Jul 3, 2021

The Relationship between Thoughts and Actions

2 Min Read

Have you ever wondered how your thoughts turn into actions? In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul discusses how René Descartes wrestled with this question as he considered the relationship between science and philosophy. Today, watch the entire message for free.


We have a tendency in our day to make a sharp distinction between science (or physics) and philosophy (engaging in the quest for metaphysical knowledge), as if these were two completely separate categories of investigation that never really meet. But the reality is that in the scientific world, all kinds of assumptions are being made constantly that are really philosophical in nature. Let me give a simple illustration of that. When you go to the doctor, and you’re not feeling well, and you’re looking for diagnosis and treatment of whatever it is that ails you, one of the concerns that you have and one of the concerns that your doctor has is trying to determine what caused this malfunction or your illness. It is the same thing that you encounter when you go and take your car in to the mechanic. He wants to find the cause of the problem. So much of what we are concerned about in the realm of real science is the whole question of causality or of cause and effect. Now, the underlying assumptions behind this question are assumptions that were challenged with great depth in the seventeenth century. Descartes, whom we’ve already introduced as the leading figure of seventeenth-century Rationalism, was very much concerned about this question. He wasn’t simply concerned about epistemology and self-consciousness that we’ve already looked at. But he was interested in how things related to each other in terms of causality. Descartes asked questions like this: “How is it that I can think about doing something and then translate that thought into action?” For example, if I decide right now to take this piece of chalk and throw it to Roger here in the first row, and then Roger decides to throw it back to me, and I catch it (without error of course), as we have this little exchange, how is it that I translated the idea, or the thought of an action, into a physical response, into a physical action? I decided to throw the chalk. He caught it. He threw it back, and I decided to catch it. That thought generated an action of response. So, we can see that thoughts can result in actions, and conversely, actions can give rise to thoughts. Now, we then ask the question, “What is an action, and what is a thought?” And maybe we don’t think about thought that much, but we have to at some point ask ourselves the question, “What is thought?” Is thought merely a physiological response with synapses and that sort of thing, or are ideas non-physical? We’re asking about the relationship between mind and matter.