What is Dualism? | Descartes
Your body is not a stranger, and it’s impossible to view it objectively. Hold out your hands and look at them. Do you see them as you would see a painting or a photo? Or, if you can, look at someone else’s hands. Do you see them like yours? Of course, you don’t. We are intimately bound to our bodies, and wherever our thoughts might live, they’re always couched within our unique, personal, body.
This is one of many things Descartes considers in his Meditations and on examing it one could note that his Dualism is more sophisticated than many might (mis)represent.
Early in Descartes’ work, he says that the mind is a “thinking thing” that is not extended in any dimension, yet our bodies are extended i.e. they occupy space. This is enough to conclude that the “Mind of man is entirely different from the body.”This is usually interpreted as “substance dualism” – where we have a mental life, and physical life, and we’re left to scratch our heads about how the two interact. But Descartes was not a genius for nothing, and it’s a bit more complicated.
In one famous passage, Descartes challenges this view. He says that “I am not merely present in my body as a sailor is present in a ship”. The mind does not just exist as some lofty monarch, commanding its lowly body. Rather, our minds are “intermingled” with our bodies and “form a unit”.They’re not so much oil and water, but more salt and water.
If the mind and body were truly separate, then we’d look at any damage done to the body with the dispassionate eye of a sailor viewing their ship. If we were cut, we’d say, “oh, look at the torn flesh and pouring blood”. But this is ridiculous. When we’re cut, we feel pain, we scream and we’re engaged with our body intensely. It’s the single and complete apparatus by which we can engage with the world.