Only The Mind Percives Essay, Research Paper
Descartes’ overall objective in Meditations on First Philosophy is to question knowledge. To explore such issues as the existence of God and the separation of mind and body, it was important for him to distinguish what we can know as truth. He believed that reason as opposed to experience was the source for discovering what is of absolute certainty. In Meditation Two, Descartes embarks on his journey of truth. I find, in Meditation Two that Descartes has accomplished part of his journey, in that only the intellect perceives the material world.
Attempting to affirm the idea that God exists, Descartes comes upon the notion that he exists. He discovers that if he can both persuade himself of something, and likewise, be deceived of something, then surely he must exist (17 – 18). This self-validating statement is known as the “Cogito Argument.” Simply, it implies that whatever thinks, exists.
Having established his existence, Descartes now begins to explore his inner consciousness to find the essence of his being. Eventually, he focuses on the act of thinking and from this, he poses the question: “But what am I? [I am] a thing that thinks. A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines, and senses” (20). To prove that perception, on the part of the mind, is more real than that of the senses, Descartes asks us to consider a piece of wax fresh from the comb (21). The qualities we attribute to the wax are those derived from the senses. When melted, the qualities that we attribute to the wax are altered and can only be known to the intellect. It is the intellect that determines that although the appearance of the wax has changed, it remains the same wax (21). Here Descartes demonstrates that the information from the senses give us only the observable. It is the intellect that perceives the physical ever-changing world.
A scepitc might pose the argument that we could not be certain that the intellect alone perceives the material world. Let us look at the “Wax Argument.” If one were to place wax in its form, straight from the comb, and wax in its melted form side by side, a person not knowing this would not be able to perceive the melted form to be wax. It would take closer examination, with our senses, to determine the melted form to be wax. Such as touching the wax and feeling the sensation of it hardening on our fingertips and examining it more closely with our sight. One may also say that we might use our memories to remember the sensation of melted wax. On can remember the sensation of hot wax from a candle, when dropped on the skin and how the wax feels once it has hardened. Again, one might conclude that it is not the intellect alone that perceives the wax, but possibly a combination of the senses, memory, and the intellect. Someone being a scepitc might also say it is possible that the wax itself is sending us the idea. There is no way to be certain.
Descartes demonstrates how the ideas of the mind are more attune to finding knowledge, than the senses. “What is this piece of wax which is perceived only by the mind” (22)? Descartes comes to the understanding that even though the wax has changed its form, that it is “flexible” and “mutable,” it is the same wax. Although he previously thought that the understanding of the wax came from the perceptions of seeing, touching or imagining, he now believes that to be false. “Rather it is an inspection on the part of the mind alone” (22). The inspection can be confused and imperfect at first, but on further investigation the mind arranges the data, coming to a clear and distinct understanding. Descartes believes that, “this process depends on how closely I pay attention to the things” (22). He poses the example of looking out the window and observing men walking across the street. His mind tells him they are men without him having to see their masculine physical features. This is done automatically and without thinking. Therefore, his eyes see human forms walking across the street, but it is his mind that investigates and arranges the data to perceive it as men. “Thus what I thought I had seen with my eyes, I actually grasped solely with the faculty of judgement, which is in my mind” (22).
Descartes finds that his essence is in his mind. He places a major importance on the intellect. I also believe it is the mind, through understanding, that leads us to our various conclusions. The point that Descartes makes here is that only through the mind can we understand the essential qualities of the wax or anything else for that matter. The melted piece of wax exhibits qualities of something that is extended, flexible, and mutable (21). These are qualities that are only clear to the intellect. I think that Descartes’ main point is that if he is able to understand the wax better with his mind, then he should know himself better through the same faculty. I now find myself looking at things a bit closer and not always believing what my senses first show me.
Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy.