• Antony Nickles
    1.1k
    Seeing the act of thinking as a list of activities does not reflect the problem of description that I commented upon upthread. By speaking of an 'indescribable part of myself which cannot be pictured by the imagination', it seems to me that Descartes is pointing at something that is always there but is not understood.Paine

    Or we could take what he says on its face as stating a fact. Cottingham’s translation is “But I still can’t help thinking that bodies – of which I form mental images and which the senses investigate – are much more clearly known to me than is this puzzling ‘I’ that can’t be pictured in the imagination.” The self cannot be pictured because it is not a body. He is saying it is “indescribable” and “puzzling” not to spur us to try harder to, say, solve the puzzle of describing it, but to say categorically it is not a thing to be described because it is not a thing (“that is always there”). It is not conversely a thing that is not here, something incorporeal. We could say the self is mythical. We are a work in progress (or not), but not a given constant. We are an open question. It is puzzling because it is not how we would reflexively picture it (want to have it be in order for it to be known, and with certainty), that we are still on the way to a new way of thinking of ourselves.
  • Paine
    2.2k

    I think Descartes is asking us to accept that the self is a thing despite not being imaginable or described the way other things are.

    But I would not express that thought as equivalent to you adding: "The self cannot be pictured because it is not a body." What a soul is, in relation to bodies, has been discussed for centuries before this work.

    Descartes is arguing that this focus has missed the mark. The "always there" I pointed to refers to the "thinking thing" being there when we pay attention to it.
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    Does reason give us a clear and distinct idea of the "I"?Janus

    He does say:

    ...what is true and known – namely my own self.

    Are you saying he does not think it does or that you do not think it does? In the third meditation he says:

    I am a thing that thinks, i.e., that doubts, affirms, denies, understands some things, is ignorant of many others, wills, and refuses. This thing also imagines and has sensory perceptions ... That lists everything that I truly know, or at least everything I have, up to now, discovered that I know. Now I will look more carefully to see whether I have overlooked other facts about myself.

    In what follows there are a few other things he mentions. His continued existence does not depend on himself, that he is finite, and that he has innate ideas.

    He goes on to make a distinction between kinds of thoughts. Some are ideas - images or pictures of things, and others are such things as volitions, emotions, and judgments:

    First, if I am to proceed in an orderly way I should classify my thoughts into definite kinds, and ask which kinds can properly be said to be true or false. Some of my thoughts are, so to speak, images or pictures of things – as when I think of a man, or a chimera, or the sky, or an angel, or God – and strictly speaking these are the only thoughts that should be called ‘ideas’.

    Other thoughts have more to them than that: for example when I will, or am afraid, or affirm, or deny, my thought represents some particular thing but it also includes something more than merely the likeness of that thing. Some thoughts in this category are called volitions or emotions, while others are called judgments.
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    The tight connection between 'not knowing' and being 'unimaginable' is sort of a concession to Aristotle saying, "thinking requires the use of images."Paine

    As quoted from the third meditation in my response to Janus, he distinguishes between thoughts that are images and others that are:

    something more than merely the likeness of that thing.

    When, for example, I will or am afraid, this is not the likeness of willing or being afraid. It is not something I imagine. I can, of course, imagine what it is like to be afraid, but when I do so I rely on a memory or feeling of when I was afraid.
  • frank
    14.7k
    I keep tripping over the second paragraph of the third meditation:

    That lists everything that I truly know, or at least everything I have, up to now, discovered that I know. Now I will look more carefully to see whether I have overlooked other facts about myself. I am certain that I am a thinking thing. Doesn’t that tell me what it takes for me to be certain about anything? In this first item of knowledge there is simply a clear and distinct perception of what I am asserting; this wouldn’t be enough to make me certain of its truth if it could ever turn out that something that I perceived so clearly and distinctly was false. So I now seem to be able to lay it down as a general rule that whatever I perceive very clearly and distinctly is true. — Descartes, Third Meditation

    So he lays out the foundation he's discovered:

    F: I exist and I am a thinking thing.

    Next he says that F wouldn't be convincing if it wasn't necessary that what he perceives clearly and distinctly is true.

    So now he establishes the rule that whatever he perceives clearly and distinctly is true.

    I'm having trouble following that logic. Unless what he means by "perceives clearly and distinctly" is mental events of all kinds.

    In other words, he means that if he doubts x, it is certain that he doubts x. If he tastes y, it's certain that he tastes y. That sort of thing?
  • Antony Nickles
    1.1k
    @frank @Manuel @Janus
    The "always there" I pointed to refers to the "thinking thing" being there when we pay attention to it.Paine

    What I should have said was that it is not an ordinary “thing” (given, constant, observable), and that the characteristics (criteria) of this “thinking” type of thing are not those of an object. It only exists “while” we are thinking, and is feared to go away if we stop. “I exist—that is certain. But for how long? For as long as I am thinking. For it could be that were I totally to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exist.”

