Rene Descartes put his arguments on his views of the human nature. He argued that humans are just their minds. In addition, that the mind is separate from the body. He argued that he had a body that belonged to him and it is that he only had and it is not him. He noted that just like a captain has a ship, a father has a son, or one having a brand new car, one can have a mind and body that are different. According to Descartes, to have something means that one can do without the thing and losing the thing does not mean the end of life, but life must continue. Using the concept of dualism, Descartes proved that the mind and body are two different substances and not one. However, humans cannot exist without the existence of a supernatural being, God. This paper discusses the concept of human nature as put forward by Rene Descartes.
Descartes begins his meditations with the first meditation. In this first mediation, it can be seen as a setting ground for his next meditations. Additionally, it can be seen as a foundation for modern skepticism. The first meditation metaphysically underpins Descartes new physics. Descartes sought to overturn the old prejudices that were injected into the western culture by Aristotle (Cottingham 25). The thought of Aristotle emphasized testimony of senses as she suggested that all knowledge emanates from senses. The first meditation suggests that all Descartes knowledge comes from senses and therefore appealed to the Aristotelian philosophers who would read the meditation. The first meditation therefore aims at beginning in a position that the Aristotelian philosophers would agree with. The first meditation can also be seen as an effort to coax Aristotelians away from their customary opinions allows us to read different interpretations into the different stages of doubt (30).
Descartes can be read to suggest the universality of dreaming. Through such an understanding, on can explain the dream argument and the Evil demon Argument. The evil demon argument suggests it is false and that senses cannot be trusted as sources of knowledge. The dream argument suggests universal source of dreaming. The dream argument questions the epistemology of Aristotle while the evil demon argument does away with it. Descartes meditations seem to follow the St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises. Jesuits begin by each person purging himself on the attachment to the material or the sinful world (Descartes 50). Similarly, the Descartes first meditation leads us to purgation, with a different motive. Descartes persuades the Aristotelian readers to purge themselves of their prejudices. Aristotelians depend on the mind and Descartes hopes to deviate their attention from the mind (Cottingham 31).
The first meditation discusses doubt as a skeptical topic. Though skepticism is highly debated and studied in philosophy, Descartes was the first to raise the issue of certainly knowing of everything in the world around us. The idea is not that these doubts are probable, but that their possibility can never ruled out entirely. If there is no certainty, then, how could we claim to know anything? Skepticism is very common in the western philosophical enterprise and it has helped the foundation of the existing knowledge. Though there are no people living skepticism, as no one doubts the existence of other people, it s difficult to prove or justify the dismissal of skepticism (Descartes 66).
The second meditation of Descartes is about the wax argument. The Aristotle concept of the mind separates intellect and understanding as being attributes of the soul that survives death. The world of senses is related to sensing, imagining and willingness and is therefore distinct according to Aristotle. There is a sharp distinction between the mind and the world in the Cartesian conception. In the world, some things such as the trees are different and separate from the mind things and it is up to the modern philosophy to determine how the two types of things are connected (Cottingham 37).
The wax argument that clearly comes out of the second meditation of Descartes shows that people do not learn things through senses but through the intellect and specifically the mind. The argument is about how solid wax melts down into liquid puddle. The senses seem to tell us things about the world, and Descartes admits that what we know about the solid piece of wax we know through the senses. Similarly, senses can give us information about the melting wax, but they cannot reveal that the solid and the melted wax are one and the same thing. Additionally, Descartes argues that the imagination also cannot tell use that the two are the same. It is only the intellect that can organize the human senses so that they make sense of what we perceive. According to Descartes, the intellect helps us understand the information that is perceived by senses as disconnected (Descartes 78).
This is another argument that is against the knowledge arguments put forward by Aristotle. Aristotle claimed that Knowledge comes from senses. However, though Descartes acknowledges that senses inform us about the world, he notes that they can only give us disorganized information. The intellect compliments what the senses provide. In fact, without intellect, there could be no sense that humans could make. Thus, Descartes thinks rationally concerning the source of knowledge (Cottingham 41).
Descartes next asserts, “I cannot know with certainty that what I perceive is real, but the sensory perception as a form of thought has confirmed that I exist.” In this case, he uses the I to mean the mind (Descartes 73). In this regard, Descartes gives evidence that the mind is better known than the body. This is a plausible argument if t[it is meant to mean that the mind is better known to exist than the body is known to. However, it is taken to mean that the mind nature is better known than the body nature. Descartes wanted to show that he knew that the mind existed and that he knew more about the mind than any other world outside the mind. Descartes concludes by arguing that man exists and therefore man thinks (Cottingham 43).
This meditation can be divided into three parts. The first part of the sixth meditation is the Cartesian body. Descartes understands the body as counter-intuitive and closely linked to physics. The concept of Cartesian physics is based ion the fact that the body attributes extension. The extension means extended in space. A body in physics is anything that occupies space. The distinction between geometry and physics as well as body and space is minimal for Descartes. From the arguments of Descartes, bodies are impenetraable and cannot occupy the same space. If two bodies occupy the same space, then they have the same extension and therefore it should be one same body.
Despite all these definitions and explanation that Descartes make concerning physics, he doe not provide explanations for the causes of motion of things. He argues that if things move, then god could be the force behind their movement, that God could be creating the world at every instant and that God could be building natural laws into the universe that does the moving of things for Him (Cottingham 46).
The second part of the sixth meditation is the mind-body dualism. The perceptions of people that are sensory must have been created by the person, another person or thing or by God. Since the person is not aware of creating such perceptions, he can rule himself out. Descartes argues that the perceptions come to the person forcefully and involuntarily (86). This proves that sensory perceptions have other causes outside the person. This is the turning point for the western philosophies because the mind is distinguished from the world bodies around it. Descartes argues that the mind and body do not have anything in common. The body is extended while the mind is not. Descartes concludes that he is only mind, and not body. The sharp distinction between the mind and body is what is termed as the mind-body dualism. If the experience of senses is in the mind and the bodies causing our sensations are outside in the world, the question as to how the two can interact casually arises (Cottingham 45).
The last section of the sixth meditation of Descartes is about the primary and secondary qualities. As he meditates, Descartes distinguishes features like heat, color and taste on one hand and size, shape and texture on the other hand. Heat, color and taste are secondary qualities while size, shape and texture are primary qualities of the human nature. A distinction is also drawn between the perception based on senses and the perceptions based on intellect. Perception that uses imagination is sensory perception. On the contrary, intellectual perception is the perception that that utilizes understanding. Descartes views secondary qualities based on senses and he argues that secondary qualities exist only in the mind. Secondary qualities can also be interpreted physically as existing both in bodies and in the mind though in different ways. Descartes concludes by arguing that sometimes our senses can be wrong because our senses are only meant to help us get by in the world, and are not equipped for accurate judgments (Descartes 98).
This paper has analyzed the human nature as put forward by Descartes. Descartes beginning by doubting his existence, which he later proved. At one point he though he was he was dreaming. However, he comes to realize that he cannot doubt his own existence. He comes to an understanding that he realized his existence through intellect and not through sense. Additionally, he acknowledges that he knows the mind better than his body and that the two and different. He concludes that God exists because it is only god that cannot be created and because of his perfect nature, He cannot deceive him of anything. The conclusion is that the minds and the body are very distinct because the body’s essence is extension while that of the mind is though.