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How does the sociology of the body overcome the mind/ body dualism Essay Sample

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How does the sociology of the body overcome the mind/ body dualism Essay Sample

Throughout this essay I will attempt to address issues raised by Rene Descartes (1596-1650) regarding the mind/body dualism along with critique proposed by Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976). Using historical examples I will explore the relationship between what is termed as the ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’, and how Michael Foucault (1926-1984) in his work of the ‘genealogy of conceptual discourse’ highlights the historical endurance of thought. (Barnes, Caroline 2005). By emphasising the main critique of mind/body dualism of it not allowing the use for scientific investigation I will examine the enlightenment with regards to the high usage of science. I aim to demonstrate the shift from the mind being perceived as a container to a machine. The essay will be indicating how making the body social transforms the theoretical division between social and natural sciences and overcomes many Cartesian assumptions.

Dualism is an area of philosophical thought, were human beings are made up of two completely different components (Maunter, 2000, P152). Whilst referring to the relationship between the two I will firstly be defining the basic components, namely the mind and the body. A dualist is of the opinion that the physical body is made up of substance, it takes up space, and it deals with our physical processes. The mind is much more complex. It takes up no space, it is not subjected to the physical laws which govern the body, it is immaterial, and invisible. It is however, to do with thought and consciousness. It allows us to have emotions, sensations and experiences all of which have indescribable qualities, and are private to the individual mind. The body is therefore the shell we present to the outer world and a means of communicating to people around us. This makes it very much public.

The relationship between the mind and the body is one of the philosophical problems that has never been adequately answered. It has however been approached by varying philosophical schools of thought however Cartesian dualism is the leading school of thought in regards to the mind/body problem (Warburton, 1999, P131).

In Descartes meditations, he gives an explanation on the difference between the concept of ‘myself’ and the concept of my ‘body’. Descartes felt he could doubt the existence of his body, but not his own existence. He therefore felt he was more than merely a body. In this view we see Descartes Cogito ergo sum ‘I think, therefore I am’.

Descartes visualized two areas of humans, one consisting of immaterial minds and the other of material bodies. He conceived that the mind and body are distinct, but still have the ability to interact. His argument accepts that the two are different. The body, as a material object, can be divided into separate parts which can all then be recognised as individual parts of the body. We can see and feel the body, and so can give each of its parts a separate space. The mind however as an external entity, which is immaterial cannot be located in the body and cannot be divided in this way.

Descartes, when considering the relationship, using the analogy of “a pilot in a ship”, explaining that the way a ship captain would observe physical damage to the ship, the mind does not, however does experiences it itself. They body and minds interact with one another. One cannot exist without the other, hence the two are connected through some system designed to do this. Descartes himself considered that the two entities were connected through the pineal gland, which sent and received messages to and from the body.

Behaviourism is an altogether different approach to the mind/body problem when compared to dualism (Warburton, 1999, P140-141). As the behaviourist sees it, the ‘mind’ simply does not exist. The behaviourist would argue that all behaviour and feelings could be represented as physical occurrences. The behaviourist suggests that when one describes a mental event, they are describing a pattern of behaviour or behavioural tendencies expected (Maunter, 2000, P64). Through these descriptions we are led to believe that the mind is separate from the body.

A philosopher who was prominent in this view was Gilbert Ryle (1900 – 1976) (Warburton, 1999, P141). He wrote in his book “The Concept of Mind”, what he referred to as ‘the ghost in the machine’, the ghost being the illusion of mind and the machine being the body (Warburton, 1999, P141).

Ryle criticises dualism because he feels that the mind and body cannot be so different that we can treat them as separate entities. He feels that Descartes has made errors in his work when suggesting that the mind is above the actions which people take. He argues that we cannot presume that anything happens as a mental function other than the process of the action itself. Ryle’s primary criticism of Descartes ‘Official Doctrine’ is that Descartes misinterprets the whole concept of the mind and body in relation to each other, making what he calls a ‘category-mistake’. (Crossly, N 2001)

Dualism and behaviourism are two prominent concepts in the mind/body problem, with very differing and competing theories. The most important critique of mind/body dualism concerning the enlightenment is that it has no scientific base, therefore for many who were inspired by the enlightenment for them the mind/body dualism did not provide a sufficient solution of what the mind consists of. As Descartes assumption of the mind infers that it is an external entity which thinks and dreams, which in turn can be examined by in some way taking into account our own thoughts. Cartesian dualism defines this as introspection (Warburton, 1999, Pp131-132).

With no sufficient argument with regards to the rise of science when the Enlightenment did prevail the notion of dualism was being questioned.

The enlightenment (1750-1800) is the movement which encompassed an additional insight of the world using scientific knowledge. The ideas were introduced by scientists, namely Galillio and Newton; though John Locke is referred to as the ‘father of the enlightenment’. The basis of enlightenment like rationalism is brought together by disbelievers of God, who propose individualism, belief in science along with reason as a means for social change.

During the 18th century the changing of the scientific atmosphere led to a decline of Cartesian philosophy and was replaced by those who had an impact on the Enlightenment. Locke emphasises the irrelevance of Descartes famous assertion of humans being based on clockwork, therefore being unable to play a part in the course of human existence. When discussing free-will he does not try to disprove Descartes findings, but adds to them to a more acceptable and reasonable level.

