Friday, July 7, 2017

Descartes / Meditation 6 - Short Summary

In the fifth mediation of René Descartes' "Mediations on the First Philosophy" (titled: " On the existence of material things and the real distinction between the mind and the body") Descartes establishes the distinction between mind and body, investigates their nature and concludes that he can know he exists in a material world of other things. Descartes observes that he has a faculty of imagination, which presents ideas spatially, as opposed to the faculty of the intellect, which does not. We can illustrate their distinctness by noting that I can conceive of a chiliagon but I cannot imagine one. Imagination requires a body, intellection does not; hence, Descartes concludes, imagination is not part of the essence of mind. The distinctness of mind and body is shown by the fact that if I can clearly and distinctly perceive X existing independently of Y, then X must be independent of Y, for it would be contrary to God’s power not to be able to make it so. I can conceive of mind without body and vice versa. For mind is indivisible and body is divisible, neither substance depends on the other and we can treat them as separate. For Descartes we are a composed union of mind and body. I am not simply informed of damage to my body when I step on a pin. I experience it as a pain. Do now my senses faithfully depict an external world? My senses may often let me down (as demonstrated in meditation 1) but we have explained the source of error and that God is not a deceiver. So my senses are right in reporting an external world but I must be careful in judging whether they report the nature of things correctly. With knowledge of mind, body and God, I can reject the extreme doubts that started me off and pursue the enterprise of genuine scientific discovery which is the final goal of Descartes' "Mediations on the First Philosophy".

back to: A summary by chapter of Descartes' Meditations 
See also: essential summary of Rene Descartes' Meditations
Descartes' arguments for the existence of God in Meditations

Suggested reading on Renè Descartes: