Descartes Essay, Research Paper
Descartes’ “Wax Argument”
In this essay I will refer to the “wax argument” presented by Rene Descartes and explain that it is a valid argument, but not so sound. In Descartes argument, he observes a piece of wax, from a hive, and using his judgment and senses, analyzes the structure and properties of the wax. By doing this he gives the insight that the wax cannot be interpreted by sight, touch, or smell, but by an act of the mind that ensures that the object is real and is seen as a physical object. In this argument he attempts to illustrate the differences between judgment and perception. While showing the differences between the two, he unlocks the concept of rationalism, which is by definition the theory that there are innate ideas and that certain general propositions can be known to be true in advance of or in the absence of empirical verification. Empiricists have the idea that perception and the senses are false and misleading, which is to be expanded on throughout the paper.
In Descartes argument, he begins by removing a piece of beeswax from a hive. Perceiving the piece of wax comes from a human’s senses, touch, smell, taste, hearing, and taste. By using these senses, we are able to justify that the piece of wax is actually a piece of wax. Our senses verify “the sweetness of the honey,” the smell of “flowers” and that it is “hard, cold” and “easily handled.” With all of our senses working as a team to determine what objects really are, we are able to achieve a compelling foundation to unlocking the material being of any object.
With all of these senses determining that this object is a piece of wax, Descartes attempts to make a mockery of the senses when he adds fire to the wax and ultimately changes all of its physical properties. When this takes place, Descartes argues that our perception of the wax is changes. Is it still wax? Why? When the wax melts, it changes forms and all of its properties that we perceived from our senses have changed. It no longer smells the same, tastes the same, looks the same, or makes the same noise if someone was to touch it’s heated self. After the transformation has taken place, the question arises: Is it still the same piece of wax, even though all of our senses to not interpret it the same as before? The answer to this question is yes; the wax still remains. Although we don’t perceive it the same way with our senses, it is still the same piece of wax even though every physical property of the object has been altered. This gives us the conclusion that the concept of the wax’s state is a judgment and not declared wax by perception.
In arguing that knowledge of the mental realm precedes knowledge of the material realm, Descartes argues that our senses cannot inform us of the continuity of the two very different states of the wax. Also, the continuity of the wax is not perceived from our imagination either. Through imagination the wax could appear in many different varieties, shapes, and forms. Descartes comes to the conclusion that we understand the world through an act of the mind since we see the wax as the same in its two very different forms. Even if Descartes is wrong and we understand the wax through our senses or imagination, he argues that mental events are still primary to our senses, which he feels is our secondary perception of the object.
This concludes that our concept of the wax is judged and not perceived through sensation. All of our original perceptions about the wax are gone, but we still are ensured the melted material in front of us is still the same wax. This “wax argument” that Descartes presents illustrates that there is a dissimilarity between judgment and sensation. Although it is no longer the same, due to our senses, it is still judged to be the exact same piece of wax. While empiricists believe that ideas and concepts come from experience, Descartes’ argument of the wax proves this belief to be false. Although our senses may verify that the wax is actually wax, it is not our first instinct that determines that it is actually wax. Rather, the wax is determined due to our judgment. Basically the only way that we could not determine that this object was wax would be if we were blind. If you can see the wax and not, smell, touch, taste, or hear it, you are still able to determine that the object is indeed the wax. The only problem that I can’t conclude from Descartes “wax argument” is whether or not his argument is sound. Even if he falsely judges that the wax exists through sensation, this questions the fact that he himself actually exists.