Rationalist Philosophers Descartes Explain One of Descartes' Questionnaire

Excerpt from Questionnaire :

Rationalist Philosophers


Explain one of Descartes' arguments in Meditation VI for substance dualism. Critically discuss one possible objection to the argument.

Descartes was not a nihilist or solipsist who truly doubted the existence of anything outside his own mind, and only used skepticism to arrive at clear and distinct ideas. He has already proved his own existence as a thinking being, and that God exists, along with his physical body and objects in the material world that his senses perceived. These ideas and sensations must come from a source outside of his mind, either from God or physical bodies and objects. Descartes could have made exactly the same arguments about the existence of minds and bodies without introducing God into the discussion at all. Of course, this was the 17th Century, when religious wars were still going on and the Inquisition was still active. Indeed, Descartes knew that Galileo had been condemned for ideas about the universe that the Church considered heretical, and forced to recant or be burned at the stake. He was a prudent philosopher who wished to survive and continuing publishing, so he restates Anselm's ontological argument that God exists because an perfect, infinite substance would be less than perfect if it did not exist -- or if it was deceptive or evil. In reality, all that he or anyone else thought that they knew about God came from the Bible and revealed religion, not his own mind or imagination.

3. What does the wax argument aim to accomplish? Do you think it succeeds?

Descartes already knew that physical qualities are subject to change, but maintained that some type of basic substance underlay all forms of matter. This substance remained the same no matter how much the accidental or contingent qualities changed. A piece of wax freshly taken from the honeycomb still had a honey flavor, as well as a scent, color, shape and size, hardness and coldness, some tactile quality, and so on. When brought close to the fire, though, all these qualities changed, including flavor, flower scent, color, original shape, size, coldness as the substance became hot and liquid. Descartes wondered whether this material was still the same wax and if so, what constituted its identity, substance and essential quality. Even without the aid of electron microscopes and modern knowledge of chemistry and physics, obviously some type of material substance still exists in this new form. That would also be true of the ashes remaining when a piece of wood was burned in a fire, or many other similar examples that might come to mind. I think that the argument is a valid proof that some type of matter or physical substance does exist outside of the human mind or imagination, even though its condition and appearance is being altered all the time, although I am doubtful that the mind could really be aware of this without some type of senses or images -- i.e. direct experience.


4. In the note to Proposition 29 (Part I), Spinoza introduces the distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata. How does this distinction work in Spinoza's system?

Spinoza was a pantheist who made no distinction between God, nature and the physical universe, arguing that all of these were manifestations of the same infinite, eternal substance, and that it ultimately operated through rational laws the human mind could comprehend. Nothing was contingent but rather determined by God to exist in a given way, and God (naturing Nature) produced and sustained the finite, physical world and human bodies (natured Nature). This infinite substance of God would have an infinite number of attributes, but all of them were expressions of its basic essence. All the laws of the universe were also eternal and unchanging, such as geometry, physics and logic, while particular and individual things were more finite and remote from God. These finite things could also be acted upon by other particular things, such as other bodies in motion with which they came into contact. God is always the active and productive aspect of the universe, however, and all else follows from his attributes. God was an infinite being with infinite attributes, while modes were also expressions of these in finite, physical forms.

6. Spinoza suggests that there are two causal orders (that of the extended things and that of the ideas) in nature that perfectly correlate. How does Spinoza account for this thesis given its counter-intuitiveness?

Like the Scholastics, Spinoza regarded God as an Uncaused Cause (or First Cause) and Prime Mover, who essence was simply existence and could be conceived of in no other way. This self-caused being did not require any other external cause for its actualization, since it simply was, although God also added the attribute of existence to all other beings. Substance was therefore infinite and ontologically independent, and the mind could conceive of it without reference to anything else. It had unique attributes and did not have to be defined or explained in relation to any other substance. Therefore, it was sui generis or one of a kind, unlike the distinction that Descartes made between minds and physical bodies and objects. Spinoza allowed for the existence of one substance expressed in many modes, and drew no distinction between the mind and the body. Moreover, the human mind was able to perceive and comprehend the attributes of this infinite substance because it was part of it. Different attributes of God/Nature would lead to different conceptions in the mind, with an infinite number of possible ideas. Substances with different attributes would each be unique and generate unique ideas in the mind, although making distinctions between different modes of a substance was more difficult because a substance is prior to its affections and does not require the latter for its conception.


8. What is a monad? How many are there, what are their main characteristics, and how do they interact? What is the relation of monads to God?

Monads (souls and minds) are simple substances, the most fundamental units of reality, and have the kind of unity that is missing in the composites and corporeal things of the material world. They are not extended beings, which are divisible but true atoms of nature or its most basic elements. Monads do not decay or reproduce by natural means, but they can be created or destroyed, since God made them all at the same time when he created the universe and will presumably he will be able to destroy them when it ends. No external interference can change their internal structure, and their simple or fundamental nature makes them radically independent of external causes and effects. Therefore monads can have no accidental or contingent qualities and in his system the basic qualities of all substance are essential and absolute. Since each monad is unique and no external force can affect it, the only type of change that can occur must come from within -- except for miracles and acts of divine intervention. They do have an internal diversity, which or plurality that allows them to change states which Leibniz called affections, and perceptions occur because of these changing states. In his idealist philosophy, then, material bodies are the building blocks of the universe and these are the objects of perception, or at least petite perceptions that are continuous and ongoing, even if the mind is not consciously aware of all of them.

9. Leibniz claims that in all true affirmative propositions the predicate is contained in the subject. Given this claim, how does he distinguish between truths of reason and truths of fact?

As an idealist, Leibniz made the same distinction as Plato in differentiating between ideas about individual substances or objects, such as a particular sphere, and more general or generic ideas about the sphere as such -- or what Plato would have called the perfect from of the sphere. Ideas about specific, individual objects and substances were specific truths of fact about how the material world was organized. Generic ideas are incomplete, however, have contain only eternal truths or truths of reason, and are not contingent on the actual organization of the material universe or even God's will and intentions. They are eternal, absolute truths that not even God can change, such as the axiom 2+2=4, which is true always and everywhere. In his predicate-in-subject principle, Leibniz held that all predicates are intrinsic but not necessary, and that a certain predicate belongs to a subject not because of necessity but of contingency. This does not change the certainty about complete ideas of individual substances, such as a person going on a certain trip and a particular time, even if it were possible that they might fail to make the trip because of some unforeseen accident or circumstance. Knowing that someone will do something does not make him do that thing.

Synthetic questions:

10. What is the Aristotelian notion of a final cause? What is the status of final causation in the metaphysics of Descartes…

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