Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Senior Honors Thesis

Department or School

History and Philosophy

First Advisor

Brian Bruya, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jill Dieterle, Ph.D

Third Advisor

Peter W. Higgins, Ph.D.


One of the great shortcomings of Cartesian mind-body dualism has been what is known as the Mind-Body Problem. Specifically, how does the mind (an immaterial substance) affect the body (a material substance) and vice versa. One of the first Indian philosophical traditions, Samkhya, provides a strict dualism as Descartes does, but does not encounter the mind-body Problem. Samkhya avoids the problem of mind-body interaction by drawing the dividing line differently than Descartes does. Instead of dividing the world into mental and physical, Samkhya divides the world into pure awareness (purusha) and everything else (prakriti). Which of course includes the mind and will. This paper argues that the avoidance of the mind-body problem makes Samkhya a less problematic dualist structure. The Samkhya school’s conception of purusha as pure awareness also fits into contemporary discussions on consciousness in an interesting way. Principally, an obsession with phenomenal consciousness or qualia, misses what is at the rock bottom of mental life: Awareness itself, a feature that Samkhya highlights as distinct, while other philosophers conflate it with experience. Realizing the existence of purusha can be quite difficult and is recognized as such by the Samkhya school itself. Luckily, it can be glimpsed through a moderate amount of meditative training. Since seeing purusha is a matter of purely subjective experience, it may be hard to grant the idea any merit. A virtue of this concept and of meditation itself, is that it is objective in a particular sense laid out by Max Velmans, who reduces the empirical method to: If an observer performs procedure P, under the conditions O, they should observe or experience result R (181). So, when an observer performs the right meditative procedure under the right conditions, they should observe and experience purusha.

Included in

Philosophy Commons