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Analysis Of Philosophical Approaches

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Rene Descartes seeks to prove to himself that he exists, and he begins by determining that he is a thinking thing, focusing on the fact that he is a doubter. As a doubter, he proves his existence every time he doubts his thoughts. He also questions whether or not God is a deceiver, and by doing so he rationalizes that he must exist due to the fact that he can be deceived. For Descartes these facts alone are not enough to make him believe that he exists, so he dwells on the subject more intently. He begins to question his understanding of physical objects, specifically objects that can be touched or seen, in hopes of finding support for his claim of existence as a thinking thing. He chooses a piece of wax as an example, noting all of its perceptual characteristics:

Let us take, for instance, this piece of wax. It has been taken quite recently from the honeycomb; it has not yet lost all the honey flavor. It retains some of the scent of the flowers from which it was collected. Its color, shape, and size are manifest. It is hard and cold; it is easy to touch. If you rap on it with your knuckle it will emit a sound. In short, everything is present in it that appears needed to enable a body to be known as distinctly as possible. (Descartes 21)

Descartes takes the wax and holds it to fire, morphing its physical and sensible nature into something much different. He observes that even though all of the characteristics described above have changed, he still intuitively recognizes it as a piece of wax. "Does the same wax still remain? I must confess that it does; no one denies it; no one thinks otherwise" (21). Yes, the wax does remain the same wax, but it has taken on a different state of matter. Yet, there must be something critical, some essential property that defines the wax, more so than merely the sensory experience of how we interpret it.

Stripping the wax of these transformable properties gives way to understanding objects in a different way. Descartes states that we must give attention to the wax as "something extended, flexible, and mutable" (21). However, Descartes doubts his thinking again, questioning the origin of this change of state in the wax. He challenges the idea of imagination and whether it is capable of projecting this idea of an object that is subject to change, but he concludes that this is not rational when he says, "the wax is capable of innumerable changes ... even though I am incapable of running through these innumerable changes by using my imagination" and "I would not judge correctly what the wax is if I did not believe that it takes on an even greater variety of dimensions than I could ever grasp with the imagination" (22). The imagination can not perceive the infinite possibilities without having an influential image already instilled, so Descartes then reasons that he perceives what the wax is through the mind and the mind alone. By none of his corporeal senses can he explain the endless possibilities, so it must be an ability of the mind. In this, he realizes that perception of the wax can be different "depending on how closely [we] pay attention to the things in which the piece of wax consists" (22).

Descartes' journey to prove his own existence as a thinking thing has brought about the pondering of many ideas, one being that true and false are properties of the sentence, "Ð''I am, I exist'", proclaiming that bare neutral thinking does not exist (18). There is no reason why the mind should be contained by any physical substance; the mind does not exist in space. The melting wax allows us to separate imagination and emotion from pure thought and reason, giving substance to the primary properties, which are essential to an object's being, and the secondary properties, which arise through sense experience and do not exist if the receiver is absent. These implications make Descartes confident that he is a reasoning being and that he has clarity and distinctness in perception of bodies by use of the mind and how it perceives bodies through both primary and secondary properties. This directly ties into his thoughts on rationalism and how not all knowledge can be reduced to sense experience. It is mental analysis by which he understands the same qualities of the wax in different states, so the essential characteristics of the wax must be something that can be embraced mentally through reason. He has not been defining wax, but has actually been exploring this ability of his mind as a thinking thing, which is further proof of his existence: "But it is utterly impossible that, while I see or think I see Ð'... I who think am not something" (23). Just as his being deceived necessitates his existence, so too do his perceptions.

Descartes' perceptual argument makes a bold statement in giving the body ownership of imagination, because most would argue that the mind houses imagination. I feel it is true that the imagination can only produce images that have either been experienced or are a spin off of an experience, but I also do not see how the mind can perceive things with which it has no previous knowledge or experience. We interpret unknown, unperceived objects through use of the word that names them, using what our imagination can sense as similarities in the word that can give it some kind of quality that we in fact have no idea whether is true or not. Then, when we are able to use sense experience to understand the object, we still contain these preconceived qualities and subconsciously apply them even if they are not necessary perceptually. It is hard to think of the mind and the imagination as separate entities, but Descartes makes an appealing argument.

Descartes attempts to use doubt and uncertainty to defeat skepticism on its own ground. He doubts everything at first, including what he previously considered truths and even the reasoning behind these preconceived truths. He felt that if anything could undergo this type of scrutiny and prevail, then it indeed must be the certain truth and a base for other certain knowledge as well. If everything can be doubted, is it possible that nothing is certain at all? Descartes seems to think not, claiming he has one thing that can not be taken away from his rational thought: "Ð''I am, I exist' is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind" (18). As was stated previously, to be deceived is to prove existence as well. However, Descartes does not give much attention to doubting deception. If deception could not be found to be an absolute truth, then essentially nothing could be based off it that could be deemed absolute as well. Yet, he imposes that the infinite God can not cause both that he is deceived by God and that he does not exist to be true



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