Res extensa

Res extensa is one of the three substances described by René Descartes in his Cartesian ontology[1] (often referred to as "radical dualism"), alongside res cogitans and God. Translated from Latin, "res extensa" means "extended and unthinking thing" while the latter is described as "a thinking and unextended thing".[2] Descartes often translated res extensa as "corporeal substance" but it is something that only God can create.[3]

Res extensa and res cogitans are mutually exclusive and this makes it possible to conceptualize the complete intellectual independence from the body.[2] The categorical separation of these two, however, caused a problem, which can be demonstrated in this question: How can a wish (a mental event), cause an arm movement (a physical event)?[4] Descartes has not provided any answer to this but Gottfried Leibniz proposed that it can be addressed by endowing each geometrical point in the rex extensa with mind.[4]

In Descartes' substance–attribute–mode ontology, extension is the primary attribute of corporeal substance. He describes a piece of wax in the Second Meditation (see Wax argument). A solid piece of wax has certain sensory qualities. However, when the wax is melted, it loses every single apparent quality it had in its solid form. Still, Descartes recognizes in the melted substance the idea of wax.

See also


  1. ^ Principia Philosophiae, 2.001.
  2. ^ a b Bordo, Susan (2010). Feminist Interpretations of Rene Descartes. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 59. ISBN 0271018577.
  3. ^ Schmaltz, Tad (2008). Descartes on Causation. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 9780195327946.
  4. ^ a b Callicott, J. Baird (2013). Thinking Like a Planet: The Land Ethic and the Earth Ethic. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 189. ISBN 9780199324897.