    I think Descartes is asking us to accept that the self is a thing despite not being imaginable or described the way other things are.Paine

    I don’t see evidence of that request and interpreting what I do see that way is jumping to a conclusion. Descartes wants to have a certain constant self, but is honest enough to stop short of assuming that.
  • Paine
    2.2k

    How does 'stopping short of assuming' that constancy of the self pertain to Descartes being sure that he exists because he is thinking?

    As you observed in a previous comment, there is a list of activities coming from the thinking. The Third Meditation begins with sorting out the different modes they appear within. I take your point that there is an uncertainty expressed about the continuance of his existence. But there does not seem to be any doubt expressed about whether the different modes all come from his 'thinking substance'. It is through this unity he is attempting to rearrange the First Principles he is meditating upon.

    Edit to add: The last sentence refers to the full title of the work: The Meditations Concerning First Philosophy.

    As practiced amongst the Scholastics, this 'being first' is related to Aristotle saying:

    But if there is some immovable substance, this [that is, theological philosophy] will be prior and will be primary philosophy, and it will be universal in this way, namely, because it is primary. And it will belong to it to get a theoretical grasp on being qua being, both what it is and the things that belong to it qua being. — Aristotle. Metaphysics, 1026a25, translated by CDC Reeve
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    Unless what he means by "perceives clearly and distinctly" is mental events of all kinds.frank

    There is a shift in this paragraph from the certainty of being a thinking thing that perceives to the certainty of "whatever" it is that he perceives clearly and distinctly.
  • Manuel
    4k
    I think it's important to note, as I have been reading a few decent secondary sources on the matter, that Descartes gets his "clear and distinct ideas" from his work in optics, in which he attempts to explain how stimuli relate to the eye and the brain, which was quite fantastic for the time he wrote it.

    Sometimes we can't see things clearly, maybe there's dust or fog, sometimes we can see well but we can't judge the object well, because we are sleepy of confused.

    Keeping this in mind, that he is thinking of his scientific works adds valuable context to what he's arguing for in the Meditations.

    And as a side note, his comments in the Second and Third Meditations on out "common notions" in simply superb. He already made Sellar's "manifest image", "scientific image", 400 years prior to Sellars, really impressive reasoning.
  • Janus
    15.8k
    Are you saying he does not think it does or that you do not think it does?Fooloso4

    I was saying the latter. I don't find his definitions convincing. Also, I don't think his conflation of affective states with thinking helps to clarify anything. I mean in a purely formal sense the self is understood to be the entity that feels, experiences, desires and thinks, and that is clear enough until you begin to ask the further questions as to just what this entity is, if it is claimed to be anything more than the whole organism.

    What I should have said was that it is not an ordinary “thing” (given, constant, observable), and that the characteristics (criteria) of this “thinking” type of thing are not those of an object. It only exists “while” we are thinking, and is feared to go away if we stop. “I exist—that is certain. But for how long? For as long as I am thinking. For it could be that were I totally to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exist.”Antony Nickles

    So, the self is an "I-thought" or, since Descartes seems to include all kinds of feeling, sensation and voilition as thinking, what we might call a "sense of self"?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    4.7k
    Affirming or doubting are acts with very specific criteria done in particular situations, just like asking, or thanking.Antony Nickles

    How specific?

    Is there not more than one way of asking? Of thanking? Of affirming or doubting?

    Are there not specific sorts of specificity?

    How finely must we chop experience before the spectre of generality has been sufficiently warded off?
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    Also, I don't think his conflation of affective states with thinking helps to clarify anything.Janus

    This should be looked at against the background of the tradition he is rejecting. Aristotle regarded such things as being related to the soul, but since Descartes regards the soul as a thinking thing these activities are classified as kinds of thinking.

    until you begin to ask the further questions as to just what this entity is, if it is claimed to be anything more than the whole organism.Janus

    Yes, I agree. He will have more to say about the whole organism. But I don't think a full description or complete knowledge of himself is his main concern. He says enough to serve his rhetorical purpose.
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    Descartes gets his "clear and distinct ideas" from his work in optics,Manuel

    Interesting observation, but how well does it fit with his example of the wax? For example:

    When the wax is in front of us, we say that we see it, not that we judge it to be there from its colour or shape; and this might make me think that knowledge of the wax comes from what the eye sees rather than from the perception of the mind alone. But this is clearly wrong, as the following example shows.

