I have to find examples of contemporary philosophers who accept Cartesian dualism. Who would be the most important proponent? While philosophers who reject physicalism (e.g. David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel) aren't uncommon, they usually don't find Cartesian dualism plausible.

Addendum: So finally (I was very busy, sorry!), thanks for all the comments on this question. At first I thought Cartesian dualism was just about unified souls, but now I believe, that there are some other distinguishing features of it which are essential for it, but are simply refuted and not held anymore by any serious philosopher.

If Descartes were here with us now, I don't think he had a problem giving up his ideas about the pineal gland. Yes, of course, that was silly, but his philosophy doesn't hinge on that.

But, as pointed out in the comments, I think the mechanical view of the physical world is absolutely important. Descartes would probably have serious problems with quantum mechanics, for example.

I guess it is also essential to Cartesian dualism that animals do not have consciousness and are just some kind of complicated machines (which I doubt anybody believes today).

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    To me, what distinguishes Cartesian dualism from modern substance dualism is all the odd baggage attached to it (the pineal gland as mind/body interface, the theology, the mechanical view of the universe) which just don't sit well with the 21st century zeitgeist. Uwe Meixner and J.P. Moreland are both substance dualists of some form.
    – J. LS
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 11:19
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    I suppose it depends on what aspect of the Dualism is important to you. If you are looking for any proponent who says that a human consists of a Body and a Soul, then any philosopher of a theological bent would probably agree with that and make use of that in his work. Most of them would say exactly how that happens is something we can't know, and has nothing to do with the pineal gland as Descartes claimed. Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 17:29
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    I agree with previous comments. Could you spell out what do you take Cartesian Dualism to include? Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 17:57
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    A dualism with a real, indivisible soul.
    – user223635
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:36
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    Thanks. Why won't you add this clarification to the question above. Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 18:06

4 Answers 4


W.D. Hart's Engines of the Soul (1980) gives a book-length defense for the indivisibility of mind and its substantial distinction from matter (as opposed to more modern property dualism). Unlike many works which merely analyze dualism Hart develops a full proposal for how minds/souls can be distinct from matter and how psycho-physical causation can work. He extends this to a proposal for how disembodied minds are logically (though perhaps not causally) possible.

His focus is upon human consciousness and he does not touch (so far as I remember, it's been a few years since I read the book) upon the issue of animal consciousness. His theory does not require their minds to either exist or not exist. I personally believe the same thing is true of Descartes' argument in his Meditations - the argument against animal minds is an observational one: that we have much more reason to believe that our fellow humans possess minds than that animals do, primarily due to the use of speech. In a separate work Descartes had investigated the nervous system and how it functioned autonomously of thought, which is the basis of his reasoning about animals being pure mechanisms.

There is an in-depth review of Engines of the Soul here. You may find the whole site (www.newdualism.org) of interest, as it is explicitly focused on developing and defending a strong, modern account of substance dualism.

You can preview substantial portions of the book here on Google Books

This is probably the closest one can come to a modern-day defense of Cartesian dualism proper.


Richard Swinburne is also a proponent of a form of Cartesian dualism


I've only read bits and pieces here and there, but the 600+ pages of Edward Kelly and Emily Williams Kelly's edited book Irreducible Mind (2010) are worth going through. They're psychologists, not philosophers and most of the chapters mention research on NDE's. It bothers me a little bit that the book is advertised on the Internet as a "parapsychology" book, when it's much more than that. It's difficult to get philosophers to read psychology, and to get psychologists to read philosophy these days, which is only too bad, because we're all talking past each other. (I studied both, so I sometimes talk past myself, too!)

  • Kelly put together a follow on volume: Beyond Physicalism, which spells out the worldview that his team advocates instead. It is either idelaist, or a strong dualism (IE the world is affectable by mind, as opposed to Descartes weak dualism, where mind could only affect brain).
    – Dcleve
    Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 20:04

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