Dualism of Descartes against Plato’s dualism in `Republic` Compare and Contrast

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Dualism of Descartes against Plato’s dualism in `Republic`


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Initially, the Greek philosopher Plato is considered to be the main supporter of dualism. Dualism is related to his theory of the eternity of the soul, as conveyed in Republic. Plato put forward not only the idea of a life after death however an existence of the soul before it becomes a single whole with the body. He considered human’s body to be positive however also to be a certain thing that hinders the soul’s yearning for good and nice. Paralleled to the attractiveness and pleasure of the existence out of the body, material embodiment is like a jail:

Things have functions or excellences [arête]– carving knives, pruning knives, etc. The soul’s function is that of “taking care of things,” ruling,” and “living.” “…a bad soul rules and takes care of things badly and a good soul does all these things well.”  The good soul, in effect, “lives well.” Can the unjust man live well?  The just man is happy and “profits” from his justice, the unjust man is miserable (Plato 33).

Many of philosophers evolved and analyzed the Plato’s idea of body and soul. The Christian head Augustine of Hippo evolved a Platonic pattern of Christianity, declining several of philosopher’s convictions (Augustine turned down pre-natal reality and Plato’s outlook of the sacred as the only reality) however supporting his dualism and the supremacy of the positive. Plato and Descartes arguments on dualism are distinct; however, while it appears that Descartes argument is more cogent because it is based on clear self-analysis while Plato’s argument is based on pure assumptions of his perfect society, Descartes argument is ultimately also based on assumption and thus no more cogent than Plato’s.

The arguments of Sixth Meditation

In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes provides an idea related to the dualism of mind and body. This main idea is the following: they are extremely different. The philosopher states that body and mind are separate and that the mind is a simply nonphysical. Descartes’ contention endeavors to demonstrate and prove that the mind exists as something absolutely separate and different from the body and can exist independently. This is the idea that is distinct or extremely new from the ideas of Plato who simply made a separation but did not state that the mind (soul) must be absolutely separate. He stated that the soul is the main, superior thing in comparison to the body.

Descartes wants to convince that the mind and body are separate. In order to do that he makes several conclusions. First, as the mind and the body can be considered as apparently independent from each other. Thus, if the God can originate certain thing apparently and without any possible opposition, this thing appears to be metaphysically probable.

Then Philosopher continues to state that he can think of himself living simply as a thinking creature without the material embodiment. Moreover, he thinks of his material embodiment as an independent thing disparate to thinking. Thus it is really possible that the mind to be separate from the body. As an outcome, the body is not absolutely crucial to the mind and the mind is not absolutely crucial to the body; they are completely separate things.

The grounds of the arguments

Descartes’ prescribed causes for making the mind and body independent from each other is that he questions the reality of one without questioning the reality of the other. Thus, when the person demises, he is still living through his mind. The philosopher starts his analysis of mind not taking into account the things that he is doubtful about:

As to arguments that used to convince me of the truth of sensible things, I found no difficulty responding to them. For since I seemed driven by nature toward many things about which reason tried to dissuade me, I did not think that what I was taught by nature deserved much credence. And even though the perceptions of the senses did not depend on my will, I did not think that we must therefore conclude that they carry from things distinct from me, since perhaps there is some faculty in me, as yet unknown to me, that produces these perceptions (Descartes 50).

After this mental purifying the philosopher is left just with what he believes in. Then, Descartes says that some existence should be making this questioning, and assertions that this existence is his mind. Descartes sets up a difference between body and mind.

 Descartes comes over with the idea that body and mind have no common features, as the body can’t take part in thinking, the mind’s primary concern. Moreover, mind and body are not mutually dependent; mind is able to exist without the body. However, Descartes is sure that “the mind begins to think as soon as it is implanted in the body of an infant”. Really the body is not need by the self-examination. Only self examination can save a person from disarray, or uncertainty. The existence that is not connected to mind is usually connected to uncertainty. One will not say with certainty that other minds actually present (Descartes).

Descartes finishes the sixth meditation by considering one of the head causes for his questioning in meditation one, making focus on the idea that there are no certain indications to make one sure if he is aroused or dreaming. The philosopher states:

I now notice that there is a considerable difference between these two; dreams are never joined by the memory with all the other actions of life, as is the case with those actions that occur when one is awake.” When one is dreaming things seems disordered and haphazard at the same time as when you are aroused, everything is logic and related to each other. Thus, since God is flawless, one and the philosopher himself can be certain about the fact that he is not deceived (Descartes103).

The detailed analysis of the argument

Later the argument was analyzed by the philosopher deeper:

[T]here is a great difference between the mind and the body, inasmuch as the body is by its very nature always divisible, while the mind is utterly indivisible. For when I consider the mind, or myself in so far as I am merely a thinking thing, I am unable to distinguish any parts within myself; I understand myself to be something quite single and complete….By contrast, there is no corporeal or extended thing that I can think of which in my thought I cannot easily divide into parts; and this very fact makes me understand that it is divisible. This one argument would be enough to show me that the mind is completely different from the body….(Descartes 59)

This statement is explained in the following way:

1. I recognize the mind to be naturally indivisible.

2. I recognize body to be naturally divisible.

3. Consequently, the mind is totally distinct from the body.


Actually both Plato and Descartes failed to give the clear explanation of their ideas of dualism: Plato’s body and soul and Descartes mind and soul. The difference is that Plato’s point of view is more understandable for the reader of his theory, he is idealistic as well as his ideas about the soul and life of just and unjust men discussed in Republic. When we are reading Plato everything is clear for us. It can’t be said the same about Descartes: he is more materialistic and his philosophy is a bit vague. However, while Descartes’ points of view for dualism are rather vague, it is rather easy to make clear the main point. As it was said by Descartes, mind and body are completely separate kinds of material that cooperate with each other. Mind states aren’t an element of the world exposed by the sciences, and consequently, for example, they can’t be reduced to definite processes happening in the mind Such argument of Descartes leaves a lot of spaces to be worked over by other philosophers.


Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated by Donald A. Cress.

Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.

Plato, Republic translated by G.M.A Grube, revised by C.D.C. Reeve. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 1992.


Burges, George; Plato. The Republic; The Statesman of Plato. New York: M. Walter Dunne, 1901.

Bloom, Allan. The Republic of Plato. New York: New York Press, 1991.


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Dualism of Descartes against Plato’s dualism in `Republic` Compare and Contrast. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from


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