    ...

    If I look out of the window and see men crossing the square, as I have just done, I say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax; yet do I see any more than hats and coats that could conceal robots? I judge that they are men.


    ...

    Surely, I am aware of my own self in a truer and more certain way than I am of the wax, and also in a much more distinct and evident way.

    ...

    As I came to perceive the wax more distinctly by applying not just sight and touch but other considerations, all this too contributed to my knowing myself even more distinctly, because whatever goes into my perception of the wax or of any other body must do even more to establish the nature of my own mind.
  • Antony Nickles
    1.1k
    Affirming or doubting are acts with very specific criteria done in particular situations, just like asking, or thanking.
    — Antony Nickles

    How specific? Is there not more than one way of asking? Of thanking? Of affirming or doubting? Are there not specific sorts of specificity? How finely must we chop experience before the spectre of generality has been sufficiently warded off?
    Srap Tasmaner

    If generalizing haunts us, it’s in connection with removing anything specific to something’s ordinary context, such as “experience”. Used without there being anything extraordinary, it looses its ability to differentiate that is a hallmark of its being brought up. Your history may give you a different perspective, as might undergoing something distinctive (no one will ask about your experience of breakfast, unless you, say, went to a new Dim Sum restaurant), but general experience is categorically unremarkable, unless you have your head in a book.

    And, as any lawyer knows, speaking generally may be more appropriate than detailing every instance, but just because I can plead, cajole, call in a favor, etc. and call them all “asking” doesn’t make the conditions allowing for a request to be any less specific nor the criteria for judging the line where it becomes pressuring any less clear. And sure we can use language lazily if we like, but beating a nail in with a screwdriver doesn’t make it a hammer.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    4.7k
    just because I can plead, cajole, call in a favor, etc. and call them all “asking” doesn’t make the conditions allowing for a request to be any less specific nor the criteria for judging the line where it becomes pressuring any less clear.Antony Nickles

    Is that line particularly clear? Isn't this exactly the sort of thing people very often disagree about?

    ("Allowing"???)

    And sure we can use language lazily if we like, but beating a nail in with a screwdriver doesn’t make it a hammer.Antony Nickles

    But this is odd. It takes considerable effort for Descartes to achieve the degree of abstraction he does in his reasoning, to extract himself from everyday ways of thinking. Doesn't look like laziness.

    Now, f I don't understand the difference between a hammer and a screwdriver, I might select one or the other indifferently, much like a lazy person who does understand the difference but doesn't care. But that doesn't make me lazy. For that I would have to have deliberately shunned opportunities to learn the difference, and so on.

    Besides, maybe you pound with the screwdriver because there's no hammer to hand. Recognizing that the screwdriver will do is not laziness, here, but insight, achieved by abstracting, and by flouting the rules about how tools ought to be used.
  • Antony Nickles
    1.1k
    Is that line [between asking and pressuring] particularly clear? Isn't this exactly the sort of thing people very often disagree about?Srap Tasmaner

    We are, of course far afield here, but, that people can disagree about it, does not mean that they ordinarily (“very often”) do, nor that the conditions and criteria are not there to make explicit (the grounds for inteligibility, rationality) in relation to the context of this particular case we draw out as necessary to show the confusion or what makes this an exception.

    ([the conditions] "Allowing"??? [for requesting])Srap Tasmaner

    Allowing is here in the sense of the opportunity for. To ask for something meaningfully, the situation has to be appropriate. The conditions would be like the Kantian categorical requirements (except for each activity).

    And sure we can use language lazily if we like, but beating a nail in with a screwdriver doesn’t make it a hammer. — Antony Nickles

    But this is odd. It takes considerable effort for Descartes to achieve the degree of abstraction he does in his reasoning, to extract himself from everyday ways of thinking. Doesn't look like laziness.
    Srap Tasmaner

    My point was not to define the motivation, but to carry the point that generalizing can be useful, or thoughtless, etc. In Descartes case, as I have discussed, it is the result of his desire for certainty.

    Recognizing that the screwdriver will do is not laziness, here, but insight, achieved by abstracting, and by flouting the rules about how tools ought to be used.Srap Tasmaner

    The insight is not “achieved by abstracting”—which is the removal from context and the associated ordinary criteria in place of a generalization, to which we then can impose our desire for certainty projecting an “ought” that we can achieve if we just follow predetermined “rules”—but from the “possibilities” of tools, including their open-endedness to solve problems, which comes from familiarity, thus why carpentry is an apprenticeship and not mostly explicit knowledge.

