Mind -body distinction and the problem of the hylomorphic constitution of Cartesian composites

Emmanuel Nartey, Fordham University


In this dissertation, I explored Descartes' real distinction and mind-body union in the light of the growing number of scholarly arguments for Descartes as an Aristotelian "hylomorphist" and I offered a hybrid view that conjoins the identity theory and epiphenomenalism that is currently in vogue as a way of constructing a different picture of Descartes' mind-body relation. At a minimum, Aristotelian hylomorphism is distinguished by these claims: the soul actualizes the body as form actualizes matter (x); a form-matter constitution essentially generates real and substantial unity (y); the union of soul and body is itself a substance (z). In the post-Meditations passages, Descartes' vocabulary seems to endorse the position formulated in these claims. Nevertheless, these claims, in conjunction with the repudiation of a weak version of unity (WU) entail either modalism (M) or trialism (T). So the only way to plausibly endorse X, Y, Z while rejecting a weak version of unity (WU) is to go disjunctive: either endorse M or endorse T. But Descartes rejects both M and T; therefore he has to endorse WU or reject X, Y, Z. I argued that Descartes in fact did endorse WU which is so weak that it is incompatible with X, Y, Z. So clearly, he must have repudiated X, Y, Z. This shows that not withstanding appearances, the recent scholarly interpretations of Descartes' asserted mind-body union as a hylomorphic unity do not succeed. I think we have a hybrid view that could have been Descartes' if we replace identity theory with hylomorphism, and replace qualia with nonphysical minds: hylomorphism is true of those aspects of behavior that can be accounted for in terms of mechanics but there is also a private subjective domain of experiences that constitute what I am. One implication of this hybrid view is that the claim that Descartes was a hylomorphist does not entail that he was a non-dualist since dualism is compatible with hylomorphism.

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Recommended Citation

Nartey, Emmanuel, "Mind -body distinction and the problem of the hylomorphic constitution of Cartesian composites" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3384642.