"Cartesianism" refers to the school of thinking developed by French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes in the 17th century.
Cartesianism Sociology Definition

Cartesianism Definition

“Cartesianism” refers to the school of thinking developed by French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes in the 17th century.


Rene Descartes was a French scientist, mathematician, and philosopher during the Age of Enlightenment. He is largely considered the founder of contemporary philosophy, particularly the natural school, and is credited with laying the groundwork for rationalism and epistemology in the following years.

He is well known for the aphorism “Cogito, ergo sum,” which is a philosophical maxim (I think; therefore I am). Cartesianism is an entire school of philosophy founded on the tenet that there is a distinct distinction between the mind and the body. Cartesianism divides existence into three categories: God, matter, and mind.

Concept of Cartesian dualism

Rene Descartes established the idea of “cartesian dualism,” according to which reality is split into the “res cogitans” (the mind) and the “res extensa” (matter).

The fundamental principles of Cartesian dualism are:

  • There is no opportunity for crossover because all phenomena in existence are either thoughts or bodies.
  • Minds are metaphysical and ethereal; they can evaluate, perceive, and think.
  • Even if the physical body ceased to exist, the mind would remain.
  • There is a casual relationship between the mind and the body (certain physiological functions, such as movement, depend on the mind while others do not, and vice versa).
  • Bodies are actual, physical things with appendages.
  • God is the source of reality for all bodies.
  • Animals are just components of the physical universe (bodies), functioning following natural rules and instincts, while man is the only dualistic creature in existence.
  • The pineal gland, in particular, functions as the link between the mind and body.

His groundbreaking research on the “mind/body” issue is particularly pertinent to social science. Descartes observed difficulty in comprehending the following type of human action: we can grasp how a person moves a hand by contracting arm muscles, but we are unable to fathom in the same manner how the desire to move the hand causes the arm muscles to contract. While one process appears to be entirely mechanical, the other involves both the mind and the body. Descartes was intrigued by this mind/body connection and made conjectures about where in the body it may exist.

Descartes’ theory of how this process works must be incorrect, as it is obvious that our awareness cannot command our body from some other dimension but must somehow emerge from it. Despite this, four hundred years later, we still do not comprehend things much better than he did. Descartes’ perspective also fits with the body and mind in a way consistent with common sense in western culture. We often perceive ourselves as ghosts trapped inside the machinery of our bodies for many daily tasks. Given sociology’s interest in the goals and reasons of individuals, the mind/body issue keeps coming up.

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