Descartes – Meditations
In the Meditations, Rene Descartes attempts to doubt everything that is possible to doubt. His uncertainty of things that existence ranges from God to himself. Then he goes on to start proving that things do exist by first proving that he exists. After he establishes himself he can go on to establish everything else in the world. Next he goes to prove that the mind is separate then the body. In order to do this he must first prove he has a mind, and then prove that bodily things exist. I do agree with Descartes that the mind is separate from the body. These are the arguments that I agree with Descartes.
In his six Meditations, only four contain his argument about corporeal things and establishing himself as a thinking thing. Meditations three and four discuss the existence of God and the matter of true and false. Concerning Meditation three, Descartes proves God’s existence and that He is not a deceiver, thereby allowing us to be sure that we are not deceived when we perceive things clearly and distinctly. The rest of the Meditations deal with him proving himself as a thinking thing and proving that the mind is separate from the body.
In Descartes’ first meditation, he goes on to prove that nothing exists. He establishes that knowledge is built upon a foundation; each piece of knowledge rests upon some other part of knowledge. Over the course of ones life, a person establishes one piece of knowledge and builds upon that. Descartes goes on to doubt every particular set of knowledge he has.
Descartes says that the most basic set of knowledge we have is our senses. He continues that the senses give us false information. For example, when we look at the sun, we cannot tell how big it is. The same is true for dreams. Senses appear to be real in dreams, but how can one tell whether or not we are dreaming or not. So if we can never determine we are dreaming or awake then we can’t rely on our senses.
He believes that a supreme God has created us and has the power to deceive us. If God is perfect then he cannot deceive us. So we must assume that an evil demon is the source of our deceptions. Therefore Descartes has reason to deny the validity of his senses.
From this, Descartes assumes if there is a deceiver and he can be deceived then he must exist. In general it will follow from any state of thinking, whether it be imagining, sensing, feeling, or reasoning, that he exists. Since he can only be certain of the existence of himself insofar as he is a thinking thing, then he has knowledge of his existence of only a thinking thing.
After he has established himself as a thinking thing, he then goes on to argue that the mind is more certainly known then the body. He goes on to say that it is possible that all knowledge of external objects, including his body, could be false as the result of the actions of an evil demon. It is not, however, possible that he could be deceived about his existence or his nature as a thinking thing. This is true because if he can be deceived about anything, then he can be certain, as he is a thinking thing.
Even corporeal objects, such as his body, are known much more distinctly through the mind than through the body.
This is where the wax argument comes into play. All the properties of the piece of wax that we perceive with the senses change as the wax melts. This is true as well of its primary properties, such as shape, extension and size. Yet the wax remains the same piece of wax as it melts. We know the wax through our mind and judgement, not through our senses or imagination. Therefore, every act of clear and distinct knowledge of corporeal matter also provides even more certain evidence for the existence of Descartes as a thinking thing. Therefore his mind is much clearer and more distinctly know to him than his body. At this point in Descartes’ Meditations he has first distinguished the mind from the body.
Since he proved that God does exist he can says that God can bring anything into existence. But we also seem to know they exist through imagination, which seems to be “an application of the knowing faculty to a body intimately present to it, hence, a body that exists.” Descartes then goes into explaining what it is to imagine something. Say one imagines x, imagining x equals understanding x plus being aware of x by his judgement. Descartes says that a triangle can be imagined, but a chiliagon (thousand-sided figure) can only be understood. A “peculiar sort of effort” is required to imagine, beyond what is required to understand.
Now he attacks the notion of bodies existing. He says, “The way of thinking that I call sense’ give us a reason to think bodies exist?” Descartes attacks this the answer of this question in three ways: to repeat what was formerly believed and the grounds for them, to consider why they were brought into doubt, and to determine what must now be believed.
Regarding the first point, a long list of beliefs is given: my body, pleasurable effects, appetites, primary and secondary qualities, and different bodies. He then goes on to say that since it seemed impossible that they came from himself, it remains that they came from other things, and the only kind that to his mind are those which resemble the ideas themselves. He also says the one’s own body seems in a privileged position, in that one can never separate one’s self from it, and it is the seat of appetites, feelings, pleasure and pain. There is no evident connection between feelings of hunger and the nourishment of bread. He says that he has only been taught by nature.
Regarding the second point, Descartes advances the problem of “perceptual relativity”. That means the judgements of the external senses have deceived him and internal senses are deceived by pains in amputated limbs. There are two more reasons to consider why the statements in the pervious paragraph may be brought into doubt. He says that dreams fool him about the existence of external objects, waking states might as well. The second on is the he might have been made so as to be deceived. So he concludes that it is possible that there is some faculty in him, that produces those perceptions.
Regarding the third point, what God can make separately is different from something else. God can make what he clearly and distinctly understands, so if they can be separated in thought, they are distinct. Descartes says he is distinct from him his body because he thinks of himself as distinct from it. His essence is only as a thing that thinks and not as an extended thing.
The last thing Descartes goes into is the argument for the distinction of mind and body and the existence of material objects. He starts off with the argument from knowledge. If he clearly and distinctly understands one thing as one thing as distinct from another it is so. He is also certain that he exists as a thinking thing, while he isn’t certain of the existence of his body. Therefore, he is a thinking thing and nothing else. His mind is distinct from his body. He is a thinking thing that thinks and not an extended thing. He has a distinct idea of body as an extended thing. Therefore, his mind is distinct from his body.
The body is like a machine. The mind and body are distinct. This can be seen by noting that the mind is indivisible while the body is divisible. The mind is effected only by the brain, so all signals from the body must travel up into the brain. Signals travel to the brain from the periphery of our body by means of animal spirits, so the system is like a cord running to the brain, which can be pulled at any point along its length. Thus we can get signals in the brain that do not originate in our senses, but which we perceive as doing so.
I agree with Descartes proofs of the mind being distinct from the body. He has convinced me with his arguments from above. He has shown that mind operates separately from the body. He proves this point when he talks about the phantom limb. He says that the senses can deceive him with pain from the phantom limb. The senses can deceive him where as his imagination is of intellect and knowledge. He has also stated that he is a thinking thing while he isn’t certain of the existence of the body.
The mind and body do interact with the body in some ways. Descartes says that the mind imagines things, you see things in your mind. These things do not just come from anywhere. You get these images from your senses. Say if one sees something with their eyes. Then turns away and closes their eyes. The image is still there.
Descartes Meditations does clearly show the distinction of mind and body. He proves himself as a thinking thing. A thinking thing something that can only think and is not associated with corporeal things. Since he knows that one thing is clearly distinct from another, he knows that the mind is clearly distinct form the body. The wax proves this point. Thinking is essence and the body is extension. If you mutate and move your body around it is going to change shape. Essence cannot be changed or mutated in any way.