Explain and evaluate Descartes’ account of the Real Distinction between mind and body.
Define real distinction
The topic of Descartes real distinction between mind and body is highly topical. It is important to clarify that by the ‘real distinction’ Descartes means the distinction between two substances (mind and body) having mutually exclusive essences (attributes) or modes (non extension and extension). His argument for such a distinction can be found in the Sixth Meditation (AT II 78). It is from this that Descartes draws the conclusion that material thing exist. Descartes argument in the Sixth Meditation says sense, imagination, and memory are modes or acts of the intellect. But these acts are distinguished from ‘pure intellect’ because they depend on bodily processes. The dependence of such things on the body is also important when considering his arguments for the existence of body.
In the Discourse (Part IV) Descartes says he believes the idea that the mind is distinct from the body can be known from his earlier demonstration (in the Second Mediation) that while it is possible to doubt the material world, one cannot doubt that one is a thinking thing. However there remains a logical fallacy in saying this. From the premise that it is possible to doubt the existence of the body while being unable to doubt the existence of the thinking self it does not necessarily mean that the mind and body are distinct. It is equally plausible to say that the mind and body are the same, but the meditator is unaware of this. Descartes can deal with this by saying that by using the method of doubt he did not intend to assert that there is no body, but that it is open to question as to whether there is a body in the real world: