Argument Analysis: Rene Descartes And Princess Elisabeth

It is important to note that the first five correspondences between Elisabeth and Descartes delve into the subject of soul and body. The central question posed by the Princess is about how an immaterial substance, such as a soul, can move and affect a material body. The analysis of the arguments in these correspondences showcases the ineffectiveness of Descartes’s initial replies. While Elisabeth was asking a question about how the soul moves the body, Descartes was explaining what they are, which is why the Princess had to reiterate her concern repeatedly.

In the first correspondence, Elisabeth asks for clarification on Descartes’s definition of the soul and how it influences bodies. She argues that objects require physical contact to be moved, objects have physical qualities, and the soul is an immaterial thinking substance. As a result, an immaterial substance, such as the soul, cannot touch anything causing voluntary actions. Elisabeth seeks further clarification from Descartes on his definition of the soul.

In the second correspondence, Descartes replies by providing key concepts. He states that there are basic notions, such as numbers, the body has physical features, such as extension, and the soul has different features, such as thought. Descartes concludes that soul and body only have a union between passions and sensations. Thus, he addresses Elisabeth’s request to define the soul by outlining its main parameters. Although he describes the soul, he does not properly define what it is and what the immaterial means in general.

In the third correspondence, Elisabeth asks for further clarification about the concept of immaterial. She argues that the soul is immaterial and immaterial cannot move the material, which is why the soul should be material and have the extension. Therefore, she asks for further clarification on what constitutes immaterial. Elisabeth correctly requested a definition for the immaterial, which was not answered in the previous correspondence.

In the fourth correspondence, Descartes replies by how soul and body can be known. He states that the soul is only known through understanding, the body is best known through imagination with understanding, but their union is mostly known through senses. Thus, excessive reliance on senses makes these two be perceived as one. Descartes’s answer is ineffective because it does not answer how the soul affects the body.

In the fifth correspondence, Elisabeth returns to her main point on the question of how the soul moves the body. She argues that imagination, intellect, and senses do not explain how the body is moved by the soul, the soul likely has unknown characteristics, and thoughts can be another essential function of the soul. The lack of explanation on how and inconsistencies might indicate that soul does not exist. Elisabeth appropriately reiterates her doubt despite the definitions provided by Descartes.

In conclusion, Elisabeth repeatedly sought clarification on how the soul moves the body, as Descartes focused on explaining their nature, leading to her reiterating her concerns. The core issue raised by the Princess revolves around the ability of an immaterial substance, such as the soul, to influence and move a material body. Examining the arguments in these correspondences reveals the inadequacy of Descartes’ initial responses. In essence, he should have divided his response into two sections, where he provides the definitions, followed by the answer to her question.