Backer and Goetz (2011) note that the dualists believe that human beings are made up of two different substances: the physical matter which is the body and that part that does not exist physically which is the mind or the soul. This claim has been sharply disputed by the materialists. According to them, materialists, on the other hand, strongly believe that both man and matter are one thing and cannot be separated because they are also the same. Materialists argue that human actions are never dependant on some mysterious force. Searle (2002) noted that the two leading scientists whose works have widely influenced this debate are Descartes who supported dualism and Hobbes who stood for materialism. This write up will consider the works of these two scientists in examining the position, strength and weaknesses of each of the two sides of this debate.

Dualism has come up from the belief of Descartes that it is possible to know certain things especially through using appropriate methods which can allow their deduction. Griffins (2000) noted that Descartes used the method of doubt in which he stated that all things that are doubted should be forgotten, because that is a clear indication that they are not true. Descartes had argued that by doing this, one will eventually get to know the real truth. On the other hand, Hobbes who sharply contradicted the arguments put by Descartes stated that for anything to be well known in philosophy, divine knowledge is required. According to him, the fact that no man has absolute knowledge makes it obviously impossible to be sure about anything.

Descartes’ argument was that one can never doubt that he/she has a mind while it may be possible for them to doubt having a body. His reasoning was based on the fact that whatever is doubted can never be similar to what one is sure of, the body and the mind can therefore never be the same thing. Griffin (2000) agrees that on the surface value, the argument seems convincing especially if the reasoning by Descartes is anything to go by. Normally, the mind/soul can be basically understood as the part of human beings responsible for reasoning or rationality. That is, it allows the thought process in a man. This makes it hard for one to doubt the presence of the mind in any individual.

However, it is possible to doubt the existence of the body because of the complexities of its senses and that of its experiences. Baker & Goetz (2011) observed that Descartes has identified a number of examples of cases in which the human’s physical experiences fail to be what it was initially purported to be. The same is true with what people usually assume as the reality which in most cases does not turn out to be true. They note that one of the examples by Descartes was that concerning the senses which have always been characterized with deception.

Descartes had noted that the human history is marked by a number of ills that basically resulted from people being convinced of the existence of the things that were not even there. Another example is a common belief that our physical experiences are determined by the devil that is more powerful as compared to human beings and is ever canning using various approaches which are never known to a man. Griffin (2000) observes that with such illustrations, Descartes rightfully argued that it dangerous for man to continue trusting his/her senses. This makes it obvious that any given perception about the physical world can never be trusted equally. Descartes had also argued that, at the same time, it is never right to assume that people’s perception about the existence of anything physical is true.

Baker & Goetz (2011) note that having proved the existence of the body is doubtable while that of the mind is not, Descartes used the common law of identity put forward by Leibniz to prove that they are two different things. Leibniz had stated in his law that two things can only be considered to be the same if their characteristics are all the same at a given time (Baker & Goetz, 2011). Descartes also argued that the fact that our bodies are subject to people’s observation while our mind is hidden from the same is still pointing out to the difference between the two. Descartes’ last illustration was on perception in which he noted that whenever one sees something, say color, its thought crosses his/her mind but the color itself never appears in his/her brain. This means that there is no possibility of the correspondence of the thought of the color and the physical color itself.

On the other side, Griffin (2000) notes that Hobbes had argued that one can only understand any society after understanding the people that constitute it. He noted that it is not possible to understand people if we cannot understand their constituent matter. He, therefore, refuted Descartes’ notions of observable mind and the possibility of having a free will. He argued that in case it is true that human beings are under the control of their thoughts, which to him is impossible to study, no one can be able to study the society as well. He therefore supported empiricism approach but refuted that of rationalism.

Baker & Goetz (2002) observe that, just like in the case of dualism, Hobbes advanced numerous arguments to support materialism. First, he uses the Ockham’s razor principle which states that whenever all other things are equal between any two given arguments, the one that will most likely bear the truth is that which is metaphysically simpler than the other. This point to the fact that whenever an assumption that puts the two arguments in an unproven position is made, the chance is that materialism will bear much truth as it never multiply anything unlike dualism which seems to multiply everything by two.

Griffin (2002) also notes that Hobbes used the facts about evolution to further that is an argument for materialism. The theory of evolution holds that we are products of series of evolution processes. That is, a man was ones an animal but has managed to become the way he is today through a process that is entirely physical in nature. Hobbes further argues that if it can be true that these animals also originated from non-living proteins which lacks a dual mind then it may not be possible for such a process as evolution which is purely physical to lead into the formation of the soul which is never physical. With this argument, anyone can question the point at which the development of the soul occurs in man’s evolution process. This is the same case with what happens in the process of mans development from the time of fusion, to birth and then to adulthood. It is equally not clear when one acquires a soul. It is believed that this forms the basis on which many people have supported materialism because unlike dualism, it can easily be understood with simple illustrations of various actions men involve themselves in.

However, materialism has not escaped criticism. First, Searle (2002) notes that there are certain actions that human beings involve themselves into that can never be explained by a simple observation. A good example of such actions is altruism. Whenever it occurs, one can never be able to observe the motivation of the actor to know the reasons behind his actions because it is normally assumed to be done without any expected returns even when it is a great sacrifice on their part. Thus its existence can never be explained by Hobbes dualism because it may have to be associated with the unconscious might and the soul which is never convincing.

It is therefore true that both dualism and materialism have failed to accurately describe humanity. Griffin (2000) for example has noted that none of the arguments is scientific. It is true that science is based on observations which dualism does not support. It instead develops a weak theory of the non-physical soul which has no evidence of proof but is based on the ability to reason which can never be trusted since it emanates from the senses and is bound to make mistakes. The same is true with materialism which is based on the falsehood of dualism i.e. the fact that the existence of the soul cannot be accounted for. I agree with Backer & Goetz (2011) that by the fact that Ockham’s razor is a simple argument, it can never be taken as a proof enough to guarantee the validity of materialism. This argument only points to one of the suggestions but not to an unquestionable truth as the materialists have portrayed it.


In conclusion, with such criticisms against both dualism and materialism, it is not possible to justify either of them. This calls for the need for further research which can combine the two philosophies with careful elimination of their weaknesses. This can be possible through the use of a different approach based on doubt while excluding any argument whose truth cannot be validated. On the other side, the new argument can utilize the empirical approach fronted by the materialists while carefully leaving out anything which cannot be validated. Though it is not possible to have absolute knowledge about something, this can allow scientific inquiries thus making it for people to gain new knowledge.

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