Objections To Descartes’ Interactionism Essay

1582 words - 6 pages

In the following essay I will be offering some objections to Descartes’ interactionism as is
primarily represented in his works The Passions of the Soul, Part I and Correspondence with
Princess Elisabeth, Concerning the Union of Mind and Body. I will start by describing the basic
features of how Descartes’ notion of interactionism works. Namely, that the pineal gland is the
“principle seat” of the mind because it is the only singular part of the brain. The pineal gland also has a
range of movements, which correspond to the body and to the soul to the capacity that it can be
‘thrusted’ by either the soul or the animal spirits. After describing Descartes’ interactionism, I will offer
three objections that I view to provide legitimate problems for Descartes and either an actual or possible
reply from Descartes. My first objection is that it seems unlikely that there are such varied physical
motions that affect the pineal gland. Much less that these would occur without our ability to hear, feel, or
otherwise detect them. I believe that Descartes might respond to this by saying the movements are too
small to be detected. My second objection asks how an immaterial soul can causally interact with a
material brain within the constraints of our modern conservation of energy laws in physics. Descartes
might reply to this by saying that the soul is so closely united to the body that it can derive the energy
necessary from the body itself. Finally, the third objection I offer comes from the correspondence with
Elisabeth in which she says that a causal interaction must take place by contact and thus the interaction
between a physical and immaterial object seems unlikely. We do have Descartes’ actual response to
this objection, which roughly says that we have examples of causal interaction between two physical
objects, the disanalogy of which is irrelevant because the fact is that the mind and the body are so
closely united, there is no intermediary step to discover.
I will start by giving an account of how Descartes’ interactionism works. Descartes labels the
pineal gland as being the ‘principle seat’ of the soul, which he plainly says is located in the middle of the
brain (Passions, 363). This can be taken to mean that it is the primary location in the brain, or even in
the body, where the soul connects with the body. Within the entire body, he narrows the primary
location of the mind as being within the brain because this is where the senses converge most
immediately. Within the brain, the pineal gland is the only part that does not have a duplicate of itself
within the brain (Passions, 362). Descartes’ idea is that the information, which comes in from the
senses, arrives in doubles and must be united before it reaches the mind. The pineal gland is the optimal
place for this to occur. Descartes goes on to say that the pineal gland has a plethora of physical
movements that are possible so as to correspond to the many movements...

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