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Analysis of the response of Descartes to Princess Elizabeth Essay Sample

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Analysis of the response of Descartes to Princess Elizabeth Essay Sample

Elizabeth writes a letter to Descartes asking him to explain to her the relationship that there is between the soul, which is immaterial, and the body, which is material (Margaret A.: p16). She seeks this clarification particularly on the aspect that regards how the soul influences the body movements. This question comes following a claim that Descartes had made regarding the body and the soul (Gordon B. and Katherine J. : p17 -19). He had intimated that the body and the soul exist as single entities ad that each has autonomous function. This is found in the philosophy of the dualism.

The function of the brain was to think. The function of the body, on the other hand, was to show movements.it is for this reason that Elizabeth wonders then that if the body and the soul are independent, how comes that the soul can cause body movements! She trusted that the great philosopher of the time, Descartes, would have an explanation considering the matter. The body-soul relation was a concept that Elizabeth found impossible to comprehend. According to what she had already known from the metaphysics back ground is that movement of a physical body could only be effected by the action of another physical body (Margaret A.: p17). How the soul managed to cause the body movement despite it being immaterial was the mystery that Elizabeth thought that Descartes would provide answers.

The answers that Descartes give to Elizabeth are completely unsatisfactory in my own opinion. This is because of two major reasons. First, Descartes appears to avoid answering the question asked. To begin with, he acknowledges the difficulty that there is in trying to understand the relationship between the soul and the mind (Margaret A.: p13). He points out that in his previous writing, he gave explains that pertained to the sol individually and those that pertained to the body alone. He had not considered understanding how the two united. In this argument, it appears he is just trying to dodge the question. However, this truth is clearly illustrated when he introduces a new concept to explain the union between the soul and the body.

He comes up with the basic notions that he states that they should be defined in terms of their own (Margaret A.: p17). He states that the notion of sol is imagination, the notion of the body is extension and the notion of their union is sense. What Descartes meant with the concept of the notions was to let Elizabeth know that the explanation that he had given earlier with regard to the concept of the dualism could not be used to explain the union between the two. Therefore, each aspect had to be looked into itself on its own. However, this explanation did not help Elizabeth understand her concerns. It becomes so difficult for him to explain this concept to the extent that he tells her that the problem is that she is giving so much attention to the meditation (Margaret A.: p19). He even asks her to stop thinking so much on the meditations and instead on the sense that explains the notion of the union between the body and the soul (Margaret A.: p20).

The second reason that makes me say that the answers that Descartes gave Elizabeth were unsatisfactory is analysis of how Elizabeth reacts to the Descartes’s letters. According to Margaret A., (p15), Elizabeth asks Descartes not to praise her at the expense of telling her the truth that she needs to know. She comes out as a surprised at the incapacity of the philosopher in the delivery of her quest. She categorically states that she could find it easier to take soul to have matter than to understand how an immaterial substance such as the soul could move the material body (Margaret A.: p16). Disgusted by the answer from Descartes, she says that she would take the opinions given by him like friends that she does not intend to keep.

This means that not only did she find the answer from Descartes unsatisfactory, but also as unworthy. Descartes thinks that the reason why Elizabeth says such things is because he had not made an effort in explaining what he meant with the basic notions he had suggested in the letter. In the subsequent letter, he endeavors himself to explain in details what he meant (Margaret A.: p19). However, to his surprise, Elizabeth is not yet convinced. She says that despite what explanation Descartes has given so far, she still does not understand the manner in which the soul moves the body (Margaret A.: p21).


Atherton, Margaret. Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co, 1994. Print.

Baker, Gordon P, and Katherine J. Morris. Decartes’ Dualism. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Elisabeth, Lisa Shapiro, and René Descartes. The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.

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