Soul, mind and body - DESCARTES (A-Level R.S)

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hira.naz
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#1
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#1
Hi guys,
I'm currently on half term and revising and am seriously stuck with Descartes, the internet is no use and there is no way for me to ask my teacher.

So here's my issue:
I know that Descartes is a dualist (believes the mind and body are different, they have different properties).
He came up with this wax analogy. I understand that when the wax has melted the wax no longer has specific qualities. Our senses would believe this is no longer the wax. BUT due to our ability to reason we know that is still the same wax as before it has just melted.

Now i'm confused because I don't understand how this is arguing that the mind and body are separate?
So our mind (ability to reason) realises that the wax is the same thing

my question is:
are our senses to do with the body? If this is the case, does that then conclude that our mind (reason) and body (senses) are different because they have different qualities so according to Leibniz's law they must be different?

I think i do get the main idea I just need some clarification.
Any help would be VERY much appreciated.
Last edited by hira.naz; 3 years ago
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Vinny C
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#2
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#2
(Original post by hira.naz)
Hi guys,
I'm currently on half term and revising and am seriously stuck with Descartes, the internet is no use and there is no way for me to ask my teacher.

So here's my issue:
I know that Descartes is a dualist (believes the mind and body are different, they have different properties).
He came up with this wax analogy. I understand that when the wax has melted the wax no longer has specific qualities. Our senses would believe this is no longer the wax. BUT due to our ability to reason we know that is still the same wax as before it has just melted.

Now i'm confused because I don't understand how this is arguing that the mind and body are separate?
So our mind (ability to reason) realises that the wax is the same thing

my question is:
are our senses to do with the body? If this is the case, does that then conclude that our mind (reason) and body (senses) are different because they have different qualities so according to Leibniz's law they must be different?

I think i do get the main idea I just need some clarification.
Any help would be VERY much appreciated.
This song might help... I drink, therefore I am!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9SqQNgDrgg
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gjd800
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#3
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#3
Descartes takes the changeability of wax to the senses as illustrative that we don't 'know' via our senses. If we only knew the world via our senses, then we'd never grasp that the solid wax is the same substance as the melted wax, we'd see two different states and assume two different substances. We know via our reason that this is not the case. He has a 'clear and distinct' idea of the wax's nature only via the intellect. This is his first move to place the intellect at the forefront of the equation.

He then extends this line of thought so that he can say that we know our intellect more clearly and distinctly than we know any other entity or object: it could be the case that we are imagining the wax that we think we perceive, but in that very moment, we can never doubt that we are nevertheless perceiving it. So even though we could be imagining the wax, we are still sure that there is an 'I' doing the perceiving and having the experience, whether or not the experience turns out to be veridical or not. Without our intellect making sense of perceptions, we'd not be sure of anything at all.

Now think of it in relation to our bodies. We are always sure that we are perceiving our extremities, via our sense etc. Aristotle argues that all our knowledge comes from our sense, for example. But it could be the case that we are imagining our bodies. nevertheless, even if this does turn out to be the case, we are still perceiving. There is still a thinking, self-reflexive 'I' doing the mental work, even if it eventually turns out that our bodies do not exist. Thus, Descartes has established the primacy of the intellect: he is sure that he -- a thinking 'I' -- exists, even if his other perceptions are mistaken. He is a thinking thing; he knows his mind more clearly and distinctly than he knows his body.
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Gwil
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#4
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#4
(Original post by gjd800)
Descartes takes the changeability of wax to the senses as illustrative that we don't 'know' via our senses. If we only knew the world via our senses, then we'd never grasp that the solid wax is the same substance as the melted wax, we'd see two different states and assume two different substances. We know via our reason that this is not the case. He has a 'clear and distinct' idea of the wax's nature only via the intellect. This is his first move to place the intellect at the forefront of the equation.

He then extends this line of thought so that he can say that we know our intellect more clearly and distinctly than we know any other entity or object: it could be the case that we are imagining the wax that we think we perceive, but in that very moment, we can never doubt that we are nevertheless perceiving it. So even though we could be imagining the wax, we are still sure that there is an 'I' doing the perceiving and having the experience, whether or not the experience turns out to be veridical or not. Without our intellect making sense of perceptions, we'd not be sure of anything at all.

Now think of it in relation to our bodies. We are always sure that we are perceiving our extremities, via our sense etc. Aristotle argues that all our knowledge comes from our sense, for example. But it could be the case that we are imagining our bodies. nevertheless, even if this does turn out to be the case, we are still perceiving. There is still a thinking, self-reflexive 'I' doing the mental work, even if it eventually turns out that our bodies do not exist. Thus, Descartes has established the primacy of the intellect: he is sure that he -- a thinking 'I' -- exists, even if his other perceptions are mistaken. He is a thinking thing; he knows his mind more clearly and distinctly than he knows his body.
Good explanation. Would I be right in thinking that it's essentially a flawed argument, since we could only obtain the knowledge that the melted wax is still wax by having watched it melt, or by having studied its properties through our senses and concluded that it could melt at a certain heat? Therefore, the process of understanding the wax is clearly inductive, not deductive. I think the weakness of the argument is that Descartes had such a limited understanding of how the brain can process and organise sense data, and so viewed sensory experiences in isolation and brought in the abstract reasoning of the intellect to fill the gap.
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hira.naz
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#5
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#5
Ohhhh okay I see, so regarding the wax analogy Descartes is saying that we can see via our senses what is happening but that isn't sufficient enough, we need to use reason to truly understand that the wax is still wax even after it has melted. And then this relates to the mind and body because we can never be 100% sure about our bodies, we can only be sure of our minds and then that can be linked to "I think therefore I am". So that's why he is a dualist because the mind and body are completely different?
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hira.naz
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#6
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Thank you so much!! That makes more sense, I think I was focusing too much on why I thought the argument was silly rather than putting myself in Descartes shoes and figuring out what he was talking about.
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hira.naz
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#7
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Thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it
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gjd800
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#8
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(Original post by Gwil)
Good explanation. Would I be right in thinking that it's essentially a flawed argument, since we could only obtain the knowledge that the melted wax is still wax by having watched it melt, or by having studied its properties through our senses and concluded that it could melt at a certain heat? Therefore, the process of understanding the wax is clearly inductive, not deductive. I think the weakness of the argument is that Descartes had such a limited understanding of how the brain can process and organise sense data, and so viewed sensory experiences in isolation and brought in the abstract reasoning of the intellect to fill the gap.
You could maybe advance that, yeah, but I think a dedicated Cartesian would just come back with that we see things happen all the time that we don't understand; it is the act of understanding -- an act of the intellect -- that ultimately furnishes us with the knowledge, even after our senses provide some information to the intellect. How many people would want to accept that, I dunno! You are of course right re knowledge of how the brain works and so on, but ultimately he is asking how we know and to what extent we know. This, he thinks, is never answered by recourse to the senses because sense data without anything to process them remain unknown.
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gjd800
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#9
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#9
(Original post by hira.naz)
Ohhhh okay I see, so regarding the wax analogy Descartes is saying that we can see via our senses what is happening but that isn't sufficient enough, we need to use reason to truly understand that the wax is still wax even after it has melted. And then this relates to the mind and body because we can never be 100% sure about our bodies, we can only be sure of our minds and then that can be linked to "I think therefore I am". So that's why he is a dualist because the mind and body are completely different?
That's pretty much it, yep!

(Original post by hira.naz)
Thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it
No probs, glad to be of use.
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Awesome IDEA
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yo
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