Descartes Res Cogitans, Res Extensa, God

Topics: Mind, Perception, Soul Pages: 7 (2916 words) Published: June 1, 2012
Recalling the distinction made earlier between primary objects of perception (objects of mathematics) and secondary objects of perception (apparent objects formed from observer-dependent sensory properties), Descartes investigates whether material objects exist by asking two questions: (1) do primary objects exist? and (2) do secondary objects exist? In answering the first question, Descartes draws on a distinction between imagining primary objects and conceiving of primary objects. He notes that he conceives of primary objects (such as triangles) clearly and distinctly, but this in no way means that such objects actually exist. It only means that they might exist since the idea contains no contradiction. (See the discussion of possible existence in the treatment of Meditation 5 above.) In addition to conceiving of primary objects, though, Descartes says that he can imagine many primary objects as well. We can, for example, intellectually conceive of a chiliagon (a thousand sided figure) although we cannot imagine one (i.e., visually picture one in our minds). At best, we would imagine a sort of vaguely many-sided object. Moreover, the mental acts involved in conceiving and in imagining are recognisably different kinds of mental effort. These analyses show, Descartes claims, that conceiving and imagining are fundamentally different. This leads him to a further claim: that, while conception is a necessary attribute of humans, imagination is not. Lacking imagination, I would still be 'me' as a thinking entity. Thus, Descartes reasons, the imagination seems to have something to do with my body which, since I can even doubt its existence, is also not an essential part of me and is obviously bound up with the kind of things (extended and material objects) the imagination represents. In imagination, he writes, the mind 'turns towards the body' (II, 51). However, it would follow from this that if the mind can imagine, then there must exist body. Descartes believes this line of reasoning is only probable, however, since he cannot rule out another (as yet unthought of) way of explaining the nature of imagining. Since we can conceive of primary objects, then such objects possibly exist. Since we can also imagine these objects, then such objects probably exist, yet we cannot say for sure whether they do exist. Failing to attain certainty about the existence of primary external objects, Descartes turns his attention to secondary external objects. (Of course, we know from our previous discussions of the primary/secondary quality distinction in Descartes that we are doomed from the start in trying to show that secondary objects exist.) Since his notion of secondary objects rests on his faculty of secondary perception (which still might only be an illusion) he needs to explore this faculty. He does this by giving a summary of the first three Meditations, noting what conclusions he has already arrived at about secondary perception. He recalls first that he had a naive confidence in his senses (secondary perception) by which he perceived the different parts of his body, different emotional and physiological appetites, and various secondary qualities in objects such as heat and color. He next recalls how he gradually lost all confidence in the reliability of these secondary perceptions. There were three steps to this doubting process. First, we are misguided by optical illusions. Second, our perceptions may be dream states, and, third, God (or some other being with the requisite powers) might be deceiving us. He recalls that external sensations seem to arise from a source outside of himself, since such sensations don't depend on his will. However, he might have a faculty that is the source of seemingly external sensations and not know it.

We must be careful when thinking about Descartes' famous dualism of mind and body; that is, the thesis that mind and body are different, and thus ideally separable, substances. In the Latin text of the...
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