    To attempt to get back on track, my claim here is that Descartes’ focus on the possibilities of thinking as various activities tells us more, and creates a clearer framework, than the abstraction of “thinking” as a process of a metaphysical self (brain, mind), which he avoids in—among other evidence I have discussed—acknowledging that he only “exists” as apart from the pull of society, while thinking. If that is unclear, I have walked through the text above in multiple posts.
  • Antony Nickles
    1.1k
    @Manuel@Janus@frank@Paine@Srap Tasmaner

    “But although my perception of [the ball of wax] seemed to be a case of vision and touch and imagination, it isn’t so and it never was. Rather, it is purely a perception by the mind alone – formerly an imperfect and confused one, but now clear and distinct because I am now concentrating carefully on what the wax consists in…”

    Well, attempting a non-metaphysical reading here will require some imagination and leniency. Some might say I am inserting what I want into the text, or stretching what is obviously not the case. But if there is the possibility that Descartes’ terms need not necessarily be read as metaphysical, then isn’t that the imposition of a framework (even by Descartes), and in the face of textual evidence of an alternative?

    I take Descartes as recognizing that the history of identifying objects, finding characteristics, following the extension of possibilities, etc., in short, our whole lives of interwoven activities, are the conditions for “perceiving” this as a ball of wax; that the wax does not “consist“ as a body (object) but in these non-sensory, non-physical criteria and conditions.

    Yes, he calls it “perception by the mind alone”, however, we can still say in a sense we only realize and “see”—as an activity apart from the brain’s sensory vision—this as a ball of wax by the ordinary criteria we judge “makes up” or matter to us about a ball of wax, or a thing to throw at someone, or an adhesive for a poster to a wall, etc. and not “perception” as a mental process like vision or requiring “mind” to be an object, rather than our (and our shared) means of judgment and identification.

    “When the wax is in front of us, we say that we see it, not that we judge it to be there from its colour or shape; and this might make me think that knowledge of the wax comes from what the eye sees rather than from the perception of the mind alone. But this is clearly wrong, as the following example shows. If I look out of the window and see men crossing the square, as I have just done, I say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax; yet do I see any more than hats and coats that could conceal robots? I judge that they are men.” Emphasis added.

    And here is the example that makes it clear that “seeing” and “judging” are activities and not sensations or another faculty wherein we recognize an “object” or an essence or thing-in-itself (the “themselves”). As in the Theatetus, having something be visible to us does not equate to our knowledge of “it”. Austin cleverly makes this point by showing the ordinary ways in which we could be mistaken in applying our criteria to judge a case from seeing hats and coats.

    And the fear of not being certain crops up again in the precipice he imagines in not having any metaphysical “themselves” (itself) taking it as far as the fantasy that we judge that the other is not human, or, less cataclysmically, not to be considered, not worth empathy for their pain (rather than certain knowledge). But he is realizing that our ordinary criteria for judgment are enough without metaphysical abstraction, thus that we can conclude these are people from only hats and coats.
  • Manuel
    4k


    Thanks for posting the line about hats and coats which is a crucially important topic, which I am particularly interested in, because it is much understudied and I think it's exactly right.

    As to how the actual Optics pertains to these - I can't comment much, I have to read them. If I had to guess, when we just look at something, what we literally see with our eyes are colours and shapes and distances, but we do not judge what we see with our eyes, but with our minds: this the shape I am currently looking at, which is grey, elongated and thin, is actually a flexible lamp.

    Below it, what I see it an irregular sized object, with some orange, black and white. When I judge what it is, it's a book with deckle edge pages, which accounts for its irregular shape.

    I could argue that my merely seeing with my eyes, is clear, as nothing is obstructing my vision, but it is not distinct until I judge what my eyes are seeing. I believe some account along these lines, is what Descartes might argue, in relation to Optics.

    I'll get back to you on that if I learn anything new in the secondary literature.

    But if there is the possibility that Descartes’ terms need not necessarily be read as metaphysical, then isn’t that the imposition of a framework (even by Descartes), and in the face of textual evidence of an alternative?Antony Nickles

    You can attempt to do an epistemological take, without the metaphysics and argue, that in "vulgar" (or ordinary) life, many of these objects are confused and unclear, but when we go into a scientific/philosophical perspective, our ideas of these objects become clearer and more distinct.

    as an activity apart from the brain’s sensory vision—this as a ball of wax by the ordinary criteria we judge “makes up” or matter to us about a ball of wax, or a thing to throw at someone, or an adhesive for a poster to a wall, etc. and not “perception” as a mental process like vision or requiring “mind” to be an object, rather than our (and our shared) means of judgment and identification.Antony Nickles

    This would be terminological and not too controversial, this can be called an "activity", without much trouble.

