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Archive for April, 2012

Cartesian Mind-Body

Posted by allzermalmer on April 5, 2012

This a paper I once had to do for a class, and the subject of the paper is to  be about the Mind-Body issue with Descartes presentation of it in his works. We were suppose to try to defend Descartes about the Mind-Body issue, or how it might work out in Descartes works. I have not altered anything int his paper, unless other wise stated. I received an A on the paper, but that doesn’t mean much.

Renee Descartes is considered the first “Modern Philosopher”, and he is famous for his skeptical method and his conclusions that he drew from his skeptical methods. One of the things that he drew from his skeptical methods was based on what is called Dualism. This stance held that there are two substances in the universe. They are Mind and Body (or matter), and they are both distinct from one another. He also said that these two things would interact with one another. There is considered to be a problem with this reasoning in how two different substances can interact with one another, which is how the mind can make the body move. This is called the mind-body problem.

When Descartes wrote his Meditations on First Philosophy, he came to the conclusion that there are two substances. Descartes comes to state how he knows that mind-body are different things, or different substances. He says that “the fact that I can clearly and distinctly understand one thing apart from another is enough to make me certain that the two things are distinct, since they are capable of being separated, at least by God.”[1] A substance is something that we can, or God, can clearly and distinctly understand apart from one another. This would mean that one thing does not depend on the other in order to understand them. For example, I do not need to understand the Earth in order to understand the Sun. This means that they can exist separately from one another, and one does not imply the other.

For Descartes, the Mind and Body were two things that we could come to understand without needing to know the other. This helps to form the basis of the Mind-Body separation, or the Mind and Body being two different substances. In order to be a Mind, one must need to be thinking or willing thing, and the mind is not an extended thing. Now Body, or matter, is based on being an extended thing and an extended thing takes up space. A Mind wills things, thinks about things, and judges things, while not taking up space. Matter has shape, size, and takes up space. Mind is Active and Body is Passive. These help to form some of the essential points of what differentiates Mind and Body.

The most common problem that we have with the problem of Mind-Body interaction, especially of that of Descartes dualism of substances, is brought up by Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia. She was the first to states: “So I ask you please to tell me how the soul of a human being (it being only a thinking substance) can determine the bodily spirits, in order to bring about voluntary actions. For it seems that all determination of movement happens through the impulsion of the thing moved, by the manner in which it is pushed by that which moves it, or else by the particular qualities an shape of the surface of the latter. Physical contact is required for the first two conditions, extension for the third. You entirely exclude the one [extension] from the notion you have of the soul, and the other [physical contact] appears to me incompatible with an immaterial thing.”[2]

Elisabeth brought up how she comes to judge of causality between matter, and this seems to be different of that of body. Now we have to wonder about what is cause and effect, or at least how this idea has arisen in our minds. If we check history, we might notice that many “primitive” peoples have held that everything has a mind. We look at everything like it is alive. We come to think of them like us, or we anthropomorphize them. We first come to notice that when we will to move our arm, we find that our arm moves. We come to project this out onto non-human things. We come to think that a cat, a tree, a rock, or the planets move, which Kepler thought, because they have a mind of their own in order to move in a certain fashion.

With this idea in mind, we come to think of cause and effect like that of human beings. We will our body to move and our body moves. So, too, do we come to think that cats act a certain way because they will to act in that way, or that the planets move in a certain way because they will themselves to move that way. However, Descartes came to hold to a mechanical philosophy, which was that objects like planets do not have minds. What we do is take away the attribute of mind from these objects. But once we take away the action of mind, we have to wonder how is it that objects move as they do if they do not move by their will. In fact, Descartes held that matter is passive, and mind is active. Now that matter, in this mechanical philosophy, is no longer active by having a mind and now passive while having matter, it turns causality on its head. How can two passive things do something active like move or cause one another to move?

For Descartes, things that are passive, which is matter, move because of the Will of God. Only something that is active can move or have something moved. And God, being all powerful, has the power to move anything, like the whole of the universe. “The universal and general cause, God,  not only sets the world in motion, but preserves motion in the world…Descartes’ God is not merely the prime mover; He is the general cause of motion insofar as it is His continual activity.”[3] What we notice is that the motion of bodies is not because those motions themselves make contact with one another and cause the movement of one another, but it is God. It is impossible for passive things to interact with one another to cause motion. Only active things can cause passive things to move. And God preserves things, and is the general cause of bodies. Because God is the general cause of these bodies, he makes these passive things move about. This keeps in line with our primitive notion of how minds cause things like bodies to move.

We notice that Elisabeth brought up that “For it seems that all determination of movement happens through the impulsion of the thing moved, by the manner in which it is pushed by that which moves it, or else by the particular qualities a shape of the surface of the latter.” Descartes holds that it is God who makes these things move from one place to another, at least when these objects have no mind. Only mind can move matter, or those passive things. God keeps things in a constant motion of preservation, keeps them in being. Now we have to come and wonder about God and motion, or God being the cause of motion in bodies. We might come to judge that it is body coming into contact with body that causes them to move, but this is false. We have only judged wrongly, as Descartes would say.

Descartes said that the substance of body is that of being passive, and this is distinctly understood. But once we come to understand that these bodies are passive, and understand this distinctly, we can only come to the conclusion that bodies cannot move one another. This would be impossible. Body does not have the power to move another body. In fact, Descartes has stated that “the distinction between preservation and creation is only a conceptual one…we easily understand that there is no power in us enabling us to keep ourselves in existence.”[4] What goes for us also goes for matter. What this tells us is that God keeps not only us in existence, but also keeps matter in existence. This idea of causality is similar to that of David Hume.

David Hume held to this idea of causality in which one moment was distinct from another moment. This idea of causality that he presented had a long reach. He even applied it to that of the mind-body problem. He talks about how some have said that we feel energy or power in our own mind, and we find that this is transferred to body. Now Hume finds this type of argument to be fallacious, and comes up with an objection. “So far from perceiving the connection betwixt an act of volition, and a motion of the body; ‘tis allowed that no effect is more inexplicable from the powers and essence of thought and matter. Nor is the empire of the will over our mind more intelligible. The effect is there distinguishable and separable from the cause, and could not be foreseen without the experience of their constant conjunction.”[5]

What Hume is pointing out is that first, that it is inexplicable how the mind and body can have power go from one to the other. This is also the objection that is raised by Elisabeth to Descartes. Second, the effects of one thing are distinguishable from one and the other. This means that at one moment we will to move our arm, and another moment we find that our arm moves. And from experience we find that there is a constant conjunction between them. One follows the other. However, from experience, we never find one bringing about the other, just that it follows. Imagine that we have two clocks. One is like the Mind and the other is like the Body. They both have the same time, and when one ticks the other ticks at the same time. This would be how our Mind Body connection would be. They just happen to move at the same time and we just judge that the mind causes the body to move. This, in some sense, is consistent with what Descartes would have to hold if God was not the one who kept things connected, or it is God that keeps us into existence and keeps things connected by its divine will.

Now Hume’s position, if we were to just add God into it, brings up something interesting and seems to be consistent with what Descartes might be forced to hold. The position that comes up is Occasionalism. Occasionalism is that view that “there is no creature, spiritual or corporeal, that can change [the position of a body] or that of any of its parts in the second instant of its creation if the creator does not do it himself, since it is he who had produced this part of matter in place.”[6] The point of this is that we cannot do anything we will, because only God can cause anything or make anything happen. This would be consistent with a form of determinism, if not fatalism. For it would be determinism because God determines what actions our body does, or the determinate cause, and it would be fatalism because God could have a purpose for things in which he determines what our bodies and actions will lead to. We cannot escape any of these things.

