Karol Wojtyla y Rene Descartes. Comparacion de sus posturas antropologicas.

AutorHolub, Grzegorz
CargoTexto en ingles - Ensayo

Resumen: Este articulo aborda el problema de si Karol Wojtyla puede ser considerado dualista, cosa que es ampliamente aceptada de Rene Descartes. Analisis detallados de las obras de Wojtyla nos llevan a la conclusion de que no se le puede clasificar de este modo, aunque si es consciente de una dualidad que marca la existencia humana. Wojtyla nos presenta una comprension integrada y coherente de la persona humana a partir del concepto metafisico de suppositum y una amplia exploracion de la experiencia humana basica, que es captada por un metodo fenomenologico.

Palabras clave: Wojtyla, Descartes, persona, dualismo.

Abstract: This article takes up the problem of whether Karol Wojtyla can be called a dualist, as Rene Descartes is widely held to be. Detailed analyses of Wojtyla's works lead us to the conclusion that he cannot be classified in this way, although he is aware of a duality that marks human existence. Wojtyla presents us with an integrated and coherent understanding of the human person drawing upon the metaphysical concept of suppositum and a wide exploration of basic human experience as grasped by a phenomenological method.

Keywords: Wojtyla, Descartes, person, dualism.

Karol Wojtyla and Rene Descartes. A comparison of the anthropological positions


    It is not easy to penetrate the motivational background of a philosopher. It is not easy to establish with a high precision what prompted a thinker to formulate a particular theory or what resources have been drawn upon. Occasionally we meet someone who straightforwardly gives us a glimpse of his inspirations, intellectual adherences and preferences. Then we can relatively smoothly classify the person into this or that philosophical school or set of ideas. What about Karol Wojtyla, a former pope John Paul II? Do we really know what kind of philosophy he was involved in? In Poland, the country of his birth and the place of his philosophical activity, a discussion took place on whether he was a Thomist or a phenomenologist. The conclusion was far from clear: he had drawn upon both philosophical traditions. Thus some commentators consider him a phenomenologically-oriented Thomist but others just an original phenomenologist accepting some parts of the Thomistic doctrine. In his writings we can find reasons for both interpretations. (1)

    Along this line of inquiry, we can ask other questions concerning his philosophical adherences. We can for instance inquire: was he Cartesian? Or more broadly, was he a thinker operating in the Cartesian tradition? As far as we know from his declarations he did not describe himself in this fashion, nor did he entertain a special sympathetic attitude toward the works by Rene Descartes. We know this from reading his work. Thus we can say, without committing a major error, that our philosopher was not a Cartesian. Nonetheless, we can still ask: was he 'Cartesian'? There are some premises allowing us to make such an investigation and they will be spelled out below. Additionally, we want to establish how strongly Descartes influenced Wojtyla's philosophical activity. Maybe, without full realization, our thinker was a covert 'Cartesian' or someone who was unable to detach himself from the philosophical legacy of the French philosopher? Answering this question, or at least trying to do that, we can pave a firmer way to establishing Wojtyla's philosophical originality. All in all, this paper is an attempt to compare the anthropological positions of these two philosophers.

    Rene Descartes is considered the father of the Modern philosophy. He inspired many thinkers but also caused great opposition in philosophical circles. We can even venture into a thesis that he "produced" as many followers as adversaries. In a sense he influenced many other philosophers, even if only in an indirect way. I do not intend to pursue this line of investigation. My goal is much more modest. I want to investigate, on a limited scale, a similarity, a vicinity and finally a divergence of two thinkers: Rene Descartes and Karol Wojtyla. There is a good reason for doing this: both were involved in the philosophy of the human person and were attempting to shed some light on the complexities of human nature. They faithfully tried to read out a fundamental human condition and give it a coherent interpretation. In this paper I will be trying to prove that despite similar starting points, they differ substantially. At the end of their investigations, they present us with two various pictures of the human person and consequently the human being. (2)


    The French thinker employed in his philosophical activity a method different from what had been used at that time. As it is widely known his was a method of critical doubting. Applied to the human being it yielded important results. Even if the human being was commonly perceived as a complex entity, Descartes cast doubt on its basic coherence and inner integration. His objection was centered on a dilemma: Does the material component of human existence get along well with the spiritual existence and is it really complementary to it? What struck the French philosopher was the fundamental difference between the two as far as their "morthologies" are concerned. The extended thing--the body--is comprised of particular organs and parts. They can not only be distinguished but also separated from each other and "taken" as such. In short, the body is divisible even if it makes up a whole biological organism. The thinking thing--the mind--exists differently. It cannot be treated and perceived as the former. As Descartes puts it very clearly, "when I consider the mind, [...] I can distinguish in myself no parts, but I very clearly discern that I am somewhat absolutely one and entire." (2) The mind is a unified reality and has nothing in common with the space and operations typical for it.

    The extended thing and thinking one look like two separate realms of human life. Descartes was not at ease when he tried to describe the relationship between them. Actually, his major problem concerning the human being was to put forth a credible interpretation of how the body interacts with the mind. On the one hand, he declared that what is going on with the body and in the body has a slight or almost nonexistent impact on the mind. In this approach we hear him say, "although the whole mind seems to be united to the whole body, yet, when a foot, an arm, or any other part is cut off, I am conscious that nothing has been taken from my mind." (3) On the other hand, there is a kind of unity and interaction between them. For example the mind is associated with the body and somehow influences it. Descartes acknowledges that saying, "the soul must be more closely united with the body than the helmsman is with his ship, because if it is to make up a real man it must have not only the power to move the body but also feelings and appetites like ours." (4) The mind and the body constitute a human being but a kind of duality is manifest in it all the time.

    How did Descartes interpret that duality? Was he able "to get out" of it in the long run? He tried some strategies to reconcile these two various realms of human existence. But he was unable to find an inner connection between the extended thing and the thinking one. They accompany each other, somehow influence each other, and even make up a real man, this we know from our practical experience and insight, but the substantial connection is beyond us: it is somehow incomprehensible for us. The body is murky and how it relates to the mind is far from clear. (5) What we know definitely is the thinking thing with its ideas. Descartes stresses this point so decisively that finally from an epistemological stance he moves to a strong metaphysical thesis. He builds up on what is cognitively obvious for him, has clear representations in his thinking, and declares, "I am therefore, precisely speaking, only a thinking thing, that is, a mind, understanding, or reason." (6) Or:

    This taught me that I was a substance whose whole essence or...

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