Free «Elizabeth and Descartes» Essay Sample

Princes Elizabeth of Bohemia is one of the most celebrated female philosophers that ever lived. Her correspondences with another famous philosopher, Descartes, help people to understand human conduct and behavior in terms of three primitive notions. They are body, mind (soul), and mind-body dualism. She demands, in a series of letters, a clear explanation from Descartes on the way the soul could influence the actions of the body. Her question to Descartes is: “Given that the soul of a human being is only a thinking substance, how can it affect the bodily spirits, in order to bring voluntary actions?”

The Princess’ question, in her first letter to Descartes, arises because of the seeming notion that for a body to move there is a number of requirements. These include intensity of force applied to the body, how it is pushed, nature of surface on which the body rests, and its own shape. She wonders how the soul, which is abstract in nature, can compel the body, physical in form, to act. She then persuades Descartes to give an elaborate definition of soul, as opposed to what the soul can do. Perhaps, in her view, that could help understand how the soul can have such unimaginable influence over the body.

Responding to Princess Elizabeth’s hot query, Descartes admits that it was in his anticipation that such a question should come up. He then tries to justify his argument about the power of the soul over the body’s physical actions of motion and shape and how the body can act similarly to the soul’s operational pattern. He points out four elements, which support his philosophical theory of mind-body interaction.

The four notions, which Descartes points out, are the notions of extension, being, thought, and union of body and soul. He insists that the notion of thought has its space only in the soul. Since the body responds to the notion of thought, it is then clear that it is the soul which implicitly brings initiates bodily actions. He explains that the connection of the body and mind is real, and that is why one cannot rule out the fact that the soul plays a role in the way the body behaves.

Though the Princess admits some flaws in her argument, she still fails to express her contentment with the explanations offered by Descartes. In her view, a non-physical element like the soul cannot exhibit any physical quality effective in moving a body. She expects Descartes to have a full understanding of body-soul union.  Descartes tells Elizabeth that a human understanding cannot tell, with accuracy, the nature of soul-body union. This seems to water down all his opinions and perceptions about that union. It appears to Princess Elizabeth that Descartes’ claims are merely based on his imagination if he cannot explain the distinctness of soul-body union.

Descartes’ personal account of events related to mind-body interaction, Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia notes that determinations of course require an impulsion and, therefore, needs either correspondence or extension. Throughout their communications in separate letters as initiated by the inquisitive princess, there seems to be a difference of opinion between the two intellectuals. It remains evident that Princess Elizabeth never got satisfied by the explanations given in response in response to her issues of most serious problem by Descartes. The princess did, to an appreciable extent, undertake to compel Descartes to accept some extremely visible concerns of mind-body interaction, the seeming impracticability of his naive vision mostly anchored on his theoretical mathematical perspectives and the uncomfortable results from such kind of thinking.

The two indirectly engage in mental fight, indirectly testing each other’s strength of mind and principle of thought in terms of what they believe. In the end, none of them comes out as an outstanding victor over the other. However, their battle of the brains is not only useful to their own individual gain, but for the good of the present and future philosophers.


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