With Occasionalism, there is no mind body problem for us. We only find that our bodies move in a certain way because God wills our bodies to move that way. It is still the case that a mind moves matter, but it is not our minds that move the bodies. We think that our minds move our bodies when we will it, but we do not have the ability to move our bodies. It is only God who does it. But we might want to know, is this what Descartes is committed to? It appears that Descartes is not committed to this position. He appears to have a way around this position.

Descartes appears to break efficient causation down in two ways. There are two different ideas of efficient causation. There is cause of being and cause of becoming. The cause of being is that of God, and God is also a partial cause of becoming. The Cause of Being is that of God, for he keeps things in being, he keeps them in existence. But the Cause of Becoming can be other minds as well, like Human beings. God can sustain things in their being, Cause of Being, or God can sustain things in their motion. Now it should be these two things are distinct from one another. One does not imply the other, because something can exist and never move, but God would sustain it as being. Now if it moves, God can either be the cause of it or a human, for example, could be the cause of it.

Now this allows Descartes to escape the charge of Occasionalism, and would also allow people to be the cause of the motion of their body. For God only keeps us in existence, but God doesn’t cause our bodies to move when we do not will our bodies to move. We found out that matter is passive, while minds are active. God causes things to stay in existence, and he causes things to move, in general. However, we can cause things to move in particular, like our body. We can state this simply as Minds are the cause of the movements of matter, whether our own bodies or that of the planets. It would seem that the movements of the planets are outside of our power, but they are not outside of the power of God to move.

Take for example that we throw a football to another person. The football, on its own, is following the laws of God, which we typically call the laws of motion or the laws of nature. These are just the laws of how God dictates matter to move, and keeps them in being and keeps them acting in those ways until another mind acts upon them. These other minds, like ours, can alter a normal course they would take in our absence. “Just as two human beings can exert their contrary impulses on the same bit of matter, so can we impose an impulse contrary to the one God imposes. Indeed, we do so every time we lift a stone, on which God is imposing an impulse to move toward the center of the earth.”[7]

What we find here is that mind is the cause of the matter, because the active is the cause of the passive moving. The passive cannot resist the active. For the passive to resist the active would for the passive to be active, and this would just be a contradiction and therefore make it impossible. Now let us go back to something that David Hume said. He happen to mention, previously, that “from perceiving the connection betwixt an act of volition, and a motion of the body; ‘tis allowed that no effect is more inexplicable from the powers and essence of thought and matter.” The point is that he is making it is inexplicable how this could happen, and what that means is that we cannot explain how this happens. It is like me trying to explicate what Blue is. It is just such a brute fact, or something that is so primitive that we know what it is but cannot explain it to others. So when Elisabeth asks for an explanation of how the mind-body interacts, she wants us to explicate it. But do I have to explicate to her what the color blue is, or how pain feels? No. This is something that is just there for us, and we know it by experience. It is so basic that we need not an explanation and must just reflect on our experience to find that it is obvious.

We find that it is so obvious to us that we have, secretly, projected it out onto other things like trees and planets, but have robbed these objects of a mind while trying to keep them as efficient causes. However, we have come to know of efficient causation through our primitive notion of mind-body interaction. If we were to get rid of this primitive notion of mind-body interaction, then efficient causation is gone from the world. In fact, this is exactly what David Hume did. He got rid of efficient causation from the world because he does not find it through sense experience. However, we also find some slight evidence that Hume’s position also stated that the “Self” does not exist. And the self would be the thing that causes the motion of the body. However, he later on had to give up this position because he could not render it consistent. For he restates his original position on the “self” with, “When I turn my reflection on myself, I never can perceive this self without some one or more perceptions; nor can I ever perceive anything but the perceptions. ‘Tis the compositions of these, therefore, which forms the self.”[8] Yet he has a surprise in store for us when he says, “In short there are two principles, which I cannot render consistent; nor is it in my power to renounce either of them, viz. that all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences and that the mind never perceives any real connection among distinct existence. Did our perceptions either inhere in something simple and individual, or did the mind perceive some real connection among them, there would be no difficulty in the case.”[9]

What we can recognize is that there is something simple and individual, which would call Descartes Cogito, the Mind or Self. Thus, if we accept this move, we find that there is mind-body interaction, because the interaction is of such a simple kind that it requires no real explication on it, because it is as obvious as the color blue or the feeling of pain. In conclusion, the mind-body interaction is of a simple, “primitive”, kind. Mind is active and body is passive. Efficient causation only makes sense with something active, and that resides in the mind. The active works on the passive which means that the mind acts on the body and God keeps matter in motion when humans do not act on matter.


Descartes, René. Descartes: selected philosophical writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Lisa Shapiro, ed. Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Rene Descartes: The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Rene Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Garber, Daniel. Descartes Embodied: Reading Cartesian Philosophy through Cartesian Science. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001

Pierre Clair, ed. Lousi de La Forge: Oeuvres Philosophiques. Paris: Presses Universitaires de Frances, 1974

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2005.

Baker, Gordon P., and Katherine J. Morris. Descartes’ Dualism. London: Routledge, 1996

Machamer, Peter K., and J. E. McGuire. Descartes’s Changing Mind. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2009


[1] Descartes, René. Descartes: selected philosophical writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. P. 114

[2] Lisa Shapiro, ed. Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Rene Descartes: The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and Rene Descartes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Pg. 62

[3] Garber, Daniel. Descartes Embodied: Reading Cartesian Philosophy through Cartesian Science. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. Pg. 186

[4] Descartes, Renee. Descartes: selected philosophical writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988 pg. 96/167

[5] Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2005. Pg. 478

[6] Pierre Clair, ed. Lousi de La Forge: Oeuvres Philosophiques (Paris: Presses Universitaires de Frances, 1974) pg. 240

[7] Garber, Daniel. Descartes Embodied: Reading Cartesian Philosophy through Cartesian Science. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. pg. 201

[8] Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2005. Pg. 479

[9] Ibid pg. 480-481

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Descartes’ Third Meditation

Posted by allzermalmer on April 2, 2012

This is the third blog in a series of blogs on Descartes Meditation on First Philosophy, this is based on his third meditation. You can read the second meditation by clicking here. This meditation is called “Of God, that he exists”.

Descartes picks up from where he finished in the second meditation. It is still partially under the demon-hypothesis, or the dreaming hypothesis. He has already found one thing that was certain, which is the “I think, I exist”. He re-states what he has previously come to from his previous two meditations.

“I am a thinking thing, that is, one that doubts, affirms, denies, understands a few things, is ignorant of many others, wills this and not that, and also imagines and perceives by the senses; for as I have already remarked, although the things I perceive or imagine outside myself do not perhaps exist, yet I am certain that the modes of thinking that I call sensations and imaginations, considered purely and simply as modes of thinking, do exist inside me.”

He comes to realize that the is a thinking thing. Being a thinking thing means that he thinks, doubts, affirms, denies, understands a few things, ignorant of many other things, wills x and doesn’t will x, and imagines and perceives by the senses. This is the “I”. All though the things he perceives or imagines might not exist outside of himself, which is based on the dreaming and evil-demon hypothesis, it is still certain that these things happen, and these are ways of thinking which do, at least, exist inside of Descartes.

Those things that Descartes listed as part of his “I” are things that up till now in the meditation, are what he is certain of. It is a short list of things that he is certain of, but he is going to try to come up with some more things that he is certain of. His first act of knowledge was to affirm those things that he knows clearly and distinctly. It would be insufficient for him to affirm those things that he thought he clearly and distinctly perceived if it came that they were actually false. So he lays down a general rule that whatever he clearly and distinctly perceives is true. From this he was able to find those things related to the “I”, and there were other things that he held that he found out were not clear and distinct, even though his previous opinions made it seem like they were.

