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Descartes Second Meditation

Descartes’s Second Meditation discusses how a “body” can perceive things, such as objects. Perception is vital to his first theory that “[he] thinks, therefore [he] is.” In order to prove his conclusion; he goes through a series of premises, or arguments, that lead him to his final conclusion. In order to reach this conclusion, he uses a process of elimination. In Descartes’s final premise, he uses the idea that in order to perceive something you must have a concept of it. Therefore, I’m arguing that the final premise is flawed, in that through this concept, he is going against some of his very own ideas.

The conclusion of Descartes’s argument is “I manifestly know that nothing can be perceived more easily and more evidently than my own mind ” His conclusion is reached through a process of argument elimination. The argument begins with an implicit premise that “bodies” can perceive things in three ways. These ways are through the senses, the imagination, or the intellect. So his first premise implies that Descartes believes that there are only three ways to perceive things.

The structure of the argument is based around the type of argument known as an argument by elimination. Argument made by elimination exists by beginning with a number of possibilities, then ruling out all but one possibility, therefore making that possibility be true. In his argument he gives three possibilities, in his first premise, then rules out the first two, to come to the conclusion stated above. There are also some implicit premises through the argument. The implicit premises are important in order to grasp the total effect of elimination. In order to begin, he implies that there are three possibilities, rather than just stating that there are. So as the first premise, he uses the reader’s knowledge in order to begin his argument authority.

The next premise, which is laid out explicitly, is that bodies can not be perceived through the senses. The body that he refers to in all his premises is: “all that is capable of being bounded by some shape, of being enclosed in a place, and of filling up a space in such a way as to exclude any other body from it; of being perceived not, of course, by itself, but by whatever else impinges upon it” (19). This is basically describing anything, not necessarily human bodies, because he is not sure that these exist yet, for we may just be “imagining” these.

Descartes bases the argument of the senses being unable to perceive something, on an idea of wax. Fresh beeswax begins with properties that can be specifically accounted for, such as the way it looks, the way it smells, the sound when you hit it, the way it tastes, and the way it appears. It looks yellowish, smells like honey, is hard, tastes sweet, and so on. But for the “experiment,” Descartes changes all these properties by melting the wax. If the wax is melted, is loses the color, the smell, the texture, and so on. So what about this wax is the same solely based on the perception of the senses? Nothing is his answer. There are no remaining properties found in the wax from its beginning state, to the final state.

The second premise indicates that the faculty of imagination does not perceive bodies either. His argument around the wax takes place again. The wax has unimaginable shapes that it can be “changed” into. The imagination, according to Descartes, has limitations, which possibilities extend far past. Imagination, according to Descartes, is much like he referred to as a dream in his first Meditation. Imagination deceives the “dreamer” into believing something that could very well be past the point of sensible. The imagination is capable of creating images and ideas into the “body.” The images that it conjures are often something that is very susceptible of doubt.

The last explicit premise explains that bodies are perceived by the intellect. The intellect is that which is thought, or the mind, which is the essential property of thought, or “intellect, or understanding, or reason” (19). Descartes explains that through the simple fact that, even if he is being deceived by something, he must be something in order to be deceived. Whether it is imagined or sensed, it still exists. Descartes believes that as long as he is thinking, he exists. Thought exists in spite of anything else that occurs. As long as he is a thinking thing, nothing more, he will exist, and he can hold that to be true without a shadow of a doubt. This is also known as knowledge through the “natural light.” Natural light is something that is known without any possible doubts, and beyond any type of deception.

The next part of the argument is implied. It is not explained specifically, but is the one thing that brings him from his fourth premise to his conclusion. It is because of his wax “experiment” that I came to the conclusion that this portion was about the fact that he has the concept of his own mind. In order to perceive something, according to Descartes, it is necessary to have a concept of it. The concept of the wax had to exist in order to know that it was still wax, and it was still the very same wax that began with such different properties as it ended with.

One objection for this argument comes from this last portion of his argument. Descartes obviously believes he has a concept of his own mind in order to perceive it, but in order to have a concept of his mind, he must somehow imagine, or sense it. So in other words, he is using one, or maybe two of the things he believes to be flawed in order to come to his conclusion about his perception of the mind. Once everything that can be doubted is taken away, he is left with mutability, extendibility, and tangibility. These three things are also things that seem to be sensed, so it becomes a circular argument before he comes to his conclusion.

The response that he would probably give, although I don’t feel as if I am qualified to speak on behalf of Descartes, is that these things are reasoned through the mind. Again, the mind is the only thing that he can be sure of because of his thoughts. Reason gives him the ability to believe these things because reason precedes experience, and everything takes a “second place” after his intellect. We have direct access to our minds, so it can not be deceived through this process. Just because his senses are deceived, thought remains steadfast. I would imagine that this defense would work, but still it is hard to see how this argument would go from something of this nature, and jump right into the idea that the mind is the easiest thing to perceive. Sometimes I often find just the opposite.

In conclusion, the argument that Descartes makes in favor of his conclusion is flawed because of some of the premises that he makes. His conclusion that the mind is the easiest thing to perceive becomes blurred because of the fact that he uses definitions and ideas in various ways in order to prove his points. The last premise, in particular, is flawed because is relies on some of the very same principles in which he refuted in order to come to his own conclusion. It becomes a circular argument for this reason.


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