Practically since the beginnings of philosophy, dualism, the idea that body and soul are two radically different elements it has permeated the way many people think. It is a belief that fits very easily into our experience, because one thing is our consciousness, related to what we experience subjectively, and another is what we intuitively is beyond, whether we are aware of it or not. : The environment around us, other people, and even our own bodies, bones and flesh.
But this idea that the body and the soul are different, which can be reformulated by thinking that there is a separation between the organism and the mental life of this organism, is not a self-evident truth. This is because there is a philosophical tradition behind it which began several centuries ago and which has been passed down from generation to generation. Below we will see one of the first links in this chain: Avicenna’s dualistic theory.
Who was Avicenna?
Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna (the latter name is the Latinized version) was philosopher, doctor and scientist born in 980 in Bukhara, In those days, part of Persia. Already in his early years he turned out to be a child prodigy, and as a teenager he became famous for his skills as a doctor. His fame allowed him to work as a doctor and counselor for several princes.
At the age of 21, he began to write a wide variety of texts and books, which numbered nearly three hundred. They dealt with subjects as different as medicine, metaphysics,
Although his mother tongue is Persian, his intellectual life developed in Arabic, And in fact was one of the main responsible for transmitting to Arabic literature the ideas of Aristotle.
Finally, Avicenna died around 1037, possibly because someone poisoned her with one of the medicinal preparations she was using.
Avicenna’s dualistic theory: his main ideas
These are the foundations of Avicenna’s dualistic theory.
1. Truth is accessible through reason
Avicenna believed that there are truths that can be accessed by using reason. From this idea he tried to start building a way of thinking based only on what has logical proofs, abandoning from the start all that is not autonomous, which centuries later also tried. the famous French philosopher René Descartes.
Therefore, Avicenna rejected all ideas that could be falsified and all that remained to him was what he believed to be absolute truths.
2. The theoretical experience of the floating man
As Avicenna wanted to reach the truth using logic, used a theoretical experiment know what is the nature of the human being, since its result should not depend on details related to the context in which this exercise is carried out; if something is taken for granted, it does not have to be based on things that happen materially.
So Avicenna imagined a situation in which a person had just been born and had no experience with the material but with a capacity for reasoning. From the start, in addition, a curious situation arises: this person remains floating in the air, legs and arms outstretched and all his senses canceled: he neither sees, nor hears, nor can feel the contact of anything, etc.
Faced with this hypothetical situation, Avicenna points out that this person would not know that he has a body, but would know that he has a spirit.
3. The mind knows it exists
The fundamental difference between mind and body is that the former knows it exists, while the latter, no matter what, this ability cannot be attributed to it. The existence of the spirit is taken for granted in whom he is aware of his existence. This makes the spiritual and the material radically different: bodies are not aware of anything, but we are. Therefore, in what we call “I” there is a component which is not the body itself.
Despite being very inspired by Aristotle’s thought (which even led him to deny some of the foundations of Islam), she differed from him in the idea that the material and the spiritual are two-dimensional. For Avicenna, in the human body, the spirit and the flesh are two substances of a totally different nature.
Criticisms of dualism
Psychology and much of philosophy today reject dualism, for many reasons. The first is that it is based purely on speculation, Situations that are neither real nor can they be. If in order to demonstrate dualism we have to imagine experiences that are not real and cannot be, then they tell us nothing about what is real.
The second criticism is that the defense of dualism is often part of the errors in the use of the language. To confuse “consciousness” with “mind” or “mental life”, for example, is to use simple categories to group very abstract ideas, which can lead to the use of each of these categories by changing their sense of time. in time without being aware.
Finally, the third major criticism is that in order to maintain its validity, it must be assumed that there are many things that belong to a spiritual dimension that are not accessible, which means that there is no reason to believe in. In this sense, dualism part of a circular reasoning type: To bequeath the conclusion that the spiritual (as something separate from the material) exists, it must be assumed that it exists.
Avicenna’s experience, for example, presents us with a situation that cannot happen: a person who is not sensually stimulated from birth cannot become aware of themselves and will likely die very prematurely.