The Relationship between the Notions of the Substantial Union and the Interaction of Soul and Body in Descartes’ Philosophy

Keywords: mind, soul, body, substantial union, causality, interaction


The author argues for the reductive interpretation of Descartes’ notion of the substantial union of soul and body, according to which the union is reduced to causal interactions. The opponents countered the reductive approach with the claims that Descartes (1) attributed sensations to the union rather than the soul; (2) held that the soul is the substantial form of the body; (3) identified some special conditions of the human body’s self-identity. In the article, the case is made that (a) these claims lack clear textual evidence: if their context is properly considered, Descartes’ corresponding statements are consistent with the reductive interpretation; (b) they do not give proper weight to other Descartes’ statements (in particular, his numerous unambiguous statements that sensations are the soul’s states). The author argues that the reductive interpretation is consistent with other Descartes’ statements to which its opponents appeal - that sensations arise from the union of mind and body and that the causal interactions between the soul and the body are explained with the reference to their union. The consistency is achieved if we interpret these statements in the sense that the enduring union between a soul and a body is an ontological prerequisite and, hence, an explanation, of all interactions between the soul and the body and their effects (such as sensations): these interactions and effects would not take place without the union between this particular soul and this particular body. Such explanation is similar to the explanation of certain natural events by the laws of nature: just as the gist of a law of nature can be reduced to a set of causal dispositions, so the content of the notion of the union can be reduced to the emergence and maintenance of a set of causal dispositions between a certain soul and a certain body.

Author Biography

Dmytro Sepetyi, Zaporizhzhia State Medical University

PhD  in  philosophy,  associate  professor  of  Department  of  Social Disciplines


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How to Cite
Sepetyi, D. (2018). The Relationship between the Notions of the Substantial Union and the Interaction of Soul and Body in Descartes’ Philosophy. Sententiae, 37(1), 136-152.