Descartes' "Wax Passage"
Later in his second meditation, as Descartes begins to doubt his own conclusion that he exists as a thinking thing, he goes into an elaborate analogy known as his "wax passage". Comparing the wax to his knowledge of himself, he begins by discussing the physical characteristics which can be known by means of the senses. However, the importance lies in the fact that by heating, the wax can be altered and the sensible properties are no longer the same. He then goes on to explain that even though this occurs, he is still able to mentally grasp the existence of the wax even with new properties. In realizing this, Descartes struggles with how it is he can grasp the wax without relying its sensible characteristics. He decides then that he is actually experiencing a manifestation of an idea that only his mind can perceive, instead of what he senses. He realizes the importance of the fact that something can be perceived by the mind even if sensible properties change. In applying that to the analysis of how he exists, he could deduce that regardless of him sensing himself, he can exist as an inspection of the mind.
Since Descartes learns that the wax is not just comprised of its sensible properties, he must decide what the nature of the wax is. He points out that he could not correctly judge what the wax is if he did not understand that it can take on dimensions beyond what he could first grasp by the imagination. The perception of the wax has nothing to do with the senses since we learn that those properties are not constant. Rather, the essence of the wax lies in the importance of our perception and its existence in the mind. By accepting that the wax is not what our senses tell us, and that it is capable of various changes in property, one can then grasp the true nature of the wax as a function of our minds. It is also important to note that the wax we perceive in our minds is still the same wax we see and touch and feel in its various...
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