    Yes, the mind being an object can be problematic, because despite Descartes heroic attempts to clarify what a mind is, we, to this day, aren't sure what it consists of. But I'd only point out that without a mind, perception alone amounts for very little.

    So, there is a sense in which the mind/brain is the organ we use to judge and identify things, while adding the qualifier that it is people that judge and think, and not minds, which doesn't change the main point, but is worth mentioning.

    But he is realizing that our ordinary criteria for judgment are enough without metaphysical abstraction, thus that we can conclude these are people from only hats and coats.Antony Nickles

    The metaphysics can get into the way and distract the extremely valuable point he is making. Again, giving an epistemological reading of his account can be fruitful, and we can think about not two different aspects in the world, but different aspects within which we divide the world.

    One aspect being the less reflective ordinary life, the other being the scientific/philosophical one, the latter being the domain in which we notice that what we are literally seeing are hats and coats and not people.
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    More thoughts on Descartes "I"

    In the Synopsis he says, parenthetically:

    (But here it should be noted in passing that I do not deal at all with sin, i.e. the error which is committed in pursuing good and evil, but only with the error that occurs in distinguishing truth from falsehood ...)

    The omission of sin from a discussion of what a human self is of utmost significance. Beliefs such as being born of sin, original sin, and redemption from sin are of central importance to the Christian teachings he claims to be supporting.

    In the Second Meditation he says;

    But this ‘I’ that must exist – I still don’t properly understand what it is; so I am at risk of confusing it with something else, thereby falling into error in the very item of knowledge that I maintain is the most certain and obvious of all.

    The cause of this fall is nothing more an improper understanding of what he is. In the story of "the Fall" in Genesis, gaining knowledge man becomes like the gods. (Genesis 3:22) But the serpent already knew this and part of his enticement of Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge for this reason (3:5) But in the Genesis story immortality is forbidden. Christianity grants the immortality of the soul. In the Synopsis Descartes says:

    But since some people may perhaps expect arguments for the immortality of the soul in this section, I think they should be warned here and now that I have tried not to put down anything which I could not precisely demonstrate.

    He cannot prove the immortality of the soul, but what separates man from the gods is immortality, and so, with immortality man is not just like the gods but is a god. Descartes is no less subtle than the serpent.
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    Thanks for posting the line about hats and coats which is a crucially important topic, which I am particularly interested inManuel

    I thought of you when I quoted it. You had mentioned it before but couldn't remember where you read it

    If I had to guess, when we just look at something, what we literally see with our eyes are colours and shapes and distances, but we do not judge what we see with our eyes, but with our minds: this the shape I am currently looking at, which is grey, elongated and thin, is actually a flexible lamp.Manuel

    What would someone who had never seen a lamp see? In the old Yankee Magazine they would post a picture in each issue of some old object someone found. The question was, "what is it?" Which meant, what was its purpose, what was it used for. Of course, someone who did not know the answer might use it for some other purpose. What they see, I would argue, is not something other than what they did with it.
  • Paine
    2.2k

    Not being able to "precisely demonstrate" immortality does sound like a lawyer's dodge but the argument for God's existence is based upon the untenable quality of the isolation Descartes is experimenting with:

    Moreover, even though the reality that I am considering in my ideas is merely objective reality, I ought not on that account to suspect that there is no need for the same reality to be formally in the causes of these ideas, but that it suffices for it to be in them objectively. For just as the objective mode of being belongs to ideas by their very nature, so the formal mode of being belongs to the causes of ideas, at least to the first and preeminent ones, by their very nature. And although one idea can perhaps issue from another, nevertheless no infinite regress is permitted here; eventually some first idea must be reached whose cause is a sort of archetype that contains formally all the reality that is in the idea merely objectively. Thus it is clear, to me by the light of nature that the ideas that are in me are like images that can easily fail to match the perfection of the things from which they have been drawn, but which can contain nothing greater or more perfect. And the longer and more attentively I examine all these points, the more clearly and distinctly I know they are true. But what am I ultimately to conclude? If the objective reality of any of my ideas is found to be so great that I am certain that the same reality was not in me, either formally or eminently, and that therefore I myself cannot be the cause of the idea, then it necessarily follows that I am not alone in the world, but that something else, which is the cause of this idea, also exists. But if no such idea is found in me, I will have no argument whatsoever to make me certain of the existence of anything other than myself, for I have conscientiously reviewed all these arguments, and so far I have been unable to find any other. — Descartes, Third Meditation, translated by Donald A Cress, pg 28

    From that starting point of what will allow him to escape his isolation, the existence of God provides a possibility that 'objective reality' does not.