“For in this first act of knowledge there is nothing other than a clear and distinct perception of what I affirm to be the case; and this certainly would be insufficient to make me certain of the truth of the matter, if it could ever come to pass that something I perceived so clearly and distinctly was false. And therefore I seem already to be able to lay down, as a general rule, that everything I very clearly and distinctly perceive is true.”

There were some things, based on his previous general principles, that he thought were obvious and true. But through is method of doubt he has found sufficient grounds in which to cast some doubt on them. Some of these things that seemed obvious and true was that there was an earth, sky, stars, and everything else he became aware of through the senses. With all these things that he use to think were obvious and true, he comes to question if he really clearly perceived them. The thoughts of such things were present to his mind, and even now in his method of doubt he doesn’t deny that those ideas exist in him. There was something else he affirmed, in conjunction with those other things, which was that he used to believe that he clearly perceived them when he didn’t. He, in short, thought he was perceiving clearly that there were certain things existing outside of him which were resembled by what he experienced in his mind.This was found to not be known clearly and distinctly.

He originally found that he intuited the truth of something simple and universal like arithmetic and geometry.  These things could only be called into question when it comes to the evil-demon, and, in fact, he came to find that these things could be called into doubt because of this evil demon. He found that he could be deceived by these things that he took to be completely obvious, like 2+3=5. These things couldn’t stand up, even though clearly and distinctly conceived, when he is faced with this evil-demon. This type of demon, in regards to these type of things, he found that he would be easily mistaken. But he comes to say: “whenever I turn my attention to the things themselves that I think I perceive very clearly, I am so thoroughly convinced by them, that I cannot help exclaiming: ‘Let whoever can, deceive me as much as he likes: still he can never bring it about that I am nothing, as long as I think I am something; or that one day it will be true that I have never existed, when it is true now that I exist; or that perhaps two plus three added together are more or less than five; or that other such things should be true in which I recognize an obvious contradiction.’”

From these things Descartes comes to exclaim: “And certainly, since I have no grounds for thinking that any deceitful God exists—in fact, I do not yet sufficiently know whether there is any God at all—then a reason for doubting that depends wholly on the belief in a deceitful God is very slight, and, so to speak, metaphysical.” He brings up that from the previous position he was in, he finds that, metaphysically, he has no idea to know if there is a God, let alone one that is a deceiver. (As a side note, it should be pointed out that Descartes is more concerned with metaphysics, because First Philosophy is a title for Metaphysics, even though most people think that Descartes is strictly concerned with Epistemology, i.e. theory of knowledge). One of the reasons he can hold this opinion is based on his “I think, I exist”. He found that everything can be accounted, in a certain sense, based on this “I”. It was the only thing that could withstand the evil-demon or dreaming, and so there would be no need for a God or an evil-demon when we have the “I am”. In other words, solipsism is his escape from the evil-demon.

“to proceed in an orderly fashion, I should first divide up all my thoughts into definite categories, and examine to which of these truth and falsity can properly be said to pertain. Some of these thoughts are apparently images of things and to these alone the name ‘idea’ is properly applied: for instance, when I think of a human being, or a chimera, or the heavens, or an angel, or God. But others have certain other forms as well; thus, when I will, or fear, or affirm, or deny, I am always in fact apprehending something as the subject of this thought, but I am including something further within the thought than the mere likeness of the thing; and of thoughts of this kind some are called volitions, or affects, whereas others are called judgments.”

He comes up with two categories that he is going to work within to divide up all of his ideas. The first is that of apparent images of things, which he calls “Ideas”. When you have something that you apprehend with your senses or imagination, this could be anything like human, cat, or etc, this forms the basis of an idea. Now this idea doesn’t need to be a representation of something in the external world itself. The other category is what he wills, fears, affirms, or denies, that he is apprehending something, an idea, but that he includes something further into these ideas that they are in fact the likeness of the thing he has the idea of. He goes from having an idea of something, and goes on to judge if it does represent something else outside of the idea itself and he judges or wills if it does or not.

When he considers these “Ideas” in and of themselves, which are sensations or idea, he finds that they don’t represent anything external to themselves. This means that he can’t be deceived in this regard. Remember, part of this deals with the evil-demon and dreaming argument. There is also nothing in the will itself, or its affects, that makes something false. This is because he can will something wicked or something that doesn’t exist, it doesn’t mean it is true because he wills it. This now leaves only the judgement that comes into question and not “Ideas”. He has to take caution based on his judgements, because judgements are the only thing that can deceive him because he holds to a false judgement and is deceived by this judgement that he holds to. “The most glaring and widespread error that can be found in them consists in my judging that the ideas that are in me are similar to or in accordance with some things existing outside me. For certainly, if I conceived the ideas themselves purely and simply as modifications of my thinking, and did not connect them with anything else, they could scarcely give me any occasion to err.” So the problem with judgement comes not from the senses or imagination or will, but comes from judgement. The basis of being deceived with judgement is based on judging that what appears in the senses or imagination represents something external to himself, and this is because the senses and imagination (as is the case with the “I am”) cannot be connected with anything else that is external to him, or represents something external to him, in and of itself.

“Of these ideas, some seem to me to be innate, others adventitious, others produced by myself. For understanding what a thing is, what truth is, what thought is, is something I seem to possess purely in virtue of my nature itself. But if I am now hearing a noise, seeing the sun, feeling the heat of a fire, up to now I have judged that such sensations derive from things existing outside myself. Finally, sirens, hippogriffs, and suchlike creatures are inventions of my own imagination. But perhaps I can think that all my ideas are adventitious, or all innate, or all produced by me: for I have not yet clearly discovered their true source.”

Those things that show up in thought or his senses, they seem to be either innate, adventitious, or produced by himself. Now he gives the example of understanding something, what truth is, what thought is, or something possessed by the the virtue of his own nature, are innate. Those things that comes from the senses, like feeling heat from a fire, he judged that they came from things external to himself. Those things he produced himself are those things that he imagines. He finds that he has these three opportunities for avenues to go, and he is going to try to figure out where his “Ideas” come from. Do they come from an innate source, an adventitious one, or produced by himself?

He first questions the adventitious source of his ideas. Take the example of heat from a fire, which he comes to know from his senses. What reason does he have for thinking that these ideas come from things outside of him? Nature itself seems to teach him this. It is, also, something he comes to accept through long regularity of thinking so. He also finds that it does not come from his will, because he does not will to have these experiences and yet they happen to him. He finds that he opens his eyes and he sees something which he didn’t wish to have the experience of.

“When I say here that ‘I am taught by nature’ to think so, I mean only that I am prompted to believe this by some spontaneous inclination, not that it is shown to me to be true by some natural light. The two things are very different: for whatever is shown to me by the natural light (for instance, that, from the fact that I am doubting, it follows that I exist, and suchlike) can in no way be doubtful, because there can be no other faculty that I could trust as much as this light, and that could teach me that such things are not, after all, true. But when it comes to natural inclinations, I have before now often judged in the past that I have been led by these in the wrong direction, when it was a matter of choosing the good, nor do I see why I should trust them more in any other domain.”

The idea of him coming to the idea of something bringing about his sensation of heat being an external source, has, as he says in one sense, come from natural inclination. But he divides things even further into “Natural Inclination” and “Natural Light”. These two things are distinct from one another. His idea that what he experiences comes from an external source is based on a spontaneous inclination, which is “Natural Inclination”. Those things that come from natural inclination can be doubted because he has found that natural inclination has lead him to certain beliefs that were found to be false. This is another natural inclination, and so it becomes doubtful as well. This seems to follow from the argument of illusion as well. What comes from “Natural Light” are not capable of being doubted, and this showed up with the “I am, I exist” already. Natural Light lead him to that belief. So Natural Inclination can be doubted and Natural Light cannot be doubted.

