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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 13, 1998

Ontology

Louise D. Derksen
Pages 29-34

Anne Conway’s Critique of Cartesian Dualism

I describe and analyze Anne Conway’s critique of Cartesian dualism. After a brief biographical introduction to Conway, I sketch some of the influences on her philosophy. I then describe her non-Cartesian view of substance. According to Conway, there is only one substance in created reality. This substance contains both matter and spirit. A purely material or spiritual substance is, she argues, an impossibility. Next, I discuss several of Conway’s arguments against Cartesian dualism. Firstly, dualism is inconsistent because dualists, while denying that concepts such as divisibility and extension are applicable to spiritual substance, nevertheless use such terms when describing the soul or spirit. They assume that soul or spirit is something particular which can be located somewhere. Secondly, she argues that dualism results in mechanism because it makes too sharp a distinction between body and soul, thus regarding the body as a mechanical machine and the soul as something which is not integrally related to the body. Thirdly, dualism cannot account for the interaction between mind and body. The two substances of which a dualist speaks are defined on the basis of the exclusion of characteristics. But the two things which have nothing in common cannot influence each other causally.

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