McNair Scholars Research Journal

Article Title

Descartes Meets Samkhya


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. The credit for the identification of this problem is often given to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia. 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 consciousness and the physical world which includes the mind and will. This paper argues that this avoidance of the Mind-Body Problem makes Samkhya a less-problematic Dualist structure. However, the Samkhya metaphysics does seem to sacrifice free will. This is because agency in the Samkhya worldview, has to belong to the physical world by process of elimination. It seems that ascribing agency to unconscious matter is impossible and so Samkhya does not provide us any assurance of freedom.