    It is similar to the 'ontological proof of God' in Anselm but has an important difference. It is not only that "I did not give this idea of God to myself" but I need the idea of God to accept what is given in experience.
  • Manuel
    4k
    I thought of you when I quoted it. You had mentioned it before but couldn't remember where you read itFooloso4

    Yes and many thanks for that. It really is an important topic, that is sometimes made fun of or more precisely ignored, these are the very ideas that should be developed in modern times, they're extremely valuable, imo.

    What would someone who had never seen a lamp see? In the old Yankee Magazine they would post a picture in each issue of some old object someone found. The question was, "what is it?" Which meant, what was its purpose, what was it used for. Of course, someone who did not know the answer might use it for some other purpose. What they see, I would argue, is not something other than what they did with it.Fooloso4

    Sure, the use of a thing very much plays a crucial role to our understanding of it. If the lamp is off, they could take to be a piece of art, perhaps, or a weapon or maybe even a paperweight. If the light is on, then I think the options narrow down a bit, but I can imagine they could think of it analogous to a big flashlight, or a fire stick, etc.

    But in these examples, it is quite apparent how judgment plays a role, such that if we stayed with perception, we'd not be able to discern much, if anything.
  • Antony Nickles
    1.1k
    @frank @Paine @Janus @Srap Tasmaner

    You can attempt to do an epistemological take, without the metaphysics and argue, that in "vulgar" (or ordinary) life, many of these objects are confused and unclear, but when we go into a scientific/philosophical perspective, our ideas of these objects become clearer and more distinct.Manuel

    I’m using “ordinary” in its sense of: not special, not as: unexamined; it is in contrast to creating clarity by abstraction from any context or regular criteria and requiring only the certainty of logic or science. But we are just as capable of precision and rigorous analysis of our ordinary criteria as a “philosophical” perspective. The wish for philosophy to have science-like conclusions is to cover for, or hide from, our messy, vulgar lives and so sets aside “people” and creates the metaphysical, whether it’s the mind or “advanced brain processes”. Descartes is actually saying that our first impression from our senses, say vision, is not as clear as when we uncover the criteria and conditions for, say, the activity of seeing—the inferences we make, the reasons that matter to us for doing it.

    without a mind, perception alone amounts for very little.Manuel

    I am claiming that—although it seems natural to assume—perceiving here is not a natural ability or brain function, but an activity like pointing, or negotiating (which is a critical differentiation, not terminological), and that “perception” is seeing what something “consists” of, it’s conditions and criteria, as Descartes did with the wax.

    the mind/brain is the organ we use to judge and identify things, while adding the qualifier that it is people that judge and think, and not minds,Manuel

    The brain allows for vision, which gives us information; but we are trained (or pick up how) to identify objects ( say, apart from identifying colors)—to use criteria to judge a goldfinch from a robin, a rock from a turtle. Think of making an error in identifying an object; now did you judge wrong, or did your “brain” make a mistake? And what really is it to “identify things”? We don’t always identify things. We don’t need to. So there are certain conditions, contexts, where we only can be “identifying things”. Looking for the right cereal box? Trying to determine the genus of a new species? Do I take an apple as an apple? Every time?

    giving an epistemological reading of his account can be fruitful”Manuel

    I’m not limiting my claims to epistemology; Descartes is discussing ontology (what is and is not, and how), existentialism (the creation of a self), ethics (creation of a better self). I’m just reading him as not giving metaphysical answers.
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k


    Moreover, even though the reality that I am considering in my ideas is merely objective reality, I ought not on that account to suspect that there is no need for the same reality to be formally in the causes of these ideas, but that it suffices for it to be in them objectively. — Descartes, Third Meditation, translated by Donald A Cress, pg 28

    So, the reality is he has this idea, that is, an image in his mind. As he says:

    When ideas are considered solely in themselves and not taken to be connected to anything else, they can’t be false ...

    Objectively, that is, as objects of the mind, his having these ideas cannot be false. But:

    All that is left – the only kind of thought where I must watch out for mistakes – are judgments. And the mistake they most commonly involve is to judge that my ideas resemble things outside me.

    There is no way to verify that the idea does resemble something that has a formal mode of being or reality. But, he claims:

    eventually some first idea must be reached whose cause is a sort of archetype that contains formally all the reality that is in the idea merely objectively. — Descartes, Third Meditation, translated by Donald A Cress, pg 28

    This conclusion is questionable. From the Cottingham translation:

    And how could the cause give reality to the effect unless it first had that reality itself? Two things follow from this: that something can’t arise from nothing, and that what is more perfect – that is, contains in itself more reality – can’t arise from what is less perfect. And this is plainly true not only for ‘actual’ or ‘intrinsic’ reality (as philosophers call it) but also for the representative reality of ideas – that is, the reality that a idea represents.

