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One of the deepest and most lasting legacies of Descartes’ philosophy is his thesis that mind and body are really distinct–a thesis now called “mind-body dualism.” He reaches this conclusion by arguing that the nature of the mind (that is, a thinking, non-extended thing) is completely different from that of the body (that is, an extended, non-thinking thing), and therefore it is possible for one to exist without the other. This argument gives rise to the famous problem of mind-body causal interaction still debated today: how can the mind cause some of our bodily limbs to move (for example, raising one’s hand to ask a question), and how can the body’s sense organs cause sensations in the mind when their natures are completely different? This article examines these issues as well as Descartes’ own response to this problem through his brief remarks on how the mind is united with the body to form a human being. This will show how these issues arise because of a misconception about Descartes’ theory of mind-body union, and how the correct conception of their union avoids this version of the problem. The article begins with an examination of the term “real distinction” and of Descartes’ probable motivations for maintaining his dualist thesis.
Table of Contents 1. What is a Real Distinction? 2. Why a Real Distinction? 1. The Religious Motivation 2. The Scientific Motivation 3. The Real Distinction Argument 3. The First Version 4. The Second Version 4. The Mind-Body Problem 5. Descartes’ Response to the Mind-Body Problem 6. References and Further Reading 5. Primary…...

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