Paul Sutton Professor Pakaluk Philosophy 313 Descartes Wax Argument In Meditation 2, Rene Descartes finds his existence in that he thinks, and that his essence is that he is a thinking thing.
In only being a thinking thing, Descartes states that his mind is distinct and more real to him than his body (even if he has a body). Unlike the Aristotelian belief in which the mind and body are connected, Descartes now aims to show that it is not through his body, his senses, and his imagination that he knows with most distinctness, but it is his mind alone.Descartes needs to discover that nothing is more clearly apprehended than his own mind. By showing that even in bodies or corporal properties, where it seems that his senses more easily understood than his mind, are in fact known and understood by his mind alone, Descartes reaches that conclusion. To help him find his way to that conclusion Descartes gives the wax argument to illustrate this point of complete understanding and perceiving through his mind, and not his senses or imagination. The conclusion of the wax argument now illustrates to him that there is nothing he knows more easily than his mind.
. Suppose I discover that my senses or imagination are more easily apprehended than my own mind. ii. Then my senses or imagination are more easily apprehended than my own mind iii. But to more easily or clearly apprehend my senses or imagination more than my own mind, I must be able to properly perceive by my senses or imagination iv.
It appears that my senses better know and perceive corporeal things than my mind v. I see a piece of wax that has color, smell, size, shape. vi. But, once placed near a flame these sense qualities change- the taste, the smell, the color and shape are all destroyed vii.Yet, I still know this now mutable, extendable and flexible thing to be the same wax as before its properties changed. viii.
So, since the sense properties of the wax changed, but I still understand this wax to be the same wax before it was placed near the flame, I can not know it by my senses ix. This wax, extendable, flexible and mutable, is now capable of an infinite number of forms, but my imagination is limited to a finite number of forms. x. I do not understand the wax by imagination xi.
Because I still know and perceive the wax, and since I can not know it by either my imagination or my senses, I must know and perceive it through my mind alone. xii. Conclusion: Since I properly perceived and understand the body of wax, not by my senses or imagination but my mind alone, I conclude that there is nothing more clearly or easily apprehended than my own mind. In looking through this argument put forth by Descartes, the conclusion logically follows from the previous stated premises, so the validity is in tact.
However, the soundness of the argument can be called into question.Premise #7 can be challenged, stating that one can’t possible know that the wax before was the same wax without witnessing the change through sight, feel, smell. Descartes states that senses deceive and they could deceive him into believing it was not wax if he understood it by senses. Counterargument- Without perceiving the senses change the shape of the wax, the melted wax would not be discernable to me as the same wax. Response- Senses deceive, if I relied on my senses to perceive and understand the wax, I would have known the wax as a flexible, extendable shape, not the same piece of wax.
Also, one could attack premise #9. One could argue that the wax, being material and corporeal, is not capable of an infinite number of forms. However, only through the mind, that makes sense of the senses, does this piece of wax have a shape. And that one never truly sees or touches the wax by the senses, but through the intuition of the mind the piece of wax is understood. So because the mind can change that shape into an infinite number of forms, the wax is capable of an infinite number of forms.Counterargument- Because the wax is a corporeal property that is extendable, flexible, can be touched and seen, it can not be capable of an infinite number of forms.
Response- The wax is never really seen, or touched by the senses. The mind, through understanding of the senses, gives a judgment that it is wax. And because the mind is immaterial it is capable of an infinite number of forms. The imagination is only capable of seeing things we deem material, and thus limited. (Word count-793) Descartes Meditations
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