Descartes 2nd meditation essay

He attributes these to the soul and imagines this to be made of some tenuous substance like wind or ether which permeates his body.


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The same applies to sensory perception, nutrition and movement, as these all require a body. A thing that thinks. What is that? It is self-evident that thinking, doubting, willing and understanding do. Imagination does too, as even though the things that are imagined are not real, the power of imagination is real and exists as part of thinking. They can be arranged into three categories: those that judge doubting, understanding, willing, affirms , those that imagine and those that perceive. Accessed 11, A female one? You know, more or less, what Santa is like: but does he exist? In this case you know what his nature is before you settle the question of whether he exists.

The sceptical arguments of the First Meditation have, in general, left the meditator in ignorance about the existence of things. The meditator knows what trees, fires and dressing gowns would be like: but he is not sure whether there are any. He knows what his body would be like, if it existed something with hands, extended in space, etc. This pattern is typical of the Meditations. The meditator typically begins by answering some question about essence, and then raises the question about its existence: he will begin by describing the essence of some kind of thing, whether bodies, or shapes, or God, and thereafter raise the question of whether that thing in fact exists.

Descartes assumes that the essence of a thing can generally be known before one knows whether the thing exists, because the essential properties of a thing are implied by the idea or concept of that thing. For example, the idea of a triangle implies the essential properties of a triangle: a closed three-sided figure. That tells you something about the concept of a triangle.


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And it tells you something about the world: if you come across an existing triangle, it will have three sides. The idea or concept of a yeti implies that being an animal is an essential property of a yet.

The Second Meditation and Objections to Cartesian Dualism

That tells you something about the concept of a yeti. And it tells you something about the world: if you come across an existing yeti, it will be an animal. You can have an idea or concept of a thing prior to knowing whether the thing exists: so in many cases you can know the essence of something before knowing whether it exists. The grand exception to this general pattern in the Meditations is, of course, knowledge of oneself. In the argument of the cogito , the thinker concludes, 'I exist'.

It is only after establishing this conclusion about his existence that he raises the question: what am I? What is my nature? What is my essence? Immediately after the conclusion of the cogito , Descartes says: 'I do not yet have a sufficient understanding of what this 'I' is, that necessarily exists' I know that I exist, but I do not yet know what I am. I know of my existence, but I do not yet know of my essence.

The rest of the Second Meditation is devoted to arguing that the essence of the self, or 'I' whose existence has been proved in the cogito is to think. Notice that the subtitle of this Meditation is basically devoted to this issue about the nature of the self or mind: 'The nature of the human mind, and how it is better known than the body'. Notice the mention of 'body' in the title. The meditator will address an important question about the essence of matter, or body, whose existence is still entirely in doubt.

But the purpose there too will be to establish a thesis about the mind: that it is better known than the body.

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Essence of the self, or mind The argument of the cogito concludes 'I exist': but who or what is it that exists? Not a human body. Not a soul in the traditional Aristotelian sense. Aristotle had identified the soul with certain capacities that living things possess: capacities of nutrition, reproduction, locomotion, perception, and thought. On the Aristotelian account, all living things have souls: plants have the first two capacities, non-human animals have the first four, and human beings have all five.

Descartes considers four of these capacities coyly omitting reproduction! What about the attributes I assigned to the soul? Nutrition or movement? Since now I do not have a body, these are mere fabrications. This surely does not occur without a body, and besides, when asleep I have appeared to perceive through the senses many things which I afterwards realized I did not perceive through the senses at all.

At last I have discovered it - thought; this alone is inseparable from me. I am, I exist - that is certain. But for how long?

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Study Guide to Descartes' Meditations: Part II

For as long as I am thinking. For it could be that were I totally to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exist 27 He somewhat overstates his case here, to emphasise the point: the meditator is not denying the proposition 'I have a body', but rather refusing to assent to it, since the arguments of the First Meditation show that it is dubitable. I can doubt that I have a body: so I can doubt that I have any of the bodily capacities described on the Aristotelian picture, whether of nutrition, locomotion, reproduction , or perception, in so far as that involves bodily sense organs.

Notice that in so far as perception has a mental aspect, Descartes will treat it as a mode of thinking, 28 All capacities other than thought are vulnerable to the sceptical arguments of the First Meditation. Descartes concludes that his essence is to think. Sum res cogitans: 'I am a thing that thinks' Notice that Descartes appears to believe he has established not only 'I think'; not only 'I am a thinking thing'; not only 'thought is a property essential to me'; but the strong conclusion that 'thought is the only property essential to me'.

Descartes Second Meditation the cogito

Thomas Hobbes was to complain in the Third Objections that Descartes has not ruled out the possibility that the 'thing that thinks' is also a corporeal or material thing for example a human body, or brain : it may be that the thing that thinks is the subject to which mind, reason or intellect belong; and this subject Have a look at Descartes' reply in your edition of the Meditations.

How fair and plausible is it? This argument about the essential nature of the mind, and its distinctness from the body, will be a major concern of Meditation VI. Essence of body We have knowledge of the self: but surely, so the naive view runs, our knowledge of bodies, through the senses, is still more distinct? Descartes considers our knowledge of a particular body: a piece of wax. Or rather, since he has not yet countered the sceptical arguments of Meditation I, he is considering the concept of a particular piece of matter, without committing himself to its existence.

He is conducting a kind of thought experiment. Suppose that I were to have knowledge about a material thing. What would its essence be? And how would I know it? The wax is white, scented, hard, cold: these seem to be properties that enable me to understand it distinctly. All those properties disappear when it is placed by the fire: but the thing still continues to exist. This is a variant of a 'think away' argument, to discover the essential properties of something. Think away Santa's white beard. Could he still be Santa?

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If so, then the white beard is not essential to him. Unfortunately it is not quite clear what essence Descartes is trying to discover: it is not quite clear whether he is asking a question about the essential properties of wax in general, or a particular lump of wax, or of matter in generalquestions which would all have different answers what might they be? Here it will be assumed that Descartes intends to discover the essence of matter in general. For a particularly helpful discussion of the 'wax passage' see John Cottingham, Descartes Blackwell, Descartes reaches a conclusion about the essence of matter.

Essay on A Summary of Descartes' Second Meditation

He concludes that the concept of 'body' is the concept of something essentially extended, with shape and size, capacity for change of shape and size, and that is all. One question about matter concerns its essence: what would matter be like, if it existed? Another concerns our knowledge: how would we have knowledge of matter, if it existed? Descartes reaches the apparently radical conclusion that bodies, or rather the essential properties of bodies, are known not by mere sense perception, or imagination, but the intellect: perception always involves judgment.

This applies to the sensory perception of all material bodies. It applies to the sensory perception I would have of the wax, if it were to exist. And it also applies to perception of the most mundane things: the people I seem to see outside the window Even if perception were veridical which the First Meditation gives us reason to suspect , perception would not yield acquaintance with the people themselves, obscured by hats and coats.

To judge that they are men is to go beyond perception would tell us: it is to use one's intellect. Descartes concludes this Meditation with some more morals about the self. Knowledge of the self, or mind, is more distinct and certain than knowledge of body.

The knowledge of the self given by the cogito argument is prior to knowledge of body, and immune to sceptical worries about body. Moreover, every judgment about body helps me to know myself better. This follows from the thesis about the transparency of the mind to itself: in Williams' terms, the thesis about the evidence of propositions about the mind.

If I judge that there are men below in coats and hats, then I know that I judge that there are men below in coats and hats, so I know something not only about them, but about myself. The more I learn about anything else, the more I learn about me.

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