Chapter 6 : The Mind-Body Problem

Section 3: DUALISM

Now we shall examine dualism.  It is the first of the options on the Mind Body Problem.  It is the most popular conception, it appears as the most obvious answer to the problem and it is the source of the problem all at the same time!

dualism, Cartesian interactionist - The view that: (1) the mental and the material comprise two different classes of substance and; (2) both can have causal effects on the other.


Plato thought that the soul could and would exist apart from the body and would exist after the death of the body. He offered a "proof" for this position and was the first to do so in writing that we have any evidence of doing so. He offered several different proofs or arguments none of which are convincing today. They are held to be specious arguments or terribly flawed and unconvincing. He held that humans were composed of bodies and souls but the soul was more important and immortal. His arguments used premises which we question today. For example, Plato thought that he could conclude that the soul could exist independent of the body because it acted independently from the body when it engaged in pure thought. This is no longer accepted as true since it is equally evident today that without a physical brain thought appears unlikely to occur. Plato thought that the only way to explain how people come to know things is that they are remembering the knowledge implanted in their souls when the souls were in the realm of pure thought and eternal forms before entering into the body after which they forgot as they became confused by physical emotions an feelings and limited experiences through the senses.  This is no longer accepted as the best explanation of how people come to have knowledge.  None the less,  Plato is credited with being the first human to attempt to set out any sort of a proof that humans had souls and that they survived the death of the body and that they were immortal.  He offered these arguments in the Dialogue he wrote titled the Phaedo

Descartes also believed that the soul existed prior to and separate from the body (see Meditation II of  Meditations on First Philosophy ) and so was immortal.  In his view all of reality consisted of two very different substances: matter or the physical and spirit or the non-physical.  The physical was what would be extended in time and space and the non-physical would not be so characterized.  For Descartes the soul of a human exists prior to and separate from the body.  His proof consisted of argumentation that has been seriously criticized and rejected.  He thought that if he could in some form demonstrate that humans can prove that they exist without first proving that they have physical bodies then that would prove that they did not need a physical body in order to exist.  He thought that his famous claim that " I think therefore I am" established not just that he existed but that he existed without a body as a "thinking thing". A "thinking thing" is a thing that thinks and by that would be included: imagining, conceiving, hoping, dreaming, desiring, fearing, conjecturing, reasoning, remembering  and more.  For him a "thinking thing" needed no physical parts to do what it does.  Modern science has established that there is no evidence of humans that are without a physical body and its brain.  There is no evidence that thought is possible without a brain.  There is much evidence that what has been associated with Descartes' "thinking thing" is now explained solely in terms of the brain and how the brain is physically structured and the functioning of the brain.

(NOTE:  You must read only those linked materials that are preceded by the capitalized word READ.)

READ Wikipedia on this dualism

Variations on Dualism

A. Interactionism - minds and bodies exist and interact in some way

B. Epiphenomenalism - body acts on mind but minds do NOT act on bodies

C. Double Aspect Theory-there is one substance with two aspects (mind/body)

D. Parallelism -minds and bodies exist in separate dimensions and are coordinated

i. Pre-Established Harmony-minds and bodies are set in motion and coordinated from the beginning of time by a deity that creates the universe

ii. Occasionalism- on the occasion of the mind making a decision the body is moved by the creator (deity) to do whatever the mind has decided to make the body do.

A. Interactionism:  History and Critics  

René Descartes to William James

by Robert H. Wozniak



1.         René Descartes

2.         The 17th Century: Reaction to the Dualism of Mind and Body

3.         The 18th Century: Mind, Matter, and Monism

4.         The 19th Century: Mind and Brain

5.         Mind, Brain, and Adaptation: the Localization of Cerebral Function

6.         Trance and Trauma: Functional Nervous Disorders and the    Subconscious Mind  


7.         The 17th and 18th Centuries: The Epistemology of Mind

8.         The 19th Century: The Epistemology of the Nervous System

9.         Mind, Brain, and the Experimental Psychology of Consciousness  


1.         Mind, Body, and Culture: American Psychology before William James

2.         Biological Consciousness and the Experience of the Transcendent: William James and American Functional Psychology By Eugene Taylor, Harvard University Medical School

Definitions of DUALISM

READ Philosophy Dictionary on Dualism

1.Non-physical entities do not have spatial properties, so there is no need to locate them in physical space.  Such entities have there own metaphysical laws to follow.  God. Mind, spirit, souls all operate within that realm.