Now when it comes to having these experiences that happen when he doesn’t will it, he has also found that he has had experiences that did not depend on his will when he was dreaming. This shows that he is still capable, in one sense or another, of producing those things that he experiences against his will without anything external to him to bring it about. There could also be another capability that he has which he is not yet aware of, and this source is what produces those things that he experiences against his will. These doubts are sufficient to break from this idea of things external bringing about his sensations or idea.

Another thing he points out is that even if we do grant that something external brought about these sensations, it doesn’t follow that they are in any way similar to the way they are presented. Take for example that you experience a human being by his sensations. It very well could be produced by something that is like a microbe, and not anything at all like that human being that he is seeing. This is beyond his senses and so he can’t really think that what he experiences resembles that which produced his sensations against his will. He brings up the example of two suns: “For instance, I find within me two different ideas of the sun. One appears to be derived from the senses, and it would absolutely have to be placed in the category of ideas I class as ‘adventitious’. This idea represents the sun as very small. The other, however, derives from astronomical reasoning—that is to say, it is derived from some notions innate within me, or has been produced by me in some other way. This idea represents the sun as several times larger than the earth. But certainly, both cannot be like one and the same sun existing outside me; and reason persuades me that the one that seems to have flowed directly from the sun itself is in fact the one that is most unlike it.” He finds that he is lead to a contradiction between how he thinks the external thing is and the way it is presented to his senses. All of this eliminates that he gets these ideas from the adventitious avenue.

“But there is yet another way that occurs to me by which I could investigate whether any of those things of which the ideas are in me exist outside me. Certainly, in so far as these ideas are only various modifications of my thinking, I acknowledge that they are all on the same footing, and they all seem to derive from me in the same way. But, in so far as one represents one thing, another, it is plain that they differ widely among themselves. For beyond doubt those ideas that represent substances to me are something greater, and contain, if I may use the term, more ‘objective reality’ in themselves, than those that represent merely modes or accidents. And by the same token, the idea by which I conceive a supreme God, eternal, infinite, omniscient, all-powerful, and the creator of all things that exist beside himself, certainly has more objective reality in itself than those by which finite substances are represented.”

He comes up with a new division, which is based on formal reality and objective reality. Those things that are formal reality are all on the same footing, and are derived from Descartes in the same way. But insofar as they represents one thing and another, they differ widely among themselves. Formal reality is the what sort of thing the object is. Objective reality is what sort of content it contains. He looks through and finds that he has the idea of God, which is supreme, eternal, infinite, omniscient, all powerful, and creator of all things besides itself. This idea contains more objective reality than those things that are finite substances that are represented to himself. And we should keep in mind that from meditation two that Descartes found that he exists so long as he is thinking. This means that Descartes, in some sense, isn’t infinite or eternal.He is hinting at a differing degree of those things that contain objective reality, like one thing is greater than another, while all formal reality things are on the same footing in and of themselves.

“But now it is manifest by the natural light that there must be at least as much reality in the total and efficient cause as in its effect…it follows, both that nothing can come from nothing, and that what is more perfect (that is, what contains more reality within itself ) cannot derive from what is less perfect…For instance, a stone that did not previously exist, cannot now begin to be, unless it is produced by some thing in which everything exists, either formally or eminently, that enters into the composition of the stone. Nor can heat be brought about in a subject that was not hot before, unless by a thing that belongs to at least the same order of perfection as heat; and the same is true elsewhere…there is at least as much formal reality as the idea contains objective reality… if we suppose that something is found in the idea that is not in its cause, it would have this something from nothing; and however imperfect the kind of being by which a thing exists objectively in the understanding in the form of an idea, it is certainly not nothing, and therefore cannot come from nothing…And although perhaps one idea can be born from another, we cannot here have an infinite regress, but in the end we have to arrive at some first idea, the cause of which takes the form of an archetype, which formally contains all the reality that is only objectively in the idea. So that it is clear to me by the natural light that the ideas in me are of the nature of images, which can easily fall short of the perfection of the things from which they derive, but cannot, however, contain anything greater or more perfect.”

He finds that “Natural Light” has shown him that “there must be at least as much reality in the total and efficient cause as in its effect”. From this it follows that “nothing can come from nothing”. So when Descartes has an idea, this idea can only contain as much reality as it’s cause, but the cause can be greater than the effect, because the cause contains more reality than the effect. He finds that an idea can come from another idea, but we can’t have an infinite regress, and so we arrive at a first idea. The cause of this first idea becomes like an archetype which contains. By natural light, he also comes to ideas in him are the nature of images that fall short of perfection of the things that they are derived from, but cannot contain anything greater or more perfect. This means that the ideas that he has are not as perfect, and their cause would be greater than those that he has. He finds that he clearly and distinctly comes to this understanding, which is mostly through natural light. One way to understand his idea of the effect is contained within the cause is by understanding that the consequent is contained within the antecedent. Or that all the theorems of mathematics are contained within the axioms and definitions.

Descartes is now going to try to find out where his ideas come from. “[I]f the objective reality of some one of my ideas is so great that I am certain that that reality does not exist in me either formally or eminently, and therefore that I myself cannot be the cause of this idea, it necessarily follows that I am not alone in the world, but that some other thing also exists that is the cause of this idea. But if in fact no such idea is found in me, I shall certainly have no argument that can convince me with certainty of the existence of anything distinct from myself; for I have examined all these things very closely, and up to now I have found no other such argument.” He is no going to see if the ideas in his mind, which are the consequent, either come from something other than him or not. If it does come from something other than himself, then he has discovered another thing that exists. If he doesn’t find anything else that brought about this idea, then he is all alone. This is where he tries to escape his solipsism.

He is going to try to check his inventory of ideas, like that of God,other bodies and inanimate things, angels, other animals, and other human beings like himself. He is going to try to see if these ideas come either from him or from something else other than him. With bodies he finds that they come from him, which was shown in meditation two when he dealt with the piece of wax and from the dream argument as well. He can even come up with the idea of substance, duration, and number, based on his own experience. This shows that these ideas come from himself as well and doesn’t show anything else. This would mean that other humans, animals, and inanimate things can all be accounted from coming from himself. This means that they are the affects of him, which means that they are contained within him. Now he is going to check out the idea of God and see if that idea comes from him or from something else, i.e. God.

“By the name ‘God’ I understand an infinite, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful substance, by which I myself and whatever else exists (if anything else does exist) was created. But certainly, all these properties are such that, the more carefully I consider them, the less it seems possible that they can be derived from me alone. And so I must conclude that it necessarily follows from all that has been said up to now that God exists.”

Descartes now comes to the idea of God and finds that he understands it to be infinite, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful substance, and other things which exists was created by. When he check through is own mind, he finds that this idea does not come from himself. Descartes has the idea of a substance, thing capable of existing by itself, which is what he is suppose to be. But he finds that he is a finite substance and so the idea of an infinite substance cannot be derived from himself. He also finds that by the idea of infinite he means what is complete while he finds that he is finite and lacks something. He already has this idea of something perfect, and finds that he is imperfect, so this idea of something perfect cannot come from him. This idea of perfect is an effect, but the cause contains this and more, and he doesn’t contain as much as  the idea of perfect he has. This idea can’t come from nothing, so it came from something that is perfect, which he understands to be God.

