Dualism is a philosophical belief that states the universe consists of two distinct and mutually exclusive entities: the mind and the body. This theory asserts a complete separation between the mental and physical realms. Socrates and Plato, often classified as dualists, contend that the mind and body are separate substances.
Both Socrates and Descartes propose that the mind and body, although distinct, have an interaction between them. The mind is conscious but non-spatial, while the body is spatial but lacks consciousness. Both philosophers also argue for the separability and immortality of the mind-body union. In his work “Phaedo,” Socrates suggests that the soul is linked to the body yet capable of independent existence.
Plato believes that the body acts as an obstacle for the soul’s quest for truth and wisdom. The soul becomes muddled by sensory experiences, which hinder its ability to obtain pure knowledge of reality. To achieve true understanding, Plato argues that the soul must be free from distractions caused by the senses and engage in solitary contemplation (102). Death plays a crucial role in this pursuit, separating the body from the soul.
Socrates believed that fearing death is unnecessary and instead, one should not be afraid of it. Plato agrees with this idea by stating that our souls existed before we were born as humans. Therefore, if our souls were alive before our existence, they continue to exist after death as well. As a result, souls have two distinct forms after dying.
According to Plato, if someone is virtuous and embraces philosophical practices, their soul will transcend to the divine and immortal realm, where it will be free from human problems like ignorance, confusion, and fear, and instead commune with the gods (Plato 120). On the other hand, if an individual believes they possess knowledge they actually lack and neglects philosophical pursuits, their soul will wander aimlessly until it is compelled to return to its rightful abode. Descartes supports Plato’s view by employing his method of doubt to demonstrate his inability to question the existence of his mind.
As Descartes explores the nature of doubt and the relationship between thought and consciousness, he establishes his famous assertion: cogito ergo sum, meaning “I think therefore I am”. Descartes firmly believes in the existence of his mind, as doubting requires a consciousness to think. He defines himself as a thinking entity and acknowledges his ability to comprehend what it means to be a thinking being. While he shares a similar viewpoint with Plato on this matter, Descartes diverges by rejecting the necessity of a physical body. However, he does acknowledge the potential for doubting the existence of his own physical form.
On multiple occasions, he had dreams that were disconnected from reality. He pondered the idea of a deceptive demon deceiving him into thinking he possessed a physical form. Nevertheless, he ultimately reached the belief in God’s existence and consequently acknowledged the existence of his own body as well. Descartes employed reasoning to argue that although it was possible for him to deny the existence of physical matter through logic, he could not do the same for mental matter, thus highlighting their separate identities.
The question of the interaction between mind and matter arises. Descartes suggests that mental representation does not directly represent the physical aspect. Instead, he believes that God is responsible for these interactions and only He understands how they work. Both Descartes and Plato agree that the mind (represented by mental substance) and the body (represented by physical substance) can be distinguished from each other and are eternal. However, Descartes takes it a step further by questioning the existence of the physical body entirely.
Although these philosophers have a limited understanding of the relationship between the mind and body, acknowledging them as separate entities, they do agree on the separability and immortality of both the mental and physical aspects.