Reflections of the French Philosopher Descartes

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Descartes’s Meditations
Descartes contends in the first meditation that our normal experience of the world cannot suffice a concrete foundation upon which to base all other knowledge. We are often disenchanted when we discover that everything we have learned is mere prejudice or that our senses give us false information. This phenomenon should cause us to wonder whether every other thing we imagine to be obvious could be mistaken. To test the correctness of our knowledge, Descartes proposes a technique that will elude error by tracing back this knowledge to a solid base of irrefutable beliefs. He says that we must firstly question all our knowledge to see if there are notions that cannot be doubted (Meditation I). Thus, we get into hypothetical doubt. To justify this doubting, Descartes gives two sets of arguments; firstly, are those aimed against sensory experiences and the assumption that we can tell whether we are awake or dreaming. The second category of arguments are those directed at our reasoning abilities. In the first set of arguments, Descartes believes that sensory experiences cannot be the basis for knowledge claims because they can be deceiving. Consequently, he rationalizes that doubting sensory knowledge would be the best way around this situation (Meditation I). In his dreaming argument, Descartes asserts that we cannot even ascertain the reality of the world (Meditation I). In his second set of arguments, Descartes explains that we have cause to doubt our reasoning due to the existence of some malignant power. He elaborates that this “evil genie” might be gulling us to think that certain propositions, such as 1 + 1 = 2, are right, but they might just be false (Meditation I). Thus, the first meditation ends in a state of incredible doubts.
Thus, Descartes wonders whether anything known can survive his methodic doubt. He doubts if indeed the outside world exists and the fact that he has a body. He questions the credibility of his reasoning because of the working of the “evil genie.” However, Descartes seems to believe that his own existence survives his skepticism. He rationalizes that even if an “evil genie” were to fool us in every other belief, one thing is sure and unmistakable; that we are thinking. This fact is affirmed by the very essence of doubting (Meditation II). Since thinking cannot happen without there being something that does the “act of thinking,” “I” (i.e. myself) must be the “thinking thing.” “I” am the subject engaged in the thinking process and in my absence, there will be nothing. In this regard, thinking affirms our existence, at least during those thinking moments. As we think, we are contemplating minds or things regardless of whether we possess bodies or not. Thus, Descartes arrives at the conclusion that the physical body experience is not necessarily part of oneself because one can question its existence in a manner that one cannot doubt the existence of one’s own mind (Meditation II).
One of Descartes’s skeptical arguments is the “Wax Argument.” This argument is integral in the development of the rest of Descartes’s other theories including the truth rule. The essence of the “Wax Argument” is that the transformations that wax undergoes when subjected to different conditions are perceived differently through the senses, yet we intuit that the wax is still present. This intuition is based solely on mental perception for the mind judges that it is there regardless of the form it comes to the mind. The sole remaining attributes of the wax according to Descartes are its extensibility, movability, and flexibility (Meditation II). However, Descartes is not entitled to bring in this wax discussion for the time being until he proves the existence of matter. He is constructing his identity upon a vague notion. Secondly, he cannot claim that the knowledge concerning extensibility and flexibility of the wax came about from some sensory experience or imagination. The reason being that he conceives that the wax has a potential infinity for positions and shapes, which also applies for the extension. The volume of the wax increases as it changes state from solid to liquid and gas up till infinity. In actuality, he conceives of infinity with regards to the volumes for the wax.

Works Cited
Descartes Meditations (I, II, III, IV, V, & VI). PDF.

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