interactionist, n., adj.
/in'teuhr ak"sheuh niz'euhm/, n. Philos.
a theory that the mind and the body may each affect the other.
[1900-05; INTERACTION + -ISM]

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In philosophy of mind, a species of mind-body dualism that holds that mind and body, though separate and distinct substances, causally interact.

Interactionists assert that a mental event (as when a person forms the intention to put his hand in a fire) can be the cause of a physical action. Conversely, the physical event (his hand coming into contact with the fire) can be the cause of a mental event (his feeling an intense pain). The classical formulation of interactionism is due to René Descartes, who could not satisfactorily explain how the interaction takes place, apart from the speculation that it occurs in the pineal gland. This problem led some philosophers to deny that mind and body really interact and to explain appearances to the contrary by appealing to divine intervention to create mental or physical effects for physical or mental causes (see occasionalism) or to a divinely ordained "preestablished harmony" between the courses of mental and physical events. Benedict de Spinoza argued for a monistic theory on which mind and body were both attributes of a single underlying substance. See also dualism; mind-body problem.
In sociology, a theoretical perspective that derives social processes (such as conflict, cooperation, identity formation) from human interaction.

It was Georg Simmel who first stated that "society is merely the name for a number of individuals connected by interaction." In the U.S., John Dewey, Charles H. Cooley, and especially George Herbert Mead developed symbolic interactionism, the theory that mind and self are not part of the innate human equipment but arise through social interaction
i.e., communication with others using symbols. For symbolic interactionists, the individual is always engaged in socialization or the modification of one's mind, role, and behaviour through contact with others. Other theorists, such as Alfred Schutz, drew on phenomenology to extend interactionism, an effort that led to the creation of fields such as sociolinguistics and ethnomethodology, the study of people's sense-making activities. See also Erving Goffman.

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      in Cartesian philosophy and the philosophy of mind, those dualistic theories that hold that mind and body, though separate and distinct substances, causally interact. Interactionists assert that a mental event, as when John Doe wills to kick a brick wall, can be the cause of a physical action, his leg and foot moving into the wall. Conversely, the physical event of his foot hitting the wall can be the cause of the mental event of his feeling a sharp pain.

      In the 17th century René Descartes gave interactionism its classical formulation. He could give no satisfactory account of how the interaction takes place, however, aside from the speculation that it occurs in the pineal gland deep within the brain. This problem led directly to the occasionalism of Nicolas Malebranche, a 17th–18th-century French Cartesian who held that God moves the foot on the occasion of the willing, and to various other accounts of the mind-body relation. These include the theory of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a 17th–18th-century German philosopher-mathematician, of a harmony between the mind and body preestablished by God at creation, and the rejection of dualism by the 17th-century Dutch Jewish rationalist Benedict de Spinoza in favour of a monistic theory of mind and body as attributes of one underlying substance.

      Two difficulties confront the interactionist: (1) As different substances, mind and body are so radically different in quality that it is difficult to imagine how two such alien things could influence one another. (2) Physical science, when interpreted mechanistically, would seem to present a structure totally impervious to intrusions from a nonphysical realm, an appearance that would seem to be as true of the brain as of any other material aggregate. See also mind-body dualism.

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Universalium. 2010.

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