College of Arts and Sciences



Faculty Mentor

Wai-Shun Hung, PhD

Faculty Editor

Jason Wirth, PhD

Student Editor

Edward Voloshin


The philosophical background of our modern medical system is often traced back to Descartes’ theory of mind-body dualism. While dualism initially allowed for the advancement of medicine as a scientific field, it prevented the development of a more holistic approach to care and presented difficulties with conceptualizing mental illness. This paper examines Descartes’ understanding of the mind-body connection and his understanding of how illness presented in the whole person. Additionally, alternative approaches to medical care are explored in an effort to promote a more holistic philosophy of care. An analysis of Descartes’ direct writings indicate that he was much more nuanced in his understanding of the mind-body connection than often assumed. The polarizing mind-body dualism, while inspired by Descartes, was an exaggeration of his theory in effort to suit the body for scientific study. Similarly, Descartes’ understanding of illness is rather holistic in nature, even though he could never describe, specifically, how the mind and body influenced each other. Analysis of our current medical system leads to the determination that more holistic philosophies of care should be incorporated. These alternative philosophies would encourage a more holistic approach to care, which matches more current research on the connection between the mind and body. The importance of this research is twofold. First, it’s important that the distinction between Descartes’ understanding of the body/mind dualism and the medical system’s exaggeration of this philosophy is made clear. Second, it’s of the utmost importance that medical professionals, researchers, and patients understand the philosophical basis of our medical system. A lack of understanding of the basis of the system hinders our ability to solve the many problems that we currently face.