    Is it true that what is more perfect cannot arise from what is less perfect? We are told that the triangle we draw is never a perfect triangle. A perfect triangle would be one that does not contain any of the defects of the one the drawing is supposed to be a representative of. It is from imperfection that we get the idea of perfection. In more general terms, it is from absence, lack or want, from the desire to have more or be more, that we get the idea of completion and satisfaction, of perfection.
  • Manuel
    4k
    I’m using “ordinary” in its sense of: not special, not as: unexamined; it is in contrast to creating clarity by abstraction from any context or regular criteria and requiring only the certainty of logic or science. But we are just as capable of precision and rigorous analysis of our ordinary criteria as a “philosophical” perspective. The wish for philosophy to have science-like conclusions is to cover for, or hide from, our messy, vulgar lives and so sets aside “people” and creates the metaphysical, whether it’s the mind or “advanced brain processes”. Descartes is actually saying that our first impression from our senses, say vision, is not as clear as when we uncover the criteria and conditions for, say, the activity of seeing—the inferences we make, the reasons that matter to us for doing it.Antony Nickles

    That's correct, we can have precise and rigorous analysis of "ordinary" perception and we often judge people's sanity or sobriety on this basis. Nevertheless, I don't take it to be a case that cover for our "vulgar lives" we try to infuse our ordinary perceptions with science, rather, the scientific or philosophical perspective (there was no difference back then between these terms, which is worth keeping in mind) is more reflexive and considerate than ordinary perception, we are puzzled by why certain objects look as they do under certain conditions, or why apples fall instead of going to the moon, etc.

    In ordinary life, we are usually not bothered or puzzled by these things much.

    It's a bit nebulous to me if that is what Descartes is intending to say, but that can be put aside.

    I am claiming that—although it seems natural to assume—perceiving here is not a natural ability or brain function, but an activity like pointing, or negotiating (which is a critical differentiation, not terminological), and that “perception” is seeing what something “consists” of, it’s conditions and criteria, as Descartes did with the wax.Antony Nickles

    Sure, you can say perceiving is an activity, like pointing, I'd only add that we naturally take perception to be passive, no effort goes into in, unlike pointing, though we know that a tremendous amount of stuff is going on behind the most trivial acts of perception.

    The brain allows for vision, which gives us information; but we are trained (or pick up how) to identify objects ( say, apart from identifying colors)—to use criteria to judge a goldfinch from a robin, a rock from a turtle. Think of making an error in identifying an object; now did you judge wrong, or did your “brain” make a mistake? And what really is it to “identify things”? We don’t always identify things. We don’t need to. So there are certain conditions, contexts, where we only can be “identifying things”. Looking for the right cereal box? Trying to determine the genus of a new species? Do I take an apple as an apple? Every time?Antony Nickles

    Ah well, here I believe it is a mistake to put it in terms of "training", unless you extend training to include a teenager being "trained" to go through puberty.

    In ordinary conversation I'd say, "I made a mistake.", naturally the brain plays a crucial role here, but I wouldn't usually say "my brain made a mistake".

    Sure, we frequently overlook, or generalize or we aren't even attentive. I don't think I've said that we are always judging objects, nor do I see Descartes arguing for this either, on the contrary...
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    From that starting point of what will allow him to escape his isolation, the existence of God provides a possibility that 'objective reality' does not.Paine

    A self-imposed isolation that only arose only because, as he said at the start of the first meditation:

    I needed – just once in my life – to demolish everything completely and start again from the foundations.

    In order to do this he says he will withhold consent from beliefs that are not completely certain and indubitable. So for the purpose of rejecting all his opinions, he must find in each of them at least some reason for doubt.

    In the ordinary course of his daily life no such doubt arises. Put differently, the need for complete certainty and indubitability is an unnatural requirement. He creates a problem he may not be able to solve. Positing God as an innate idea, rather than being an escape from solipsism, further isolates him.

    Toward the end of the third meditation he says:

    The only remaining alternative is that my idea of God is innate in me, just as the idea of myself is innate in me.

    But both that he is and what he is are conclusions he arrives at through reason.

    Toward the beginning of the second meditation he asks:

    Isn’t there a God (call him what you will) who gives me the thoughts I am now having? But why do I think this, since I might myself be the author of these thoughts?

    Toward the end of the first meditation he says:

    So I shall suppose that some malicious, powerful, cunning demon has done all he can to deceive me – rather than this being done by God, who is supremely good and the source of truth.

