Spirit-Matter Separation

THE DUALIST VIEW is exemplified by French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who laid down the philosophical foundations for the ‘modern scientific age’. This happened some twelve hundred years after Augustine (354-430), the philosophical founder of the Western church, who in spite of his hostility to paganism, was nevertheless influenced by Greek Platonism and equated the ‘spiritual’ with God substance, subjectivity and soul. Ironically Descartes was to conceive of ‘spiritual substance’ in much the same way as St Paul. While Descartes was a physicist committed to mechanistic scientific explanation – and a spirit-matter dualism was an embarrassment, as causal relations between spiritual and material are difficult to explain – Descartes nevertheless reinforced the distinction between spiritual and material for religious reasons.[i]


[i] Ibid, 25. Note: Leibniz and Berkeley tried to remove the embarrassment by deriving the appearances of matter from spiritual substance, while Hume and Kant tried to resolve the problem by rejecting the notion of spiritual substance. This was to make the status of soul more mysterious than ever.

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