Dualism: Perception and Imagination

Table of Content

What is dualism? What is the essence of the Res Cogitans? Explain in detail how Descartes discovered this essence. Explain the “piece of wax argument. ” What does the “wax argument” prove? How does Descartes prove that corporeal substance exists and that the mind is separate and distinct from the body? * Do you find his argument convincing? Why or why not? Give reasons for your answer. (*Be sure to discuss, God, the distinction between types of ideas, and the distinction between the two substances. ) Dualism consists of substances, which include corporeal things and thinking things.

The essence of the mind is thought be the essence of the body but its extension. Human bodies and their properties are objects of sense perception. Minds and their properties cannot be objects of sense perception. Interaction between mind and body is rationally unintelligible; in a human being, a mind and a body are substantially united. Res Cogitans is Latin for =……the Meditator advances the claim that he is a thing that thinks, an argument called the sum res cogitans, after its Latin formulation. There are three controversies regarding the claim “I am… n the strict sense only a thing that thinks,” which we will examine in turn: whether the claim is metaphysical or epistemological, what is meant by “thing,” and what is meant by “thinking. ” It is more plausible to read the sum res cogitans as an epistemological remark, saying that, “whatever else I may be, I know only that I am a thing that thinks. ” However, in some of his writings, Descartes makes it plausible to read him as making a metaphysical remark, that “I am only a thing that thinks. ” His reasoning might go something like this: “I know that I am a thinking thing, and I do not know whether I am a bodily thing.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

My body and my mind cannot be one and the same, because I should either know both of them or know neither of them. Since I know I am a thinking thing, and know that my body and my mind are two separate things, I can conclude that I am not a bodily thing. Therefore, I am only a thing that thinks. ” In so arguing, however, Descartes would commit the so-called “intentional fallacy” of basing an argument on what one does not know. If two things had to be either both known or both not known in order to be identical, we could argue that Bruce Wayne and Batman are not one and the same as well. “Thing that thinks” also carries some ambiguous aggage. By “thing,” Descartes could simply be using the word as we do today, as an ambiguous throwaway word when we don’t want to be more specific. More likely, though, he is using it to mean substance, the fundamental and indivisible elements of Cartesian ontology. In this ontology, there are extended things (bodies) and thinking things (minds), and Descartes is here asserting that we are minds rather than bodies. Of course, “thinking” is also highly questionable. Does Descartes mean only the intellection and understanding that is characteristic of the Aristotelian conception of mind?

Or does he also include sensory perception, imagination, willing, and so on? At the beginning of the Second Meditation, the Meditator has cast sensory perception and so on into doubt, but by the end of the Second Meditation, sensing, imagining, willing, and so on are included as attributes of the mind. This question is further explored in the commentary on the next section. The Meditator tries to clarify precisely what this “I” is, this “thing that thinks. ” He concludes that he is not only something that thinks, understands, and wills, but is also something that imagines and senses.

After all, he may be dreaming or deceived by an evil demon, but he can still imagine things and he still seems to hear and see things. His sensory perceptions may not be veridical, but they are certainly a part of the same mind that thinks. The Meditator then moves on to ask how he comes to know of this “I. ” The senses, as we have seen, cannot be trusted. Similarly, he concludes, he cannot trust the imagination. The imagination can conjure up ideas of all sorts of things that are not real, so it cannot be the guide to knowing his own essence.

Still, the Meditator remains puzzled. If, as he has concluded, he is a thinking thing, why is it that he has such a distinct grasp of what his body is and has such a difficult time identifying what is this “I” that thinks? In order to understand this difficulty he considers how we come to know of a piece of wax just taken from a honeycomb: through the senses or by some other means? He first considers what he can know about the piece of wax by means of the senses: its taste, smell, color, shape, size, hardness, etc.

The Meditator then asks what happens when the piece of wax is placed near the fire and melted. All of these sensible qualities change, so that, for instance, it is now soft when before it was hard. Nonetheless, the same piece of wax still remains. Our knowledge that the solid piece of wax and the melted piece of wax are the same cannot come through the senses since all of its sensible properties have changed. The Meditator considers what he can know about the piece of wax, and concludes that he can know only that it is extended, flexible, and changeable.

He does not come to know this through the senses, and realizes that it is impossible that he comes to know the wax by means of the imagination: the wax can change into an infinite number of different shapes and he cannot run through all these shapes in his imagination. Instead, he concludes, he knows the wax by means of the intellect alone. His mental perception of it can either be imperfect and confused–as when he allowed herself to be led by his senses and imagination– or it can be clear and distinct–as it is when he applies only careful mental scrutiny to his perception of it.

