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Descartes- Mind And Body

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Examine DescartesÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦ account of the relationship between the mind and body. Do you find his arguments convincing?

Descartes (1596-1650) is generally considered to be one of the most influential philosophers of the modern Western world. He has been called Ð'ÐŽÐ'Ґthe founder of modern philosophyÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦ as he was the first man of any influence in philosophy to be interested and affected by physics and astronomy, as well as refusing to accept views of his predecessors, preferring to work out everything for himself. He was the first man to attempt this since Aristotle, and there is Ð'ÐŽÐ'Ґa freshness about his work that is not to be found in any eminent previous philosopher since Plato.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ Tarnas says: Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐTo begin by doubting everything was the necessary first step, for he wished to sweep away all the past presumptions now confusing human knowledge and to isolate only those truths he himself could directly experience as indubitable.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ This questioning and sceptical nature meant that Descartes was able to make breakthroughs in philosophy not available to earlier philosophers who had accepted other peopleÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s views as true.

Descartes was slow to start his work on philosophy, and in fact did not publish any works until he was forty-one. His last published work came out only twelve years after the first, and yet in these twelve years Descartes managed to make an enormous contribution to philosophy as well as to other fields such as physics, mathematics and meteorology. He is best known for his Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐcogitoÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, the famous phrase: Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐCogito, ergo sumÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, or Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐI am thinking, therefore I am.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ This small piece of philosophy is the basis for the whole of DescartesÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦ metaphysics, and is called his first philosophy.

One of DescartesÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦ most famous works was his Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐMeditationsÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, which he began work on in 1639 while living in Holland. Sorell tries to describe this time of his life, saying: Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐAccounts of this period of his life sometimes picture him as a near recluse, living with a few servants away from society, wholly occupied with experimental and theoretical work in the sciences, occasionally dabbling in philosophy.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ Descartes expresses a lot of his views about the mind and body in his Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐMeditationsÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, and Ð'ÐŽÐ'Ґpurports to be giving a theory of the soul, not a theory of the mental capacities and ideas that put us in touch with the essence of matter.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦

In the Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐMeditationsÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, Descartes aimed to reject any preconceptions he already had, and start piecing together things that were true by considering them deeply. Today, we call this method Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐCartesian doubtÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, as it is based on the fact that Descartes doubts everything and aims to prove or disprove preconceived ideas. In the first meditation, Descartes simply throws out all of his ideas, anything that he has been brought up to believe or has grown to think. On the subject of body, he says Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐI shall consider myself as not having eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing all these things.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ . He does not think that we can be certain of our bodies here, as we have no proof that they exist. As he has to doubt everything, even the fact that we have a body may be a subject of dispute and he has decided to reject it for now.

In the second meditation, far more attention is paid to the mind and body discussion, and it is closer to the forefront of his thought. In this meditation, he convinces himself that he, in fact, does exist and that he can be sure of this because Ð'ÐŽÐ'Ґif I convinced myself of something then I certainly exist.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ However, by coming to the conclusion that he exists, he realises that he has to be wary of giving this Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐIÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦ attributes which he is not yet sure of. He says: Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐSo I must be on my guard against carelessly taking something else to be this Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐIÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, and so making a mistake in the very item of knowledge that is the most certain and evident of all.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ He goes on to define what he means by the term Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐbodyÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦, as he has now rejected its existence and feels a need to examine his past thoughts on the matter. He defines it as: Ð'ÐŽÐ'Ґwhatever has a determinable shape and a definable location and can occupy a space in such a way as to exclude any other body; it can be perceived by touch, sight, hearing, taste or smell, and can be moved in various ways, not by itself but by whatever else comes into contact with it.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ When Descartes begins to consider the soul, following this discussion of the body, he begins to move into his more complex ideas and theories. He says: Ð'ÐŽÐ'ҐBut what about the attributes I assigned to the soul? Nutrition or movement? Since now I do not have a body, these are mere fabrications. Sense-perception? This surely does not occur without a body, and besides, when asleep I have appeared to perceive through the senses many things which I afterwards realised I did not perceive through the senses at all. Thinking? At last I have discovered it- thought; this alone is inseparable from me. I am, I exist- that is certain. But for how long? For as long as I am thinking.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦ So Descartes has come to the conclusion that we are thinking things, and that our thinking is in fact what defines us, as it is the one thing which we can do independently of the body. His final point in the second meditation is that sense perception is definitely not reliable, and that most perception is in fact the work of our mind. He discusses this is terms of a piece of wax, which we perceive to have certain qualities at first but when placed by a fire all of these qualities change. He also deduces that his imagination cannot be creating these perceptions because the changes in wax are far too innumerable to be able to be able to imagine. From this example he concludes that Ð'ÐŽÐ'Ґthe nature of this piece of wax is in no way revealed by my imagination, but is perceived by my mind alone.Ð'ÐŽÐ'¦

The third meditation deals mainly with the existence of God, rather than giving us any further insight into the mind and body issue. However

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