Descartes and the “metaphysical dualism”: Excesses in interpreting a classic

Abstract

The article focuses on one of the most serious accusations brought against Descartes and modern philosophy, namely “the dualism of substance”. The accusers claim that the human body and soul were viewed as completely separate; consequently, their relationship as such and the united being of man become incomprehensible. As has been shown above, the idea of the separation of the soul from the body did not originate with Descartes; it was formulated much earlier, and repeated by a disciple of Descartes’, Henry Leroy, known as Regius. When Descartes became aware of this bizarre interpretation he was dismayed and sought to clarify the matter. He sought to distinguish between two terms, “distinction” and “separation” and to illuminate the relationship between body and soul at three different levels, i.e. ordinary experience, analytical mind and metaphysical meditation. Eventually, he embraced the paradox of the two natures – the double substantial make-up of the human being, a paradox of patristic inspiration. However, the later history of ideas was not sympathetic to Descartes: nowadays, when one looks up the term “metaphysical dualism” in dictionaries or glossaries, even in the studies of prestigious researchers, one will find views similar to those of the unfaithful disciple Regius. The resilience of this locus obscurus is explained both by the power of a new mode of interpreting discourse (as technical or logical analysis) and by the ever more privileged position of the reader (intentio lectoris). Both attitudes are related to modern ideologies and to changes which have occurred in the intersubjective life-world, especially in the communication of the scholarly and academic world.

Keywords: Descartes, hermeneutics, locus obscurus, metaphysics, dualism, substance, body and soul, intersubjectivity


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