Descartes tries to find out if he might actually have some powers that he is not aware of, and these powers could account for the ideas he has so that he is the cause of them and not something else. He has found that through this meditation he has slowly increased knowledge more and more. With this increase he can imagine that he would keep on until he reached infinity, which is to reach complete knowledge and not lack any knowledge any more. It would be like a closed circle and nothing is missing from it. He holds that the idea of gradual growth up to this infinite shows a lack of perfection, and God lacks no perfection and so this can’t be how he derived the idea. He finds that he has the potential to keep increasing, as well as actually increasing his knowledge, but the idea of God is that which has no potential and is all actual. Thus the Idea of God doesn’t come from him, he is not the cause of the idea. He also finds that Natural Light leads him to these conclusions that he is not the cause of his idea of God.

He comes up with another argument from God besides the one based on what Natural Light presents as cause and effect. This one is slightly different.

“I cannot elude the force of these reasons by supposing that perhaps I have always been as I now am, as if it followed from that that there is no need to seek an author of my existence. For since all the time of a life can be divided into innumerable parts, of which each particular one in no way depends on the rest, it does not follow from the fact that I existed not long ago that I have to exist now, unless some cause, so to speak, creates me again at this moment, or in other words, conserves me in being. For it is clear, if one considers the nature of time, that the same power and action is required to conserve anything, whatever it may be, in being during the individual moments in which it continues to exist, as would be needed to create the same thing from the start if it did not yet exist. So clear is this in fact that we may add to the list of things manifest by the natural light that the distinction between conservation and creation exists purely in our thought.”

He finds that he exists now, but it does not follow that he existed in the past or will exist in the future. In fact, he did say in meditation two that he exists so long as he thinks, and he listed all the things that went into that. He finds that he can imagine his life as a line and he can divide up this line into different parts, and this way no one part depends on the other part. So it follows that just because he existed a little while ago, it doesn’t follow that he has to exist now unless there was a cause for his existence. This cause would create him again at the moment, which is just another way to say that it conserves him from moment to moment. So there has to be the same power that conserves him from moment to moment in order for him to continue to exist, which is similar to having to create it from start as if it did not exist before. So natural light shows that the distinction between conservation and creation exists only in thought. This means that creation and conservation are not different in actuality, but only in thought. Things existing from one moment to another has a cause for each of these moments, even though we think that they are not created anew at each moment.

Descartes tries to find out if his “I” is what brings about his continued existence or creation. He finds that he exists now, but he is trying to see if he is the cause of himself existing a moment from now. He finds he has no idea of him being able to continue his existence, which shows that he is not the one that allows for him to exist form moment to moment. He did not bring about his creation or his conservation, which are one and the same thing. He doesn’t have this power in himself when he inspects his mind. But now he wonders if it is something like his parents that brought this about. But Natural Light has already said that there must be as much in the effect as there is in the cause, and he finds that his parents and others don’t have as much cause in their effect, and so it doesn’t come from his parents. And since he is a thinking thing, it would have to be another thinking thing that brought him about. The affect is a thinking thing, and there would have to be a greater cause that brought it about, which itself would be a greater thinking thing.

“And then of this thing too we can ask whether it exists of itself or by virtue of some other thing. For if it exists of itself, it is clear from the above that it must itself be God, because since it has from itself the power to exist, it undoubtedly has the power to possess in reality all the perfections of which it has the idea in itself, that is, all the perfections I conceive to be in God. But if, on the other hand, it exists in virtue of some other thing, then we shall ask whether this thing too exists of itself, or in virtue of some other thing, until finally we come to an ultimate cause: and this will be God.”

Now he is going to try to figure out if the thing created himself, and see if it exists either in virtue of itself or of something else. If it exists of itself, then it is what he considers to be God because it has from itself the power to exist. It would contain reality in all of its perfections. If what created him exists in virtue of something itself, then we ask if it exists of itself or because of something else. If it exists because of itself then it is also what is known by God. Now this can’t go on ad infinitum as Descartes pointed out earlier, so we are eventually going to end at something that exists in and of itself, which is to be what he understands to be of God, and it can’t come from nothing as he already pointed out as well.

“we must necessarily conclude that, from the bare fact that I exist, and that in me there is an idea of a supremely perfect being, that is, God, it is proved beyond question that God also exists.”

This basically comes down to two slogans that were used by Descartes, or at least attributed to Descartes in their Latin form. “Cogito ergo sum”; “Sum, ergo Deus est”. This can be stated in English as follows: I think, therefore I am; I am, therefore God exists.

He originally set out to see if the idea of God were innate, came from the senses, or was something he imagined. He found that it neither was from the senses (and neither was body), and neither did it come from his imagination. He finds, eventually, that the idea of God is an innate idea that he has. It is something that comes from Natural Light, which is similar to that of “I am”.


Descartes “I” is a thinking thing, which doubts, affirms, wills, judges, has imagination and has perception of appearances. He comes to divide things up into “Ideas” and Judgements. Ideas of themselves cannot deceive him. Judgements are the things that can deceive him. He judges his ideas to be either true or false while the Ideas themselves don’t show if they are true or false. So he must be careful of when he makes judgements. Ideas are not said to represent things external to him, which means that when one sees a cat they are not seeing something external to themselves that this cat represents. He goes into error when he makes that judgement that they do. He finds that either his ideas are innate, adventitious, or produced by himself. He goes through and finds that they are not adventitious, and they are not produced by himself. He finds that Natural Light has lead him to the idea that the effect contains as much as the cause, and from this it follows that nothing comes from nothing. They must be as much reality in the effect as there is of cause. He finds that he has the idea of God, and he finds that this idea is not derived from himself, which means that it has to come from something. This something is God. He also finds that through natural light that conservation and creation are one and the same thing, and he exists from moment to moment. There would have to be a cause of this, and he finds that God is the only one that has the power to do this. He also found that Natural Light is what leads him to the belief in God, and Natural Light is beyond deception while Natural Inclination leads to deception.

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Descartes’ Second Meditation

Posted by allzermalmer on April 1, 2012

This is the second blog, of a series of blogs, on Descartes’ Meditation on First Philosophy. This is Descartes second meditation, which is titled, “Of the nature of the human mind; that it is more easily known than the body”

To read the first meditation, click here. He is trying to find some new general principles now that he has sufficiently broken the other general principles to bring the rest of the house down. He tries to build up from another point, and obtain some truth.

He comes from his First Meditation and pick up from there.

“I will try the same path again as the one I set out [in first meditation], that is to say, eliminating everything in which there is the smallest element of doubt, exactly as if I had found it to be false through and through; and I shall pursue my way until I discover something certain; or, failing that, discover that it is certain only that nothing is certain…if I can find just one little thing that is certain and unshakeable.”

He has found sufficient grounds in which to doubt the foundation of his previous beliefs. The general principles that made up his former beliefs are now to be considered false through and through. He is going to start up from this situation he is found in, from his previous doubts. He is going to try to discover one thing that is certain, whether this be either something is certain or nothing is certain. He is just seeking that one unshakeable thing to form the corner stone of his beliefs. What is interesting is that he could find one thing that is certain, which could be like “The mob killed Jimmy Hoffa” or it could be something like “Nothing is certain”. This looks to be a very important passage.

He has put him self back into the framework in which this evil-demon, or being in a dream, are still haunting him.

“But I convinced myself that there was nothing at all in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Did I therefore not also convince myself that I did not exist either? No: certainly I did exist, if I convinced myself of something.—But there is some deceiver or other, supremely powerful and cunning, who is deliberately deceiving me all the time.—Beyond doubt then, I also exist, if he is deceiving me; and he can deceive me all he likes, but he will never bring it about that I should be nothing as long as I think I am something…I can finally decide that this proposition, ‘I am, I exist’, whenever it is uttered by me, or conceived in the mind, is necessarily true.”

