The Table Video

Keith Ward

Unity of Mind and Body

Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford / Fellow of the British Academy / Priest of the Church of England
July 24, 2013

Keith Ward sat down with the Biola University Center for Christian Thought in San Diego, California in July of 2013. In this clip, Ward offers a way of thinking about how different substances can comprise one unified thing, explaining Descartes’s position that in humans, mind and body are “inextricably confused and intermingled to form one thing.”

[calming music]

Let me put it this way, water is H2O, it’s hydrogen and oxygen. Now hydrogen and oxygen are different things they’re different substances, but when you stick them together as H2O, you’ve got one substance, water. And that’s exactly what Descartes thought, and I’ll give you a nice quotation from Meditation 4, I think, I haven’t got the book with me, but it’s one of the six Meditations, I think it’s four, in which he says, in a sentence which Dan Dennett misquotes, interestingly. What Descartes says, in French of course, but he says, “It is not the case that the mind, the soul, is” “in the body as a pilot, or a captain, is in a ship,” “it is not the case.” “But,” he says, “They are inextricably confused and intermingled,” “so as to form one thing.” Now, those are the words of Saint Descartes. So really, people shouldn’t say that he thinks the mind and body are two things, it’s two substances forming one dual-aspect reality. He was a pretty Orthodox Catholic, after all. That’s more or less what Thomas Aquinas was saying. The word “substances” confused everybody, because you think if there are two different substances, they can’t get together, but just remember oxygen and hydrogen, two different substances. They do get together, and they form water. That’s one thing, but they’re still separable. And I now quote Thomas Aquinas, “The soul and the body could be separated,” “but if they were, this would be unnatural and improper.” [calming music]

About the Author