Mind-Body Union and the Limits of Cartesian Metaphysics

Philosophers' Imprint 17 (2017)
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Abstract

Human beings pose a problem for Descartes’ metaphysics. They seem to be more than a mere sum of their mental and bodily parts; human beings, Descartes insists, are unions of mind and body. But what does that union amount to? In the first, negative, part of this paper I argue that, by Descartes’ own lights, there is no way for us to answer this question if we are looking for a proper metaphysics of the union. Metaphysics is the job of the intellect; it involves understanding. On Descartes’ considered view, we don’t understand the union; we feel it through the internal senses. In the second, positive, part of the paper I argue that, while Descartes does not give a properly metaphysical account of the union, he does provide a rich phenomenology of it that is of both theoretical and practical interest. Along the way, I suggest a phenomenological reading of a number of important passages that scholars have interpreted as Descartes’ attempt to provide a metaphysics of the union.

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Alison Simmons
Harvard University

Citations of this work

The Feeling of Bodily Ownership.Adam Bradley - 2019 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2):359-379.
Cartesian critters can't remember.Devin Sanchez Curry - 2018 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 69:72-85.
Descartes on Immortality and Animals.Stephen H. Daniel - 2023 - The European Legacy 29 (2):184-198.

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