PHL471: Descartes's Meditations V and VI
Descartes's Meditations V and VI
- Having explained error, Descartes is now going to clean
up and identify the kinds of things that he can be confidant
- The things I know are are the things I clearly and distinctly
- Example: geometric objects are certainly independently
existing of me, since I can discover surprising things about
- Seeing clearly and distinctly requires some effort
Here is the meat of the matter for the philosophy of mind
- Do material things exist independent of my mind? Yes:
there are at least mathematical objects.
- I often use imagination to think of matter (here
imagination includes the idea of the faculty of having
images, not just the ability to create fictions)
- Images given in imagination are not clear and
distinct: I can imagine a chiliagon, but I know that
is not clear and distinct (the image is vague and
like my image of a 999 sided figure)
- I can understand a pentagon
- Understanding is the mind looking at mental contents.
- Imagination is the mind looking at images of sense.
- I also sense things.
- I have a body
- I sense my body's states
- I sense external objects and their features
- But only that I am a thinking thing is essential to what I
am. I have a distinct idea of my body, so it is not the same as
- I cannot understand myself without my mental faculties, but
I can understand myself without my body
- My sensations are not under my control: they come from something
independent of me (my body)
- The body is divisible, the mind is not
- My mind is not immediately affect by the body, but thoughts
- We can intercede in a motion of the body, but not in a progress
- Descartes's position is interactive substance dualism
- Interactive: mind and body have causal interactions
- Substance: for Descartes, a substance is a kind of
being that can exist independent of other kinds of being.
To say mind is a substance is to say you can have mind
without, for example, matter.
- Dualism: there are (at least?) two substances, namely
mind and matter
- I believe that Descartes is making a falsifiable (and
thus sufficiently scientific) hypothesis: that if we could see
all the physical facts about a human body, this would not
explain all of the actions of that body. Another way of
saying this is that there will be physical events in bodies
which do not have a physical cause.
- Later scholars will accuse Descartes of being incoherent.
Ryle, for example, claims I could never know if you had a
mind. But if we could see all my and your physical facts and
I saw no inexplicable physical facts, then we would know
Descartes was wrong. So: I am rejecting the Rylean claim that
Descartes is incoherent by supposing Descartes claims are
- However, there may be post-Cartesian forms of dualism
that are incoherent or which otherwise fall prey to profound
epistemic concerns. (Epiphenomenalism?)