Since he is doubting things, he wants to find out what this “I” or “Me” is that he talks about. Try to find out more about this one thing that is certain. This is going to form his corner stone and wants to figure out some more about it. He doesn’t want to mistake the “me” for something that is not “me”. He doesn’t want to confuse it with something else, or what it is not. He is going to try to get rid of those old beliefs of what he thought the “me” was, or what this “I” was. In his method of doubt that he started out with, he can’t have a general foundation of this “I” that has sufficient grounds to doubt as well. He “shall then subtract whatever it has been possible to cast doubt on, even in the slightest degree…so  that in the end there shall remain exactly and only that which is certain and unshakeable.”

He originally thought he was a “rational animal”, or his “I” or “me” was a rational animal. He is going to try to question this, which is that what is a “rational” and what is “animal”? He would have to examine what rational is and what animal is. From starting with this one question, he is going to start down a road of questioning that leads to more and more difficult questions about what is “rational” or “animal”, and thus what is a “rational animal”. He says that he doesn’t have the leisure to go further into this type of criticism of what constituted the “I” or “me” under the “rational animal” idea.

He next  moves on to what else comes immediately to his mind, which is the body and soul. For the body he gets the idea of face, hands, arms, and mechanical limbs, and he can even see this in corpses, which he referred to as body. He also came up with the idea of soul, which is what motioned, perceived with the senses,  and thought. He finds that the soul is something that is hard to nail down, it is like “something very rarefied and subtle, like a wind, or fire, or thin air, infused into my coarser parts.” With the body, he finds that he has some better idea of it than he did of the soul. So he is going to question this thing itself.

“I thought I distinctly knew [the bodies] nature, which, if I had attempted to describe how I conceived it in my mind, I would have explained as follows: by body I mean everything that is capable of being bounded by some shape, of existing in a definite place, of filling a space in such a way as to exclude the presence of any other body within it; of being perceived by touch, sight, hearing, taste, or smell, and also of being moved in various ways, not indeed by itself, but by some other thing by which it is touched; for to have the power of moving itself, and also of perceiving by the senses or thinking, I judged could in no way belong to the nature of body; rather, I was puzzled by the fact that such capacities were found in certain bodies.”

He points out that he considers body to have a shape and excludes other bodies, and one body moves another when it comes into contact with another, and body doesn’t have the nature to move itself, while also not perceiving by senses or thinking. It also is known by the five senses, as well as being moved in various ways. These things he said he came to know of before clearly and distinctly, and part of what he considered to be the “I” or “me”.

Now we have to pull back the evil-demon or dreaming, because with all these things that Descartes knew about bodies, they are all suspect now with the evil-demon or dreaming. Now he comes to think if this “I” or “me” he discovered has any of these attributes. He searches through his mind and he comes up with nothing of these things known as bodies to stand up to what he finds with the “I” or “me”. He also tries to do the same with what he understood as soul, which was based on nourishment and movement. He searches through his mind and doesn’t find this either in the “I” or “me” that he found is certain. The body and the soul are cast down as not what he finds in this “I” or “me”. These former beliefs of what was body and what was soul are found not to be in this “I” or “me”.

He comes to question sense perception. Could this sense perception be this “I” that he is talking about? He says no, and this is because sense perception is related to the body and the body was considered suspect by the evil-demon and dreaming. For he has dreamed about things and he had a body in those dreams, but he was not having a sense perception of his body but was projecting some body. Next he comes to ask about thinking, and he thinks he has found something here that meets with the “I” or “me” that he was talking about that is certain. Thought cannot be stripped away from him, I am, I exist, that is certain.

“Certainly only for as long as I am thinking; for perhaps if I were to cease from all thinking it might also come to pass that I might immediately cease altogether to exist. I am now admitting nothing except what is necessarily true: I am therefore, speaking precisely, only a thinking thing, that is, a mind, or a soul, or an intellect, or a reason… I am therefore a true thing, and one that truly exists; but what kind of thing? I have said it already: one that thinks.”

He finds that this “I” is a thinking thing, something that thinks. But there is a catch, which is that it only exists when it thinks. As long as thinking, this “I” or “me” is existing. This means that he could be thinking now, which means he exists, or the next think he stops thinking, which means he stops existing. So long as thinking, “I exist”.

It might be the case that he does really have a body after all, even with the supposition of the evil-demon and dreaming. But that has nothing to do with anything he is talking about at present. But he can only pass judgment on what he has before him. As he says, “I can pass judgement only on those things that are known to me.” He knows that he exists, but he is trying to figure out what this “I” is. He knows it does not depend on those things that he does not yet know. He knows that the “I” doesn’t depend on the imagination, because when he imagines something they usually have some shape or color. But he is supposing that those things are all undercut by the evil-demon or dreaming. Shape and color are projected from dreams or the evil demon.

“But what therefore am I? A thinking thing. What is that? I mean a thing that doubts, that understands, that affirms, that denies, that wishes to do this and does not wish to do that, and also that imagines and perceives by the senses.”

Descartes comes to the final conclusion, by checking with his previous beliefs, that those things that he considered to be the “I” was not actually part of the “I” when he goes through his method of doubt. When he comes to the “I am, I exist”, he found that the “I” was a thinking thing that only existed when it was thinking. We come to find that the “I” is something that doubts, understands, that affirms, that denies, that which wishes x and doesn’t wish to x, and it also imagines and perceives by the senses. Whenever doing any of these things, “I” exists. When not doing any of those things, “I” doesn’t exist.

Now he wants to see, under his method of doubt, if doubting, thinking, understanding, affirming, denying, wishes x or doesn’t wish x, and imagines and perceives by the senses really belong to this “I”. That is a lot of things that belongs to the “I”, but is it proper to say that it really belongs to the “I”? These things are always found to be with the “I”, even if one is being deceived by the evil-demon or if he is dreaming. The imagining is also part of him, because whether the things he imagines do or don’t exist with the evil-demon or not, the imagining is still there and so still a part of this “I”. And as he says what he means by the senses, he states, “for example, I am seeing a light, hearing a noise, feeling heat. —But these things are false, since I am asleep! —But certainly I seem to be seeing, hearing, getting hot. This cannot be false. This is what is properly meant by speaking of myself as having sensations; and, understood in this precise sense, it is nothing other than thinking.” He has things that appear, which is what he means by “senses” in the “I am”. Now there is the difference between something appears X and something is X. Something appears X is part of the “I”, but the something that is x, which is in doubt because dreaming argument, is not part of the “I”.

“But it still seems (and I cannot help thinking this) that the bodily things of which the images are formed in our thought, and which the senses themselves investigate, are much more distinctly recognized than that part of myself, whatever it is, that cannot be represented by the imagination. Although, indeed, it is strange that things that I realize are doubtful, unknown, unrelated to me should be more distinctly grasped by me than what is true and what is known—more distinctly grasped even than myself. But I see what is happening. My mind enjoys wandering off the track, and will not yet allow itself to be confined within the boundaries of truth. Very well, then: let us, once again, slacken its reins as far as possible —then, before too long, a tug on them at the right moment will bring it more easily back to obedience.”

He pointed out, in the first meditation, that he has  become accustomed to opinions which continually creep back into his mind, and take possession of his belief, which has been enslaved to them by long experience and familiarity. One of these beliefs includes that “bodily things of which the images are formed in our thought, and which the senses themselves investigate, are much more distinctly recognized than that part of myself.” This is one of his accustomed opinions, but this has been cast into based on the evil-demon and dreaming argument. This things couldn’t have been known distinctly to him, especially beyond that of the “I”. False beliefs have lead him to become accustomed to such a belief.

Now Descartes will see how he gets to the idea, in particular, of a body. The argument is even more devastating on a general level. This is to find out where the idea of body comes from. It is commonly thought, at least by the old beliefs that Descartes held, that the idea of body was one of the most clear and distinct things that we could know. This is what has become known as Descartes’ Wax.

