Human Understanding Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1690 Words
Date:  2022-08-15


The bodily organs form the foundation for all behavior. Whether a person talks or walks, read or run, the body is always involved in the entire actions. Hence, it is essential to understand the processes or functions of various body organs and behavior. The mind and body problem has always mesmerized humanity at all times and across entire cultures because of the implications brought about by how these two interact.

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The most crucial question in psychology is about the mind-body problem. Does the body forms part of the mind, or the mind forms part of the body? If they are different, then how do they associate? Many theories have been formulated to explain the mind, which is concerned with the cognitive operation, perception and idea, and the body, which is pertained the physical characteristics of the brain-neurons and how the brain is integrated (Descartes, 1649).

According to Descartes' mind-body dualism theory (1649), the nature of mind is entirely different from the brain/body nature. Nevertheless, thought and body interaction is required in the sense perception and the emotions, also what he termed as passions. He argues that mind acts conjointly with the brain at an epiphysis (pineal gland) and that it is possible for an individual to live minus the other. Hence, the theory of dualism proposes that the mind takes control over the soul; however, the body can also act upon the otherwise intellectual mind.

The causes of passions or emotions are not purely in the brain but rather in the entire body parts, in the notion that the various body parts function to produce animal spirits and the blood. The animal spirits are very elusive, minute material bodies which travel very fast through the body and are formed in the brain. Perceptions and the animal spirits can, therefore, cause the actual body movements. The seat of the soul is situated in the pineal gland, in between the brain hemispheres. Hence, for the body motions to occur, the spirits travel from the soul, found in epiphysis (pineal gland), through the body nerves, and act upon the already existing animal spirits in the body's system, thereby bringing about the movements in the skeletal and muscular parts of the body. Owing to their distinct nature, Descartes assigned mental functions or processes both to the mind and the body.

Processes of the Mind

As there are many inanimate bodies which travel in various directions inside our bodies and have got much heat and motions, Descartes believed that all the heats and motions within us are functions of the body. When an individual dies, the soul/mind only leaves immediately due to the absence of heat and the disintegration of the organs that makes the body to be in motion. Therefore, the body organs' integration makes the body active and alive, and when they disintegrate, they cause the body to be inactive and thus death.

The body but not the soul coordinates the body movements. The body is composed in a way that when there are changes that occur in the motion of the spirits, they make the brain's pores open and thus bringing about change in the entire body movement. Therefore, all the motions in the body are controlled by the body and not the soul.

The brain/body is centrally placed so that every communications, reactions, and movements of the body organs in the body are coordinated through it to give the body in motion. Heat is the central element that must prevail in all living things, and that the heat emanates from the heart. The heat is then transported throughout the body by the blood, and hence, this warmth is the bodily principle of the entire motions of the members.

Processes of the Body/Soul

As the mind concerns with thought and consciousness, Descartes believes that every sort of ideas inside us is the function of the mind (1649). The thoughts are categorized into the passions of the soul and the actions of the soul. The actions of the soul are the individual's wills since they are found through experience that comes from the soul and solely depends on it. Consequently, all forms of knowledge and perception cases found on individuals can be referred to as passions since the soul does not make them the way they are, but receives from things that are symbolized by them. Passions are the excitations, sensations, or perceptions of the soul which are caused, strengthened, and maintained by some motions of the spirits.

The soul is the principal element that forms imaginations and other thoughts. The soul may not only hold itself to conceive of something that doesn't exist but also hold to itself to get down to something purely understandable and unimaginable. An example of this scenario is when the soul attends to its nature, where the perceptions it holds of the things mainly relied on the wills that make it comprehend them. In this scenario, they are normally regarded as actions but not passions.

Passions and desires are the proceeds from the soul. Even though desires more often arise from the body, some arise from the soul, example being desire to love God. In spite of the degrees of souls' strength, every soul can exert absolute control over the feelings, or passions of the particular individual. The principal effect of the entire passions in human beings is that they support and provide their souls to yearn for the things that would prepare their bodies; such as the feeling of daring motivates the individual to fight, that of fear prompts to run, and many more.

Locke's Human Understanding

According to Locke (1689), human understanding occurs in mind rather than the soul. The soul exists without thinking, but understanding needs thinking which entails bringing forth all ideas from one's mind. The mind can make judgments on one's perception and refine them into concepts. Ideas can be categorized into simple ideas and complex ideas.

Simple ideas are the perceived mixed sensible things which a human can well recognize, and distinguish their qualities. All the simple ideas are the materials that make up our knowledge. On the other hand, complex ideas are the combination of the simple ideas. Unlike the soul, the mind can remember ideas, compares to each other, discern between ideas, compose a more complex idea from more than two views, and enlarges a simple approach to a more complicated notion through repetition. The complex ideas can be further classified into four basic types.


These are ideas and thoughts that never exist in themselves, like numbers, qualities, and many more abstract concepts.


These are ideas which are either self-existing, such as a specific sheep or man, or an aggregation of such things such as a flock of sheep, or an army of men.


These are ideas that arise from a relationship of things, such as bigger, father, morally well and many more.

Abstract General

These are ideas that exist independently such as man or sheep in general

Processes from which Understanding Emerges

According to Locke's book (1689), he presented a systematic philosophy of thought and mind. He not only raises questions on how individuals perceive and think, but also touches on how individuals express themselves through logic, language, and religious practices. Understanding is innate, and it forms the processes through which ideas are formed in human minds. The world is discovered by direction, and hence, establishing the basics through which ideas appear in an individual mind. The ideas that formed through senses are the general concepts that result in mind reasoning.

Although Descartes believed that human being is born with ideas already present in mind, Locke opposes it arguing that human beings discover ideas by the use of natural faculties. And therefore, humans are not born with ideas instilled in their minds, but rather they acquire them through viewing. The ideas that are generated from the human's senses show a uniform appearance, and they are simple. Hence, the mind lingers over simple ideas, which at some point compares them to each other, but in no way devise them.

When human beings are born, their souls are assumed to be void, without any idea. Once born, they begin to draw all sorts of materials both internally, operations of one's mind, and externally, object from a sensible world, to form the basis of the entire reasoning and knowledge. However, all sorts of ideas which form the basis of knowledge are obtained through experience.

Experience is what furnishes an individual's mind with ideas from knowledge and reasoning. Sensible objects drawn externally from the environment first affect human senses in various ways. The varying effects hence result in a certain kind of perception which eventually causes a general impact on their entire minds. The observations applied on sensible objects, comprehended and reflected on by an individual, furnishes human understanding with materials of thinking. Therefore, simple ideas are the most fundamentals units of knowledge which emanate exclusively from experience. Thinking and understanding give rise to knowledge through which the ideas instilled in an individual arises.

Sensation and reflection are the two types of experience that grant a mere simple idea to be formed in an individual mind. Through our passive sensation, perception, and feelings, the message is conveyed to the mind, and thus, the ideas are generated. When the soul reflect on, and furnish the understanding with set of concepts, such as thinking, perception, reasoning, willing, knowing, believing, perception, doubting, and other varying actions of the mind, that an individual is conscious about, it gives rise to understanding, as distinct ideas as those affecting body senses. The ideas are reflections of one's mind which reflects on its internal operations within itself. Therefore, the only originality from where the ideas take their beginnings is through material things considered as objects of sensation, and operations of one's mind considered as objects of reflection.


Descartes, R. (1649). Part I. About the passions in general, and incidentally about the entire nature of man. In S. H. Voss, The passion of the soul (pp. 18-49). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.

Locke, J. (1689). An essay concerning human understanding. In P. H. Nidditch, (pp. 80-90). Oxford university press.

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