[Wittrs] How to Diagnose Cartesian Dualism

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 13:23:20 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Joseph Polanik <jPolanik@...> wrote:
> logically, showing 'T & -C' refutes 'T -> C'; meaning, if you ever find
> someone who is not a Cartesian dualist but who thinks that consciousness
> is not reducible to non-conscious constituents, then your premise is
> refuted.
> you've already admitted that Searle does not subscribe to the key
> element of Cartesian dualism that Dennett pointed out: belief in an
> immortal soul that accounts for understanding (or consciousness).

The problem with your view is you equate Dennett's use of "Cartesian dualism" 
(which I've referenced) with a formal doctrine as espoused by a particular 
individual via a series of very specific tenets, i.e., a formal philosophical 
thesis, whereas I (and Dennett) am clearly referring to a particular aspect of 
Descartes' philosophy, the part that has to do with how mind is conceived.

You seem intent on claiming that, by asserting that Searle's views are 
consistent with Cartesian dualism, understood in the latter sense, I really 
mean (or must logically mean) that Searle is a follower of Descartes.

Of course that isn't what I have claimed and it is quite irrelevant to what 
I've claimed and if you were being intellectually honest here you would 
acknowledge that. Instead you persist in this kind of definitional game playing 
which only serves to blow smoke.

> so you're premise is false (unless of course you arbitrarily redefine
> 'Cartesian Dualist' to suit yourself.
> [... wait for it ...]

Note that it is you who have redefined "Cartesian dualism" to "suit yourself". 
Dennett's use is quite clear and so is mine in referencing his. Let's briefly 
review the genesis of this latest exchange:

I claimed that Searle was implicitly dualist in his CRA and you claimed I was 
failing to distinguish between different categories of dualism and that I 
really meant that Searle was a property dualist which he was on record as 
denying, therefore he wasn't and my claim was mistaken.

I said a claim of implicitness did not hinge on his acknowledging it and that I 
wasn't calling him a property dualist at all but someone who considered 
consciousness to be ontologically basic (irreducible to anything unlike itself) 
which equated to what you called "substance dualism" (a term I preferred to 
eschew because of its archaic connotations).

You claimed that if Searle were a substance dualist there would be evidence of 
that and I claimed there was in his argument itself if one examined it closely 
and that even Dennett noticed that.

At which point, you claimed Dennett had never ascribed substance dualism to 
Searle and challenged me to demonstrate he had.

I did so by transcribing onto this list text from his Consciousness Explained 
in which he explicitly proposed that it takes a "Cartesian dualist" to reach 
the conclusion Searle reaches in his CRA. (Descartes is, famously, recognized 
to have been a "substance dualist".)

You initially questioned Dennett's claim since he doesn't explicitly link it to 
Searle in any particular sentence but then quickly dropped that in favor of 
accusing someone (at first it seemed to be Dennett but then you said, no, it 
was me) of making a fallacious claim on the grounds that one could think what I 
had ascribed to Searle and still be other than a Cartesian dualist.

I responded that neither I nor Dennett had ever asserted that "only" a 
Cartesian dualist could hold the view in question, but just that Cartesian 
dualists did hold those views.

You then claimed that since, Searle did not subscribe to the full panoply of 
tenets held by Descartes, he could not be called a "Cartesian dualist" at all 
(where we currently are).

I replied that the use of that term, "Cartesian dualist", is clearly intended 
to designate someone who shares with Descartes a particular picture of what the 
mind is and how it fits into the world; it does NOT imply a claim that Searle, 
or anyone so designated, necessarily subscribes to the full court doctrine 
espoused by Descartes.

So, as usual, we have come a long way from the original point and only added 
smoke to the picture in the process, rather than clarifying things.

If we go back to the original point, you are plainly wrong because Dennett does 
do what you say he doesn't (ascribe to the CRA an implicit premise of what you 
like to call "substance dualism" and which he calls "Cartesian dualism") in his 
actual text. Moreover, your claim of a "fallacy" is also wrong since no one 
asserted the "only" part of the claim which you wrongly interpolated into it in 
order to claim a fallacy had occurred.

And here we are, now a long way off, arguing over whether an asciption of 
"Cartesian dualism" must necessarily be taken to imply a complete espousal of 
the philosophy of Descartes or just a core element of his thought which has 
persisted in many forms through the history of western philosophy down to the 
present day.

Do you see anything wrong with this kind of silly game which moves from one 
thing to another, no matter how far afield, while forgetting what was 
originally at issue? (Below I have offered a few on-line links that may help to 
remind you that an ascription of "Cartesian dualism" is not always, or 
necessarily, an ascription of disciplehood with regard to Descartes.

>  >That's false, Joe. I don't have to claim Searle subscribes to
>  >Descartes' complete philosophy to assert that he is wedded to the same
>  >picture of mind that Descartes was (and which has the name of Cartesian
>  >dualism in the western philosophical tradition). Nor does Dennett, who
>  >makes the same point I have been making.
> well, then, the question is: how much of Descartes philosophy can
> someone reject and still be a Cartesian dualist?

Or, rather, does someone have to be a follower of the philosophy of Descartes 
to be classed as a Cartesian dualist in his or her conception of mind?

> here are the distinctive features of Descartes' actual philosophy
> relevant to the points at issue:
> * there are two experiencer independent substances that are each
> independent of the other but which interact.
> * the human is the conjunction of an element of each substance --- ie is
> (or has) a body and a soul.
> * the soul survives the death of the body with its memories intact.
> * three property sets (a person has one set of properties deriving from
> the body, another deriving from the soul and the third from the
> interaction of body and soul).

> since you've classified Searle as a 'Cartesian dualist', I'm wondering
> how many of these principles does Searle accept, in your opinion?

As already noted, I am not talking of the complete philosophy of Descartes and 
have been quite explicit about that so pretending I am (or that I have to be) 
is mere rhetorical ploy.

> more generally, I'm wondering how many of them a philosopher can reject
> and still be a 'Cartesian dualist' according to your premise 1 (becaue
> they believe that "consciousness cannot be broken down to
> non-conscious constituents")?
> Joe

Maybe some of this will help clarify for you just what an ascription of 
"Cartesian dualism" represents:


"A generally well-known version of dualism is attributed to René Descartes 
(1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes was the 
first to clearly identify the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and to 
distinguish this from the brain, which was the seat of intelligence. Hence, he 
was the first to formulate the mind-body problem in the form in which it exists 

"The central claim of what is often called Cartesian dualism, in honour of 
Descartes, is that the immaterial mind and the material body, while being 
ontologically distinct substances, causally interact."


"Cartesian dualism was Descartes's principle of the separation of mind and 
matter and mind and body. The mind, according to Descartes, was a 'thinking 
thing', and an immaterial substance. This 'thing' was the essence of himself, 
the part that doubts, believes, hopes, and so on. The body is a material 


"Descartes' famous saying summed up the dualism concept 'cogito ergo sum,' 'I 
reflect therefore I am.' Descartes believed that the immaterial mind and the 
material body are two completely different things. They are not one. That is 
why they function differently. They can only interact with each other but not 
be one."

Here are Cliff's Notes on this. Perhaps they'll help you:


"It's important to remember that, for Descartes, the brain and the mind are not 
the same thing. The brain serves, in part, as a connection between the mind and 
the body, but because it is a physical, changeable thing, it is not the actual 
mind. Man's mind is whole and indivisible, whereas his body can be changed. You 
can cut your hair, remove your appendix, or even lose a limb, but that loss in 
no way reduces your mind."

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