Descartes takes out a piece of wax from a bee hive. He finds that this particular body has the qualities of “tast[ing] of honey…the scent of the flowers…colour, shape and size…hard, cold and…handled without difficulty…it makes a sound.”. All of these things are properties that we need to know of a body clearly and distinctly. But now he takes the piece of wax and puts it in a fire. He takes the wax out and he finds that it has none of the properties that the body of wax had before. The “taste is eliminated, the smell goes away, the colour changes, the shape is lost, the size increases; it becomes liquid and hot; you can hardly touch it, and if you strike it, it no longer makes a sound.” All the qualities it had before has now changed. This was all the information that Descartes received from the senses, and he found that the body changed it’s qualities and so he can’t come up with the idea of a body, which would seem to be something that persists from all these changes, are not derived from his senses.

Now that Descartes finds that he doesn’t get the idea of a particular body from the senses, he comes to check the imagination and see if he can find the idea of body from there. He finds that there are three things that make up the qualities from the imagination that one gets of a particular body. He finds it relies on being “flexible”, “changeable”, or “extended”. All of these things are what seems to be derived from the imagination. But when he looks into what flexible and changeable, he finds that his imagination can manipulate these things very easily with his imagination. He can imagine it as a circle or then as a triangle. It changes it’s qualities, or positions, as well. It doesn’t remain when these changes happen. He even finds that it is possible for there to be many different ways it can act without him his current imagination. The same goes with it being extended. He finds that his imagination doesn’t allow for him to derive the idea of body from his imagination.

Descartes finds that the idea of body isn’t derived either from the senses or from the imagination. This means that he would have had to have gotten it from somewhere else. This is where his mind directly perceives the body, even though it is not through the imagination or the senses. This is another faculty of the mind.

“So then, what is this wax, which is only perceived by the mind? Certainly it is the same wax I see, touch, and imagine, and in short it is the same wax I judged it to be from the beginning. But yet—and this is important—the perception of it is not sight, touch, or imagination, and never was, although it seemed to be so at first: it is an inspection by the mind alone, which can be either imperfect and confused, as it was before in this case, or clear and distinct, as it now is, depending on the greater or lesser degree of attention I pay to what it consists of.”

It is the mind alone, through some natural light, that leads Descartes to come up with body in particular, which means with body in general as well. It is neither from the senses or imagination he comes to this idea of a body in particular. He originally held that he knew of the body, but it was not through the senses and imagination. What this teachers him, the perception of the wax based on sight, touch, or imagination was the source of this idea, even though they thought came to the idea of it through the senses and imagination. When he inspected his mind, he found that the idea of a body in particular was thought to originally derive from the senses or imagination. But he imperfectly and confusedly thought that, and it was not till he investigated it more that it became clear and distinct that it came from the mind alone.

“For we say that we ‘see’ the wax itself, if it is present, not that we judge it to be there on the basis of its colour or shape. From this I would have immediately concluded that I therefore knew the wax by the sight of my eyes, not by the inspection of the mind alone—if I had not happened to glance out of the window at people walking along the street. Using the customary expression, I say that I ‘see’ them, just as I ‘see’ the wax. But what do I actually see other than hats and coats, which could be covering automata? But I judge that they are people. And therefore what I thought I saw with my eyes, I in fact grasp only by the faculty of judging that is in my mind.”

He finds that common speech helps mislead someone to think that they encounter a body from the senses or imagination. We say there is a wax, but we don’t make this basis on the color or shape. But he finds that he didn’t learn of the wax that way, and this shows up in another interesting example. For if it were by the color and shape that he came to “see” the body of wax, then when he looks out the window and sees two human shapes with coats and hats on, he would say that he “sees” these people. But by the sight of things, he cannot tell the difference between them and automatons. It is that he judges that they are people. So what he thought he saw with this eyes, like seeing a body of wax or other people, it was only “by the faculty of judging that is in [his] mind.” He also find that he is able to perceive the wax except for int his way of the human mind alone.

“For, if I judge that the wax exists, for the reason that I see it, it is certainly much more evident that I myself also exist, from the very fact that I am seeing it. For it could be the case that what I am seeing is not really wax; it could be the case that I do not even have eyes with which to see anything; but it certainly cannot be the case, when I see something, or when I think I am seeing something (the difference is irrelevant for the moment), that I myself who think should not be something. By the same token, if I judge that the wax exists, for the reason that I am touching it, the same consequence follows: namely, that I exist.”

He comes back to the “I” after going over how he obtains the idea of a particular body like the wax. He finds that he judges that the wax exists because he sees it, and it is more evident that he himself also exists by the fact that he is seeing it. For it might be that he is not really seeing the wax, which is based on the evil-demon and dreaming, but it can’t be the case that when he sees something that he should not be something. What he also learns is that he can apply this same type of thinking to anything existing outside of him. See if he comes of it through the senses or imagination, or by the human mind alone (natural light).


Descartes find that he is stuck with the evil-demon and dreaming. In this scenario he finds that he is being deceived by something, but the main point is that something is being deceived. This thing that is being deceived is the “I think”, and “I think, I exist”. Descartes goes on to try to figure out what this “I” is. He goes through his old ideas of what the “I” was, and he finds that they all fail to give him the idea of this “I”, under the demon and dreaming hypothesis. He comes to find that the “I” is a thinking thing, and only exists as long as it is thinking. A thinking thing is something which thinks, doubts, understands, affirms,  denies, wishes x and doesn’t wish to x, and also imagines and perceives by the senses. What it perceives by the senses is what appears and not what is beyond what appears. He use to think that he came to see through the body, but he tries to figure out how he came to the idea of body. He finds that neither the senses or imagination lead him to the idea of a particular body (or in general). It is only through mind alone (i.e. natural light) that he comes to the idea of body.

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Descartes’ First Meditation

Posted by allzermalmer on April 1, 2012

This is the first blog, of a series of blogs, on Descartes’ Meditation on First Philosophy. I will try to do one meditation per blog. So this would be a series of six blogs based on each of the Meditations in his book. [I might to come up with a way to do all the objections and replies that he obtains from his books and his meditations.]

This is Descartes’ First Meditation, and it is titled “Of Those Things That May Be Called Into Doubt“.

Descartes comes to realize that he held many false opinions that he once acted as true and these were from his childhood until the time of this meditation. He points out that whatever he holds which is built on a shaky foundation can only be doubtful. So he comes to realize that the structure needs to be utterly demolished and would have to begin from the bottom back up by constructing something lasting and unshakeable. He came to hold some “false opinions” and is going to try to correct them.

“whatever I had…built on such shaky foundations, could only be highly doubtful. Hence I saw that at some stage in my life the whole structure would have to be utterly demolished, and that I should have to begin again from the bottom up if I wished to construct something lasting and unshakeable in the sciences.”

It comes down to doubt to take some time for seclusion and think over these things that are accepted from childhood to that moment. It has become time to think them over scrupulously. He does not need to prove that every opinion or belief he held was false, because that doesn’t seem achievable. He doesn’t need certain or indubitable reasons to withhold assent. He only needs some sufficient reason for doubting them. He will attack the principles that form the basis of all former beliefs, he shall undermine the foundations and the building will collapse.

“But since reason already persuades me that I should no less scrupulously withhold my assent from what is not fully certain and indubitable than from what is blatantly false, then, in order to reject them all, it will be sufficient to find some reason for doubting each one…once the foundations are undermined, the building will collapse of its own accord, I shall straight away attack the very principles that form the basis of all my former beliefs.”