The enlightenment was not only in conflict with faith, but introduced ideas of a rationalist faith, eliminating all that was perceived as irrational. However enlightenment is different from rationalism as it provides a framework for society. However as well as being an ideological movement it was also an intellectual movement which captured the imagination of society as a whole. “Indeed it may be helpful to see the enlightenment as a point in history where the secular intelligentsia emerged a relatively independent social force” (Porter, R. The Enlightenment (Studies in European History), p.10) When Porter talks about people as being ‘social forces’ , it is meant that they were influencing society through their teachings and ideas. Individuals through the enlightenment were seeking an explanation for human existence.

Many historical theories attempt to build relationships with regards to the face and soul. Prior to the enlightenment Aristotle draws on pseudo-science of physiognomies.

Aristotle’s philosophy is in contrast with empiricism, which holds the belief that humans are born as empty beings having no prior knowledge of anything. Further arguing that humans have an ‘inborn tendency’ which produce emotions and construct’s our thinking. His interest in ideas regarding the quality of the soul leads his work to suggest that making judgments of ones face ‘outer appearance’ displays ones character. “It is possible to infer character from features, if it is granted that the body and the soul are changed together by the natural affections”. (Prior Analytics (2.27) Trans. A. J. Jenkinson) (http://www.what-means.com/encyclopedia/Physiognomy). What he means by natural emotions is passions and desires.

Positivism is also based upon the fundamental ideas of science. Proposing that if there is no scientific evidence that the soul exists then it doesn’t exist until it is scientifically proven. Also a positivist explains how the soul was invented suggesting that it was made up because science at the time could not explain our feelings and so on.

Having discussed the theory of the mind body dualism, as well as highlighting what the enlightenment proposed, it is obvious that it changed the way many individuals thought. As dualism had no scientific base, once the enlightenment excelled, many averted from the belief that the soul and body were two, thus resulting in individuals withdrawing from religious beliefs as Cartesian views also held the belief that the mind can survive after bodily death, either by living in the ‘spiritual world’ or by reincarnation therefore the view that the mind/soul is immortal, although it exists on earth inside a body, it is released after death to the next world. (Maunter, 2000, P71). Therefore historically the mind was given more emphasis, being treated as a superior element which exists within the body. Thereafter the enlightenment and rise of science influenced many resulting in the mind being perceived and being used as a ‘machine’ and so granting more importance to the body.

Many criticism of the mind/body have emerged through a philosophical perspective, although there are many sociological implications. Descartes proposition of the mind being distinct from the ‘social world’, challenges the idea of a social world itself.

The body defined from a sociological perspective refers not only to the ‘physical characteristics of a human being, but also to a social construct influenced by social developments’, which is presented in the way we interact. (Garrod J, Lawson T 2001) Gilbert Ryle’s assertion suggesting that ‘only bodies can meet’ is used in the work of many sociologists while examining the body. To some extent this statement is correct as the social world with regards to social interaction takes place in ‘virtue of our embodiment’, therefore relying on our bodies as Descartes conceptualises it. This conceptualisation from a sociological perspective is highly challenging. Descartes philosophy is not open to social features of human life, apart from his implication of the body as a material/physical structure.

Theories sociologists of the body relate to themselves to, are categorised as assimilating to the mind as an alternative to the body. The mind consisting of a ‘non-spatial’ material infers that the concepts introduced for shared meaning systems carry no significance within Descartes philosophy.

Relating to the question asked, sociology of the body overcomes mind body dualism by firstly rejecting dualism as ‘sociology concerns itself with social action’ .This acting consists of individuals attaching a subjective meaning to their behaviour (Weber, M 1921/1968, p.4). Through absorbing in dualist thought would lead to a struggle in considering the rationale and significance behind human actions.

Ryle feels that the mind-body problem is one we have created ourselves through misuse of language. Whilst discussing language he points out that because Descartes considered humans as disconnected from the world, it implies that they cannot consider partaking for example in language. This again brings up concerns in regards to social integration as it involves a need to communicate.

Social integration for sociologists is an activity which is present within all societies, however these include interactions which involve both the mind and body, therefore with reference to criticism of Dualism sociologist would infer that either there is a relationship between the two allowing both to interrelate or that the notion of dualism does not exist and so mind and body are not two separate entities.

In conclusion, having discussed how the body and mind were perceived historically and the further ideas brought forward by the enlightenment which changed the perception of many, with regards to the questions asked although science has its part to play in the different thoughts however the highlighted notion of social interaction is enough to conclude that sociologists may not overcome dualism however both ‘do not mix’. (Crossley, N 2001). With just a few examples recounted above I hope I have been able to show not only that the study of the body and its practices are important in deconstructing old theoretical oppositions and dualisms inherited from Cartesian philosophy, but also that they can open up new fields of research and conceptualization.

An example which demonstrates the proof that both mind/soul interact with the body is the fact that some mental things have effects on some physical things and vice versa. For example consumption of large amounts of alcohol can cause a hallucination which is the physical affecting the mental, and an example for how the mental affects the physical is blushing when we are embarrassed.

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