Descartes, Second Meditation

Mon 20 September 2010


In Descarte's second meditation, he moves onto classification of the mind and body. The initial argument is that he must exist, even if there is absolutely nothing in the world he must exist, even if all existence is presented by a deceiver, he still must exist to be deceived. He runs into an interesting question of what defines existence and he effectively runs straight into thought: this alone is inseparable from me. This is a good starting point, but doesn't entirely answer the question of self. For example, Determinism may entirely circumvent the essence of self. He also seems to belittle the affects of sensory perception. If everything I perceive through the senses is a deception, are my thoughts truly my own or am I being led by a deceiver? Is my definition of self as a thinking thing even valid? For example, Descarte effectively defines imagination as "simply contemplating the shape or image of a corporeal thing". In essence stating that even imagination can be corrupted by the deceiver. He closes off the imagination as superfluous to perception of your own nature. Essentially Descarte is cutting off any contact to the physical world, even imagination that begins with a perceived event or corporeal object. However, the mental acts involved in say sensory perception or imagination, these can be considered real.

Eventually after repeated questioning he boils down to the reasonable to "I am a thinking thing". He separates the corporeal with the mental by de-construction a piece of wax and stating, surely we cannot be naturally aware of all states of wax, we use perception through the mind alone. It is a mental cognitive judgement on the nature of wax, which of course is prone to error. Descarte has built up the importance of 'mind', and more specifically judgements and understanding over say imagination. He cuts us off with reality and predicates all understanding of anything(real or not) with the self. So, in every act of understanding we establish the nature of our own minds a little further, where his reasoning for this is, I don't know. Descarte draws the line at comprehension so overcomes the deceiver argument. If a deceiver gave me a sample of wax to play with, my comprehension of the ultimate nature of this wax would be proof of self, not the imagining of wax and not the physical contact with the wax. Essentially, the foundation of all comprehension is 'self'.

Though I find myself agreeing with many sections of this chapter, it's never through Descarte's reasoning, but purely I agree that they are acceptable starting points. The question remains, I do not understand the nature of existence, nor do I understand the true nature of thoughts, yet we've made an inference anyway. Maybe the appearance of thought is simply the motion of the deceiver, or a computing simulation in action.


Category: Philosophy Tagged: descartes