The Meditator reflects on how easy it is to be deceived regarding these matters. After all, we might say “I see the wax,” though in saying that we refer to the wax as the intellect perceives it, rather than to its color or shape. This is similar to the way in which we might “see” people down in the street when all we really see are coats and hats. Our intellect–and not our eyes–judges that there are people, and not automata, under those coats and hats. The Meditator concludes that, contrary to his initial impulses, the mind is a far better knower than the body.

Further, he suggests, he must know his mind far better than other things. After all, as he has admitted, he may not be perceiving the piece of wax at all: it may be a dream or an illusion. But when he is perceiving the piece of wax, he cannot doubt that he is perceiving nor that he is judging what he perceives to be a piece of wax, and both of these acts of thought imply that he exists. Every thought we might have about the world outside us can only doubtfully be true of the outside world, but it must with certainty confirm our own existence and establish the nature of our own mind.

The Meditator happily concludes that he can know at least that he exists, that he is a thinking thing, that his mind is better known than his body, and that all clear and distinct perceptions come by means of the intellect alone, and not the senses or the imagination. He first distinguishes between imagination and pure understanding. In the case of a triangle, he can perceive that a triangle is three-sided and derive all sorts of other properties using the understanding alone. He can also perceive these properties with the imagination, by picturing the triangle in his mind’s eye.

However, the weaknesses of the imagination become clear when he considers a thousand-sided figure. It is very difficult to picture it in his mind’s eye, and more difficult still to differentiate that mental image from the mental image of a 999-sided figure. The pure understanding, however, dealing only in mathematical relations, can perceive all the properties of a thousand-sided figure just as easily as it can a triangle. The imagination cannot be an essential property of his mind, since the Meditator could still exist even if he could not imagine. Therefore, the imagination must rely on something other than the mind for its existence.

The Meditator conjectures that the imagination is connected with the body, and thus allows the mind to picture corporeal objects. In understanding, the mind turns inward upon itself, and in imagining, the mind turns outward toward the body. The Meditator admits that this is only a strong conjecture, and not a definitive proof of the existence of body. The Meditator then turns to reflect on what he perceives by means of the senses. He perceives he has a body that exists in a world, and that this body can experience pleasure, pain, emotion, hunger, etc. and can perceive other bodies with extension, shape, movement, hardness, heat, color, smell, taste, etc. He thinks it not unreasonable to suppose that these perceptions all come from some outside source. They come to him involuntarily, and they are so much more vivid than the perceptions he consciously creates in his own mind. It would be odd to suggest that he can involuntarily create perceptions so much more vivid than the ones he creates voluntarily. And if they come from without, it is only natural to suppose that the source of these sensory ideas in some way resemble the ideas themselves.

From this point of view, it is very easy to convince oneself that all knowledge comes from without via the senses. The Fourth Meditation, subtitled “Truth and falsity,” opens with the Meditator reflecting on the ground he has covered so far, observing that all his certain knowledge, and in particular the most certain knowledge that God exists, comes from the intellect, and not from the senses or the imagination. Now that he is certain of God’s existence, a great deal more can follow. First, he knows that God would not deceive him, since the will to deceive is a sign of weakness or malice, and God’s perfection would not allow it.

Second, if God created him, God is responsible for his judgment, and so his faculty of judgment must be infallible so long as he uses it correctly. This is all well and good, the Meditator reasons, but if God has endowed him with infallible judgment, how is it that he can be mistaken, as he undoubtedly is from time to time? The Meditator explains that he finds himself somewhere between God–a perfect, complete, and supreme being–and nothingness. He was created by a supreme and infinite being, and all created in him by that supreme being is infallible, but he was also created to be only a finite being.

While he participates partly in the supreme being of God, he also participates partly in nothingness. When he is wrong, it is not the result of some faulty faculty created by God, but is rather the result of his non-being, his lack of perfection. Everything that God has created is perfect, but God has created the Meditator as a finite being whose finitude still leaves room for error. But the Meditator remains unsatisfied. If God is a perfect creator, God should be able to create perfect beings. Surely, God could have willed it so that the Meditator would never err, and God always wills what is best.

The Meditator reflects that God’s motives and reasons are incomprehensible to finite beings such as himself. For this reason also, he rejects the search for final causes in physics: it would require a great deal of arrogance to try to read God’s mind or understand God’s motives. Rather than look at one isolated part of the universe, the Meditator suggests he might find perfection if he looks at God’s creation as a whole. He may appear to be an imperfect being when considered on his own, but he may play a perfectly appropriate role in the wider context of a perfect universe.

Cite this page

Dualism: Perception and Imagination. (2017, Mar 15). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront