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January 20, 1984

Descartes' Medical Philosophy: The Organic Solution to the Mind-Body Problem

Author Affiliations

Georgia State University Atlanta

JAMA. 1984;251(3):404-405. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340270078040

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The author of this text seems to want to do two things. First, he wants to clarify the nature of the mind-body connection and, therefore, present a solution to the mind-body problem. Second, he wants to show that Descartes' philosophic thought forms a coherent, interrelated system—a system that he believes should be viewed as advancing knowledge in the areas of medicine, ethics, and political theory. Although the author is to be praised for his attempt to achieve these goals, I do not believe that he is successful.

First, although a number of problems have been referred to as "the mind-body problem," the central difficulty for Descartes is this: How can mind and body relate in any way, given that these substances have mutually exclusive defining characteristics? For Descartes, a mind is totally nonmaterial; it cannot be conceived of as some form of material "energy"; it occupies no space, cannot move