Objection: What are those laws and how do they account for the results in the physical universe?  

2. Dualists claim that:

a. substances do not need to be similar in order to interact.  b.There is also ample evidence that they do interact.

Objections: a) It was the dualists who established that the two substances were so different that they could not interact.  The source of the problem is the dualist distinctions of the two different substances!

b) the evidence for interact could be explained in terms of brain actions alone!  The obviousness of one’s causing one’s body to move by an act of the mind is not as obvious as it seems.  

3.The mind may not add energy to a closed system, it may be simply redirecting the energy already present.

Objection:  How does the mind affect the redirection if the mind is not itself made of energy or matter?  

4.Dualists claim there is a compelling reason to hold that there are two substances and not just one.  They claim it is needed to account for all phenomena of human experience including consciousness.

Objection:  The monists claim that it is not necessary at all and that they have a satisfactory explanation of such phenomena.  

Please do view these two VIDEO from QualiaSoup  on Substance Dualism - a good philosophical overview of the idea and problems with it.

Substance Dualism Pt 1:  (10:45)

Substance Dualism Pt 2:   (10:48)

The Other Variations on Mind Body Dualism

Here are some of the dualists’ responses to these points and objections to them or criticisms of them.

A. Interactionism - minds and bodies exist and interact in some way (covered above)

B. Epiphenomenalism - body acts on mind but minds do NOT act on bodies

      The Theory of William James (covered above)

C. Double Aspect Theory-there is one substance with two aspects (mind/body)

   The Theory of Spinoza criticized as equating to Interactionism

Objection: The two aspects of the one substance are either illusory or if real then there is the dualism issue once again as to how they are to interact.  

D. Parallelism -minds and bodies exist in separate dimensions and are coordinated

i.  PRE ESTABLISHED HARMONY-minds and bodies are set in motion and coordinated from the beginning of time by a deity that creates the universe.

Objection: This theory seriously challenges notions of human freedom.  

ii. OCCASSIONALISM - on the occasion of the mind making a decision the body is moved by the creator (deity) to do whatever the mind has decided to make the body do.

When a person wills to move a finger, that serves as the occasion for God to move the finger; when an object suddenly appears in a person's field of view, that serves as the occasion for God to produce a visual perception in the person's mind.  

Objection:  This theory would make God an accomplice in every evil act.

Each attempt to defend the dualism of MIND and BODY meets with objections. 

If you want to take the dualist position that  we have both a physical and non-physical mind that position needs to be defended with reasoning and evidence and not merely made to rest on FAITH BASED CLAIM.  In Philosophy it must be supported by reasoning and evidence.  There must be both the exposition of the problem with the dualist claim and its solution.  The dualist position creates the mind body problem!  What is needed is a response to all the criticisms of the dualist position? Remember it is the one position that creates the problem.  A dualist needs to account for all the evidence that disproves dualism and then needs to bridge the gap between the non-physical and the physical and solve the problem of interaction.

Dualists also nee to be aware that there is no claim about what a non-physical mind does that has not been demonstrated to be the result of BRAIN activity and functioning.  Neuroscience discredits the claim of a non-physical mind. What evidence is offered by contemporary dualists of the existence of a non-physical mind?

Mind refers to the aspects of intellect and consciousness manifested as combinations of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and imagination, including all of the brain's conscious and unconscious cognitive processes. "Mind" is often used to refer especially to the thought processes of reason. Subjectively, mind manifests itself as a stream of consciousness. READ

If this is the definition of mind then reflexes, controlled responses, survival instincts are not part of the mind but actually a part of the brain.

Here is another view of the problem.

So, with dualism comes a number of problems.  The most conspicuous and troublesome are:

1.         Where does the interaction take place?

2.         How does the interaction take place?

3.         The idea of the mental causing the physical to act appears to violate the principle of the conservation of energy

4.         The idea of two realities appears to violate Ockam’s Razor, the principle of Simplicity, which holds that if there is no need to postulate additional entities one should avoid doing so..


There are two variations on dualism with regard to the Mind Body Problem. Each involves the agency of an all powerful deity.  IF there is no logically valid and sound proof for the existence of such a deity that is a problem.


With Occasionalism the deity becomes an accomplice in all manner of heinous actions of humans.


 With Pre-Established Harmony the existence of Free Will in humans becomes a problem is all human actions have been predetermined from the beginning of time.

  We shall now turn to the monist views.

Proceed to the next section.

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