why the objection fails.
      2. If, however, you think this is a bad argument, present an objection to the argument and explain exactly why it succeeds in undermining Descartes’s argument. (For example, you could formulate an objection based on Elisabeth’s worry that Descartes cannot explain how an immaterial mind and a material body can causally interact. If you choose to discuss Elisabeth’s worry, you must refer to what Elisabeth says in her correspondence with Descartes.)

Your paper should be at least 4 (but no more than 5) double-spaced pages. Use 12pt Times (or similar) font and standard (~1 inch) margins.

Make sure to be specific in explaining how the argument works and in evaluating it. If you are giving an objection, say which premise or inference of the argument the objection targets. If you are supporting the argument, make sure it is clear how what you say supports Descartes’s argument. Focus on what is essential, and do not add extraneous details just to make your paper longer.

The only texts you need to complete this assignment are the assigned texts in this class. This is not a research paper requiring the use of secondary materials; rather, this is your chance to work on transforming your own questions and inchoate hunches into arguments.

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