Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia

March 28, 2019 General Studies

Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, in her correspondence to Descartes, asked him to explain the relationship between, the mind and the body and their possible interaction when they are two distinct entities. She wanted Descartes to explain how an immaterial substance such as the mind, can act on a material substance such as the body. She wanted to have a clear understanding of how the mind can cause movement of the body. Princes Elisabeth believed that humans have a control over what they think, and their thought can change so much that it does not depend on the casual order of material things, so she thus disagree with Descartes theory of the mind that depends on the state of the body. According to the cartesian dualism, the soul and body are single entities which have autonomous functions- the brain is for thinking and the body is for movement. This concept is difficult for Elisabeth to believe. According to her knowledge of metaphysics, movement of a physical body can only be affected by another physical body, so how the soul could cause movement of the body was what she could never concur with Descartes- the reason why she demanded an explanation.
In his correspondence to princess Elisabeth, Descartes tried to explain the relationship between the body and soul. First, he used the “primitive notion” to answer Elisabeth’s questions. He stated that the soul is envisaged by understanding, the body by imagination and the union between the two is explained by the senses. In his first and second letters to Elisabeth, he stated that there is no clear understanding of the union of body and soul, but for Elisabeth to use her senses and perceive the union then it will become clearer. To be more explicit, Descartes says the union can be conceived by understanding and since Elisabeth can understand the concept of matter and the extension to the soul, she can conceive the same understanding to the union of the body and soul. Still not convinced, Elisabeth asked for more clarification and Descartes explained that our body and soul interact through the pineal gland in the brain.
Even though Descartes made several attempts using different concepts in answering Elisabeth’s question I still believed that Descartes explanation did not provide an adequate answer to Elisabeth, because of the following reasons. Initially he avoided answering the questions when he acknowledged the difficulty to understand the union between the body and soul. He made several attempts in the correspondent to Elisabeth but to his greatest surprise she is not yet convinced, the reason why Elisabeth kept asking for more clarification. Furthermore, the concept of “primitive notion” even made Elisabeth more confused,


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