Descartes Disposal Of Formal Causality Essay, Research Paper
Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on the Method ultimately desires to achieve deep understanding about the nature of everything including God, the physical world, and himself. Indeed, it is only with a clear and distinct knowledge of such things that he can then begin to understand his true reality. Through images such as a block of melting wax, Descartes proves the nature of any material thing is extended. Descartes denies the classical thought of the necessity of formal causality to substantiate his ultimate mathematical physics. In addition, he rejects the classical notion of formal causality being the structural focus by which all things are able to achieve fully their ends, and leads us to a new understanding of freedom as a thing that can choose its own end through the mastery of nature.
To accomplish this, Descartes considers a physical piece of wax as it is brought close to a flame causing it to melt. At this point the piece of wax has a honey flavor, and it has the sent of flowers. It has a color, and a distinct shape and size. Descartes describes in detail the physical qualities that can be observed of this piece of wax. He then puts it next to a fire, which melts the wax and in turn, changes its contingent qualities. The original shape disappears and becomes a hot liquid that you can hardly touch. It looks, tastes, smells, feels, and sounds completely different from the original piece of wax. Each of the sensory qualities have changed or been transformed, yet the same piece of wax remains.
After you remove everything that does not belong to the wax, it is precisely something extended, flexible, and mutable. If you ignore the senses, the wax is still wax; but if you focus on the accidental qualities, the two pieces of wax (i.e. melted and unmelted) have nothing in common. Descartes is trying to prove that what one knows about a material thing does not come through the senses, rather by some other means. In addition, things that we know apart from the senses can be known with greater certainty than the things we know by means of the senses.
If judgement is based solely on the senses, our hard versus melting wax is not the same substance. We know that there is some unknown quality that is consistent in both items, although we can not tell what it is through the senses. This shows that the nature of any material thing is to be extended. The innate limitless concept of extensionality can not be seen in the world that has limits, but can be experienced through personal experience or the senses.
According to the classical philosophy of Aristotle the reason this substance is still wax after it has been melted is due to its form. Descartes refutes that statement by explaining what makes one thing different from another is not its form, but instead it is different by means of the way the matter its arranged. All matter is made up of extended material; therefore the exact same laws of physics govern all things. Something that is extended can be described geometrically on a three-dimensional coordinate plane. Therefore, all of behavior can be described through the mathematical laws of nature, because the Cartesian coordinate system, which allows all things to be described mathematically, can describe them. In conclusion, the underlying physical laws for all matter is the same and follow Descartes mathematical physics.
The classical idea of freedom is the condition of a thing that is able to achieve fully its end as determined by its form. By means of classical thought, freedom is a state to achieve true potential. The form of a man is a rational being. To achieve such a telos, he must be able to think freely and make reasoned decisions. In this way a man can achieve his true potential through freedom. Therefore the form of a man, in Aristotelian thought, explicitly necessitates freedom itself.
On the contrary, the Cartesian belief of freedom, having rid the world of the predetermined notion of forms, tells us that a man can choose through freedom, its own end, which allows the man to control nature to attain the end result. Thus, freedom is an end result that man tries to achieve. He does not need to achieve this freedom through forms, but rather through a lack of external restraints, which allows him to discover to the fullest capacity how to achieve his freedom. Descartes believes freedom is the end, itself, and is free from all external encumbrances. As an extreme, freedom is being able to do whatever one wants when he wants to. Therefore, in order to be free, one must be able to think freely and not be restrained.
According to Descartes, happiness does not come from possessing wisdom or virtue, but rather by controlling the things that control us. This differs from the classical view of happiness, which is the attainment of eudaimonia, or flourishing according to one s telos. If nature is a constant force that controls us, we have the capability and freedom to gain the knowledge to learn how we can control it, says Descartes.
In conclusion, Descartes proves that forms are not fundamental to the understanding of a thing, but rather that they are distinguished by their difference in arrangement of matter. By rejecting formal causality, Descartes gives a new view of freedom. Descartes new understanding of freedom states that freedom is the condition of a thing that is able to choose its own end and to press nature into its service in attaining that end, thus leaving behind the classical idea of freedom as the condition of a thing which is able to achieve fully its end as determined by its form.