[INDENT][SIZE=+1]Descartes' Argument in Meditation II[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]About How the Essence of the Wax Is Perceived[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]An Illustration of Argument Analysis and Reconstruction[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]Part I. Working Up to the Argument Analysis/Reconstruction[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]The argument analysis here refers to the translation of Descartes' Meditations found in the Modern Philosophy anthology edited by Watkins and Ariew and published by Hackett Publishing Company in 1998. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]The passage under discussion begins on page 32.2 (".2" means column 2), line 5 and ends on 33.2 line 14. First let us try to find the conclusion of this passage. Descartes' style is somewhat informal and personal, but the text here is meant to convey an argument. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]At first it seems that the passage is about distinctly grasping the nature or essence of the wax. But Descartes' concern for this (clearest at lines 10-11 from the bottom of 32.2, where he says "it is something extended, flexible, and mutable," is limited here. The evidence is that he immediately tries to show that the imagination cannot supply clear and distinct ideas of these aspects of the wax. This indicates that in this passage he is working toward a different conclusion, one more concerned with how we know than what we know. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]The real conclusion of this passage emerges on 33.1, lines 8-9: "I perceive it [i.e., what the wax is] through the mind alone." This is reinforced later in the paragraph by repetition: "[The perception of the wax] is an inspection of the mind alone." Here it is clear that Descartes is talking about the power of the mind to reflect on or attend to its own ideas, what he might call pure reason, as distinct from the power of sensing (e.g., seeing or touching) and the power of imagination. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]In the paragraph that overlaps columns 1 and 2 on p. 33, Descartes asks "when [did] . . . I perceive more perfectly or evidently [=clearly] what the piece of wax was"? Not "when I first saw it . . . by the external sense [of sight] or . . . by imagination." And slightly later, "when I distinguish the wax from its external forms, as if stripping it of its clothing, and look at it in its nakedness, then . . . I cannot perceive it thus without a human mind." (The peculiar characteristic of a human mind is generally thought to be reason.) [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]So, how does Descartes reach this conclusion? Apparently by setting up a three-way disjunction. I grasp the essence of the wax [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1](a) by sense or [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1](b) by imagination or [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1](c) by "mind alone" (pure reason). [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]There is a fourth option, that he cannot grasp the essence of the wax at all, but he does not really entertain this seriously. (We see later, at the beginning of Meditation V, that he thinks the essence of bodies, of which the piece of wax is a nice example, is extension or the capacity to occupy space. He apparently thinks that he is approaching this knowledge already in Meditation II when he notes that, throughout its physical transformations, the wax remains an extended thing.) [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]To show, then, that he must know the essence of the wax by reason he must prove that he does not know it by sense or imagination. That means we should look for arguments (a) that he does not know it by sense and (b) that he does not know it by imagination. These arguments are in fact given at the top of 32.2 and the bottom of 32.2 (spilling over to top 33.1) respectively. (a) and (b) are intermediate steps (=intermediate conclusions), and we should expect them to play a part in supporting the final conclusion. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]This argument seems to make use of the following statements as ultimate premises.[INDENT]At first the wax seems to have color, scent, shape, size, hardness, and coldness. (top 32.2)
[/INDENT][/SIZE][INDENT][SIZE=+1]These may be grouped together as sensory qualities. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]These qualities change without the wax ceasing to be what it is. (mid 32.2) [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]The wax seems to remain flexible and mutable and always an extended thing. (bottom 32.2) [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]The imagination cannot run through all the possible changes included under mutability. (bottom 32.2) The wax can be extended in ways that I cannot accurately imagine. (top 33.1) [/SIZE]
[/INDENT][SIZE=+1]Using what we have discovered we can proceed to present a semi-formal argument reconstruction. Ideally, your argument analysis paper would have something like the following form (covering different material). [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]Part II. The Argument Analysis/Reconstruction Itself[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]Let's number the previously mentioned ultimate premises for convenient reference and distinguish the stated premises (P) from the assumption used as a premise (A). Additional assumptions will appear as we go.[INDENT](P1) At first the wax seems to have color, scent, shape, size, hardness, and coldness. (top 32.2)
[/INDENT][/SIZE][INDENT][SIZE=+1](A1) These may be grouped together as sensory qualities. [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1](P2) These qualities change without the wax ceasing to be what it is. (mid 32.2) [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1](P3) The wax seems to remain flexible and mutable and always an extended thing. (bottom 32.2) [/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1](P4) The imagination cannot run through all the possible changes included under mutability. (bottom 32.2) (P5) The wax can be extended in ways that I cannot accurately imagine. (top 33.1) [/SIZE]
[/INDENT][SIZE=+1]P1 and P2, together with A1, almost seem to reach the intermediate conclusion (or intermediate step) that the sensory qualities cannot be the essence of the wax. But they also require an assumption that has not yet been made explicit:[INDENT](A2) Whatever aspects of a thing disappear while the thing remains cannot be the essence of the thing.
[/INDENT]With that assumption we can argue for an intermediate step (IS)[INDENT](IS1) The sensory qualities cannot be the essence of the wax
[/INDENT]From there we can argue for another intermediate step[INDENT](IS2) The sensory faculty does not grasp the essence of the wax. (see mid 32.2)
[/INDENT]if we make the assumption (as Descartes seems to do)[INDENT](A3) Only sensory qualities are grasped by the faculty of sense.
[/INDENT]Another important assumption enables Descartes to proceed:[INDENT](A4) The essence of a thing is something that remains when its other aspects change.
