Notes on Body and Soul *

Descartes asserted that he was doubting all that is doubtable in order to arrive at an undoubtable residue as the starting point of knowledge.  Was this method valid? Was it rational?  Was it psychologically healthy? Finally, was Descartes really telling us what he was actually doing and why?  Did Descartes say, ‘I have self-awareness, therefore, I exist.’ ? No.  Yet that is the true beginning of introspection.  I exist.  I have awareness of myself.  The self of which I am aware is the very self that is aware!  But no one truly begins by doubting the fundamental fact of awareness as awareness of the world. . . unless one is a psychotic or a modern philosopher (sometimes hard to distinguish).

One begins with that which is given to us at birth and throughout life:  perception of and contact with the world in which we live.   We have the world.  We perceive the world.  When we perceive, we know that we perceive the world and at the same time we know that we perceive the world.  We are aware of the distinction between ourselves and the rest of the world.  I put it this way, be cause it is not a form of dualism but rather a form of emphasis associated with perception as such.  Perception has two poles of perspective: it simultaneously includes exteroception (awareness of the world) and proprioception (awareness of ourselves as observers of the world).  An even clearer description is that perception consists of both our awareness of the world with respect to ourselves as observers and awareness of ourselves in relationship to the observed world.  We are part of the world.  Thus, to know the world we must be consistently aware of the world beyond our selves and ourselves in relationship to the world.  This is not a dualism nor a dichotomy but a relation.

The world is everything that it is and everything that it does.  We are part of the world and every thing that we are and do are part of the world.  Between ourselves and the world we have a distinction, a relation, and not a duality.   It is not given to us that there is a world on the one hand and ourselves on the other.  There is no world-self duality.  There is no duality between the world’s actions and our actions.  The world’s capacities and our capacities.  All entities that exist, including ourselves, have actual and potential order and causal power.

Being alive, we are aware that we are alive and that life requires that we act to remain alive.  We naturally therefore see ourselves as like other living beings.  Being alive is shared by other animals and plants.  But we are also aware that we have awareness, sentience and therefore are interested in those living beings that are also sentient, also aware of the world (at least at some level).

Now a very common ontological error that we easily but dangerously fall prey to is the desire to equate a quality with a substance.  Heat is phlogiston.  Life is élan vital. Sentience is res cogitans.   Such an error leads to a wide variety  of arbitrary and unresolvable forms of dualism: a dualism of the animate being and inanimate being; a dualism of sentient being and non sentient being; and so forth.

But you say, consciousness in nothing like matter, (whatever you think you may mean by matter).  Perhaps you mean by ‘matter’, as did Descartes,  ‘that which has the property of extendedness’.   (Note: It was not Descartes, but his discontented followers who added that matter must also be ‘solid’, ‘impenetrable’, and ‘bounded.’)  But the Cartesian demand that the essence of the physical is merely the ‘extended stuff’ or ‘extendedness’ itself,  which leads inexorably to the dualism of extended being versus cognitive being (res extensa and res cogitans, as Descartes called them;  two substances never to be united, never to causally interact, never to form a unity, always and eternally dualistically separated ontologically.  Thus Descartes was one of those who fell prey to the error of reducing qualities to substances, and then to substance dualism, which through his powerful intellectual influence, paralyzed both philosophy and science, rendering both res extensa and res cogitans ultimately unintelligible.

Plato was the victim of a related but otherwise quite different dualism.  A dualism based on different forms of knowledge, thus essentially an epistemological dualism reified into an ontological dualism: that which is only knowable to the intellect and that which is only knowable to the senses.  The realm of universals, of ideals, of ideas themselves, knowable to the intellect (or intuition) is not knowable to the senses that can know and respond only to concretes.  Where as the realm of the senses, of sensations, of particulars, of concretes only, is unable to see (literally visually apprehend) the realm of the ideals, of ideas, of universal.  The realm of the senses  is therefore epistemologically and ontologically transcended by the realm of the intellect.  Thus the dualism of the formal and the material, the dualism of form and matter, and ultimately the duality of the material body and the formal soul which both animates and informs that body.    (This form/matter dualism, by the way, was eventually entirely rejected by Plato’s greatest student,  Aristotle.  But that is another story.)

* Do not cite or quote this page.  It is under development and its contents are tentative. – bioperipatetic

Latest revision of this note: September 11, 2015 @ 1:40 am

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