Descartes to Elisabeth, The Hague, 6/16 may 1643

Descartes to Elisabeth, The Hague, 6/16 may 1643

 In the correspondence, Elisabeth wants Descartes to explain further the link between the body and soul of a human being. Elisabeth wants clarification on how the soul, which is a thinking substance – can affect the body’s spirits so that the result is voluntary actions.  This means an explanation on how the soul affects the actions of the body. For further explanation on the topic, Elisabeth asks Descartes to give her a definition of the soul – a substance - separate from thought, which is its action (Atherton, 11). By separating the two in definition, she hopes to have a more perfect understanding of them. 

 In his definition, Descartes refers to the writings which he has published in which he explains that the human soul consists of two things upon which the knowledge of its nature can be based. These two comprises the idea that firstly, the human soul thinks and secondly, it is inseparable from the body. Since the soul and body are united, the both can suffer together. Descartes states that in humans, there some primitive notions that can be considered original and from which all other knowledge is formed (Atherton, 13). Such notions are very few since after the general notions like duration and number that can be conceived and gotten, but in relation to the body only the idea of extension, movement and figures can be explained. In relation to the human soul, only the idea of thought which consists of perceived understandings and a person’s will inclination can be explained (Atherton, 14). The union of the body and soul is the only notion which determines the movement of the body by soul’s force and the idea of the body acting causing the body to have passions and feelings. The explained notions are primitive and hence, every one of them can only be understood through itself (Atherton, 14).

  In essence, Descartes argues that the nature of the definition of the soul is different from that of the body and hence, each can exist without the other. He sees the various notions that try to explain the nature of the soul as being different from that which explain the nature of the body. The mind is seen as the substance that moves the body only because of the reunion between the two. This argument is not sufficient because it leads to a problem while trying to explain how the mind, with thought as its actions, can cause the movement of the body parts. The basic notion by Descartes is that the understanding of the divisible body can be done apart from the indivisible mind and the other way round (Skirry, 1).  He fails to clarify clearly the difference between the definition of the soul and of the body since it is possible that the mind or soul requires the brain, which is the part of the body to, to exist. In addition, the human mind cannot have a surface and motion, and hence, there is no clear explanation of various sensations. Since the soul and the body have different natures, the causal interaction between the two appears not possible. The effects of such a problem is quite serious given that it undermines Descartes claim of having a distinct and clear understanding of human soul without its body.


Works cited

Atherton, Margaret. Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994 11-15

 Skirry, J. (2006). René descartes: The mind-body distinction. URL: http://www. iep. utm. edu/descmind.



586 Words  2 Pages

Get in Touch

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to inform us and we will gladly take care of it.

Email us at Discounts


GET -30% OFF!



  Working. Please Wait...