[/INDENT]Together with P3 and P4, A4 lets him conclude (again, as an intermediate step)[INDENT](IS3) The imagination cannot grasp the essence of the wax conceived of something mutable and flexible. (see bottom 32.2)
[/INDENT]P5 and part of P3 ("the wax seems to remain always an extended thing") support yet another intermediate conclusion about the imagination[INDENT](IS4) The imagination cannot grasp the essence of the wax conceived as something extended. (see top 33.1)
[/INDENT]From the last two intermediate steps Descartes concludes--it's still not the final conclusion--[INDENT](IS5) The imagination cannot grasp the essence of the wax.
[/INDENT]We know what Descartes wants to prove. He can get there from IS2 and IS5 if he makes two more assumptions that are implicit in his line of thought:[INDENT](A5) I can grasp the essence of the wax.
[/INDENT][/SIZE][INDENT][SIZE=+1](A6) If I can grasp the essence of the wax, I can grasp it by imagination, by sense, or by pure reason. [/SIZE]
[/INDENT][SIZE=+1]From these two assumptions, it follows that[INDENT](IS6) I can grasp the essence of the wax by imagination, by sense, or by pure reason.
[/INDENT]But IS2 rules out one of the alternatives and IC5 rules out another. Therefore,[INDENT](FC) I can grasp the essence of the wax by pure reason alone. (33.1 lines 8-9)
Could you say what it is you are expecting as replies to these posts on Locke and Descartes. Have you any question?
Yes, thank you.
What is the nature of the physical world? How do we aquire knowledge of the physical world? Do you agree with Descartes in reducing the essence of matter to mean "extended substance"? Are things such as smell and colour accidental properties as Descartes says they are?
These are my questions. I think they are important. Any thoughts or suggestion will be appreciated.
Great textual analysis Pythagorean! As I have understood this particular part of Descartes Meditation (2), the wax example forms the basis of his "rationalistic" approach, differentiating rationalism from empiricism . Specifically, the ball of wax example should be a representative of rationalistic inquiry that Descartes is bound to convey in the course of the meditations.
The first part of meditation 2 concludes with resolution of the res cogitans argument. This is Descartes first truth in the text, which is substantially "a-priori," knowledge which is acquired before the empirical senses. This establishes the basis for the notion that the nature of thought is such that at least some of our knowledge is not dependent on the senses. Descartes is confident that he can draw a distinction between himself and material things, but how? In order to guarantee knowledge, Descartes has to ensure that his impressions are clear and distinct (fundamental goal in his previous work Discourse on Method).
So in the example of the ball of wax, Descartes supposes we have a ball of wax fresh from the hive. It has a tint of yellow, is round, and has certain properties. This is the basis for "Wax 1," which has properties 1- n. However, when you place the ball of wax near the fire , the ball of wax loses its size, shape, color, etc. In many respects, we could think of it now as "Wax 2," with properties 1-n. The fundamental question is whether or not "Wax 1" is the same as "Wax 2?" Suffice to say, that we could not know the wax by its properties because the properties had changed. So the assumption sustains that there must be an understanding beyond the properties that he already understands. This is the nexus point of Innate ideas.
So to recap from the beginning of meditation 2 (and meditation 1), the fundamental conclusion was universal doubt (as far as med 1). But via res cogitans (start med 2), Descartes knows he exists. Descartes was very sensitive to the fact that the first fundamental truth was forced upon him as self evident that he exists. However, the "I am a thinking thing" was arrived at rationalistically. The ball of wax idea is meant to reinforce the rationalistic system he is using. The wax example shows that we have wax, the wax melts, but we still know it is the ball of wax. But if Descartes uses an empirical approach, he could only grasp what the wax was before and after. Descartes implies that if he were led by his sense alone, his judgment would be that Wax 1 and Wax 2 were different balls of wax. So given the fact that Descartes knows it is the same ball of wax, the judgment is not based off of sense, but on rationalization (empirical objects change and change rapidly). Thus Descartes could say that empirical objects are rationalized.
So the sum of Meditationsmeditation 3 where Descartes puts forward the argument for God as APB and the scales of reality, cause and effect, etc.
I have only one thing to add: The argument of Med. I and Med II is:
1. If empiricism is true (if we must rely only on our senses for knowledge) then I cannot know anything. (Skepticism is true). (This is the argument of Med. I.)
2. But, I do know something, I exist. (Med. II. The Cogito).
Therefore, 3. empiricism is false. (From 1. and 2. by modus tollens).
So, if Med. I, and II are read together as one argument, there is an argument that empiricism is false. And that sets the stage for rationalism. The idea that we can achieve knowledge only through thought, and not through our senses.
That's actually a great way of looking at the grander context of Meditations 1 and 2! On the face of it, it seems entirely reasonable to suppose that configuration. In the case of #1, saying that skepticism is true is much in line with Descartes methodology. However, I wonder if the fact that since universal doubt is the conclusion, could we infer that skepticism is true or false, since the beginning of two picks up on and somewhat settles the cogitans issue (possibly the point where truth functionality comes into play)? As far as #3, I think there may be sufficient ground to discharge empiricism, although in later meditations, the topic is revisited so maybe there would be slight issues that arise on that note.
But Descartes does not say that skepticism is true. Rather, he say that if empiricism is true, then skepticism is true. That empiricism leads to skepticism. But then, in the Second Meditation, he argues that skepticism is false (because of the Cogito). And therefore, he concludes that empiricism is not true. He never asserts that skepticism is true. In fact, he denies it.