    This malicious god (call him what you will) cannot be the cause of his idea of himself. Descartes is the author of this thought. Can he not also be the author of the opposite of this thought, of a god who does not deceive but is supremely good and the source of truth? If he supposes the one then why can he not suppose its opposite?

    You say:

    It is not only that "I did not give this idea of God to myself" but I need the idea of God to accept what is given in experience.Paine

    Does he? He makes two claims. First:

    But what about when I was considering something simple and straightforward in arithmetic or geometry, for example that two plus three makes five? Didn’t I see these things clearly enough to accept them as true? Indeed, the only reason I could find for doubting them was this: Perhaps some God could have made me so as to be deceived even in those matters that seemed most obvious.

    If he has no reason to suppose there is a god determined to deceive him, he has no reason to doubt that two plus three makes five. And no reason to rely on any god at all:

    Also, since I have no evidence that there is a deceiving God, and don’t even know for sure that there is a God at all, the reason for doubt that depends purely on this supposition of a deceiving God is a very slight and theoretical one.

    Second:

    Now it is obvious by the natural light that the total cause of something must contain at least as much reality as does the effect. For where could the effect get its reality from if not from the cause?

    Truth determined by natural light is not truth revealed by God. But what does the natural light reveal about God. According to the natural light the total cause of something must contain at least as much reality as does the effect. Is this indubitable? Consider the tipping point. "Wetness" is not the cause of water being wet. A molecule of water is not wet. It is only where there is enough molecules of water that it becomes wet.
  • Antony Nickles
    1.1k

    I am not making claims about what you are calling our “ordinary perception”, which I take as our habitual unexamined lives. I disagree that science or “philosophy” (as you see it) are “more reflexive and considerate” than the examination of our regular criteria for judgment about identity, completion, exemptions, etc. Drawing out the standards and conditions of what something “consists in”, as Descartes says, examines and describes what we do rather than creating explanations (and abilities or processes) that fit our desire for certainty (which I argue is the birth of the metaphysical).

    When I claim that Descartes’ “perceiving” is not a natural ability or brain process but is more like an activity, I mean like an analysis, an effort that we are in the habit of doing but that we can, nevertheless, reflect upon, be “puzzled by”. When I say like pointing or negotiating, I mean in the sense of a learned behavior, like “seeing” (which is like recognizing, identifying) compared to the faculty of vision. The “tremendous amount of stuff… going on behind the most trivial acts” is the history of human life and our growing up and being indoctrinated into these cultural activities. You learn (even if simply following others’ lead) how to “point”, how to “see”, how to “perceive”, as you learn how to apologize, thank, and promise, all together as the habits that Descartes is trying to pick apart, because we can reflect on our behavior and uncover the conditions and criteria that make up our practices.
  • Manuel
    4k
    Fair enough, I think most of your clarifications are quite good.

    We can put aside the "more reflexive" comments for some other time.

    You learn (even if simply following others’ lead) how to “point”, how to “see”, how to “perceive”, as you learn how to apologize, thank, and promise, all together as the habits that Descartes is trying to pick apart, because we can reflect on our behavior and uncover the conditions and criteria that make up our practices.Antony Nickles

    In part, sure, we can do this, but it's an open question as to how far we can get by doing this, it doesn't sound reasonable or realistic to expect that by analyzing and reflecting on our "practices", we can do so with all of them.

    Descartes, while being quite lucid, intelligent and thoughtful, at the same time though that human reason reached (or could reach) much further than what we'd say today. In this sense, him and Leibniz, for instance, seemed to indicate that we could know almost everything if we just follow the right method and continue developing the (then new) sciences.

    This is important for the context of his claims.
  • Paine
    2.2k

    There is a lot here to consider. I will address the issue of isolation here and think more before addressing who (or what) is the author of our thoughts (as understood by Descartes).

    It is true that Descartes's experiment is a 'self-imposed isolation'. Saying that the conditions discovered or reasoned there are only applicable in the context of the experiment cancels its utility. If the purpose of the attempt is to establish grounds for science that is an improvement upon those provided by his predecessors, how do the results of this doubting change what people are doing?

    Being somewhere between God and the world is related in the text to causes. From that point of view, asking about 'archetypes' is different from wondering where an idea comes from. With that sense of judgment in mind, I question whether Descartes is trying to escape solipsism as you described:

    Positing God as an innate idea, rather than being an escape from solipsism, further isolates him.Fooloso4
  • Fooloso4
    5.7k
    I question whether Descartes is trying to escape solipsism as you describedPaine

    It is not that he is trying to escape solipsism but if all he knows is the content of his mind he has, so to speak, painted himself into a solipsistic corner.
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