Descartes comes to find out that he has accepted as fully true what has come either from the senses or through them. However, it has been discovered that either what we have learned from the senses or through them, has failed him in that some were false. Prudence now dictates that he should never fully trust them once he has figured that he has been deceived. What this means is that he has had sensory experiences that turned out to be false (i.e. building looks small but is actually quite large). He also finds that what he has learned through the senses, been told by someone else, has turned out to be false (i.e. someone lied to him). And these other people would learn of them from the senses and also have the same problem he has of learned from the senses instead of through them. This helps to form the basis of the argument from illusion.

Although the senses sometimes deceive us about things that are little or a long way away, they are still things which there are no doubt, although learned them from the senses. Like now sitting at a table, with a pad of paper in one’s lap, a pen in one’s hands, and a shirt, pants, socks, and shoes on, or having a cup on the table, or having a body. What reason would there for to doubt these things?  Could compare oneself to a madmen who are naked and say that their body is made entirely out of glass, or say they see their body is made entirely out of feathers. But they are just lunatics, madmen, and we should not follow their example. This is a partial attempt to throw doubt onto those things like the body or a chair, which in some way seemed exempt from the argument from illusion, by comparing ourselves to madmen.

But Descartes finds that he can even doubt that he has a body or those things that would have seemed to be exempt from the argument from illusion without relying on saying we are madmen. Descartes finds that when in his dreams he has all the same experiences as these madmen when they are awake. When he has been asleep, he has the same experiences of those familiar things he mentioned earlier, but he was lying naked under the bed sheets. He has had very distinct things in his experiences of dreaming before, just as distinct as when he was awake. When he thinks clearly on the difference between dreaming and being awake, he finds that he can never distinguish between dreaming and being awake by any conclusive indications. This means he cannot decide if he actually has a body or not, these everyday type of objects he invoked to escape the argument from illusion aren’t safe from the argument from dreams.

“How often my sleep at night has convinced me of all these familiar things—that I was here, wrapped in my gown, sitting by the fire—when in fact I was lying naked under the bedclothes.—All the same, I am now perceiving this paper with eyes that are certainly awake; the head I am nodding is not drowsy; I stretch out my hand and feel it knowingly and deliberately; a sleeper would not have these experiences so distinctly…When I think this over more carefully I see so clearly that waking can never be distinguished from sleep by any conclusive indications that I am stupefied; and this very stupor comes close to persuading me that I am asleep after all.”

However, when asleep, we have these experiences of particular things like a cup. It is red and has some shape. It shall be admitted that things seen in sleep are “painted images” which could only be formed on the basis of a resemblances with real things. It is for this reason that general things are not imaginary, but real and existing. For when a painter wants to represent a siren, they must combine some simple parts of different things they’ve experienced from the senses. The colors and shapes must come from real things. This means that he comes to rely on general characteristics to avoid the argument from a dream, which is that those general things we have in dreams come from something simpler that they have experienced when not dreaming, which help to form our dreams. These things are simple and universal.

“In this category (i.e. simple and universal) it seems we should include bodily nature in general, and its extension; likewise the shape of extended things and their quantity (magnitude and number); likewise the place in which they exist, the time during which they exist, and suchlike…arithmetic, geometry, and other disciplines of the same kind, which deal only with the very simplest and most general things, and care little whether they exist in nature or not, contain something certain and indubitable. For whether I am waking or sleeping, two plus three equals five, and a square has no more than four sides; nor does it seem possible that such obvious truths could be affected by any suspicion that they are false.”

Descartes has gone over two types of arguments that show the frailty of his thinking, and how he’s believed some things that have some sufficient reason to withhold from the general principles that gave a foundation for his questionable beliefs, those he found to be false. He has come to realize some weaknesses, but it is not enough to have realized these things, he needs to remember it as well. This is because, as he says, “accustomed opinions continually creep back into my mind, and take possession of my belief, which has, so to speak, been enslaved to them by long experience and familiarity, for the most part against my will.”

These fundamental general beliefs that he held, and lead to him to assent to some false beliefs, and has become so familiar to him. It is now harder for him to break with these false opinions that he has held. These opinions keep creeping back into his mind because these opinions take possession of his beliefs and he becomes enslaved by them. This happens through long experience with them and developing a familiarity with them. What he has also found is that his long experience and familiarity has been very successful, but they have also been found to be false. As Descartes says, “my concern at the moment is not with action but only with the attainment of knowledge.” He has found that false beliefs have lead to actions, successful ones and unsuccessful ones, but they didn’t help him to attain knowledge. This is because some of the successful ones have found to be false, and so we cant’ trust some of these beliefs, even if they are successful.

Now he introduces an argument that casts doubt on those things that he has said seemed to be beyond doubt with the dream argument. This new argument will cast doubt on the most simple and general things, like that of mathematics and having a body part like a head. Those things that he said could escape the dream argument now have to contend with an evil demon. This evil demon is all powerful, which means that there would be no body, no sky, no chair, and etc.

“I will therefore suppose that, not God…but some evil spirit, supremely powerful and cunning, has devoted all his efforts to deceiving me. I will think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds, and all external things are no different from the illusions of our dreams, and that they are traps he has laid for my credulity; I will consider myself as having no hands, no eyes, no flesh, no blood, and no senses, but yet as falsely believing that I have all these.”

This is the most radical of skeptical arguments, in one sense. All those things that Descartes invoked to escape the previous skeptical arguments can’t escape this argument. This argument gives him sufficient evidence to doubt those general principles that he held when he was growing up from a youth till the time of these meditations. He has found so many things that were false, and thought of ways that he could try to escape them, but finds that those previous principles that held can’t stand up to all of these skeptical arguments that he has presented. He has to now, from this position, try to find a new general principle that would be able to escape these skeptical arguments. This means he needs a general principle that can’t be called into doubt based on these skeptical arguments that he presented.

“Just as a prisoner, who was perhaps enjoying an imaginary freedom in his dreams, when he then begins to suspect that he is asleep is afraid of being woken up, and lets himself sink back into his soothing illusions; so I of my own accord slip back into my former opinions, and am scared to awake, for fear that tranquil sleep will give way to laborious hours of waking, which from now on I shall have to spend not in any kind of light, but in the unrelenting darkness of the difficulties just stirred up.”

Descartes “accustomed opinions continually creep back into [his] mind, and take possession of [his] belief, which has, so to speak, been enslaved to them by long experience and familiarity, for the most part against [his] will…[his]concern at the moment is not with action but only with the attainment of knowledge.” This has made him a prisoner who enjoys imaginary freedom either from a dream or from the evil-demon. When he finds that some of his former beliefs are false, he is afraid to be woken up and so sinks back into his illusions. So he slips back to his former opinions, which have arisen out of long experience and familiarity that they carry.


Descartes has found that he held to some false beliefs. Whatever the foundation of these beliefs, he has found that this foundation has led to some false beliefs. He does not plan to question all of his particular beliefs, but he plans on questioning the “corner stones”, general principles, that were the foundation of his former beliefs. He only needs something sufficient, not certain, to break down these false beliefs that he held. Once the foundation is undermined the rest of his beliefs collapses. He finds that those things he learned either through the senses or from the senses have turned up to be false from time to time, and so it would be prudent to not trust them completely, argument from illusion. But he still has some beliefs like that of a body or objects, which don’t seem to be questioned by this argument. He finds that he has dreams that show that his body is not as clearly known as he once thought, and he can’t tell the difference between a dream and waking, i.e. argument from dream.  But he finds that dreams are built off of simple and universal things like color and shape. Our dreams would use things like this to escape the argument from a dream. Now he introduces an all powerful demon that presents to him things that are simple and universal, but they are deceptions that the demon presents to Descartes, which are to get Descartes to believe in these things even though they are false.

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