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Descarte

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I agree with Descartes when in his “Second Meditation” he concludes that we only exist as thought. We cannot be said without a doubt to exist as bodies, since bodies may only be discerned through the senses, and the senses can be deceived. Also, we cannot exist as anything else concerned with the body, since to negate the existence of the body is to negate the existence of these things as well. The only way we may understand ourselves is through our minds, through thought.

To begin examining Descartes’ reasons for drawing such conclusions, a few points from the “First Meditation” need to be taken into consideration. For instance, in the “First Meditation,” Descartes contends that sensory perceptions are often misleading, but he also states that the knowledge of which he was once the surest was arrived at through sensory perception. As proof of how our senses can mislead us, the philosopher gives examples of how things we see at a distance may appear smaller than they actually are or a straight stick that has been placed halfway in water will appear bent. Thus, he warns against putting all our trust in our senses while searching for truth, since as he puts it, “it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once” (12). In layman’s terms, fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.

For Descartes, the fact that our senses can be tricked so easily and so are not to be trusted throws everything that he had previously believed to be most certain into doubt, including his own bodily existence. His definition of a body is similar to our present-day definition of matter in general, recognizing a body as distinct from thought and spirit, incapable of independent action (17). But the human body can move of itself and think, so Descartes cannot exist as a body. Furthermore, being unable to prove the existence of a body automatically negates any of those functions or needs that the body appears to demonstrate. To express this idea in other terms, Descartes utilizes a comparison of beeswax before and after it has been melted. With our senses we can discern from the shape, color, smell, taste, and feel of the wax its identity before it is melted. After it is melted, all of these sensory perceptions have altered, but the wax is still wax (20).

This leaves Descartes with thought alone. He knows that he exists because he can think about the nature of his existence. Moreover, he recognizes that all of those sensory perceptions which would have lead him to believe that he was a body are also only thought since the sensory organs only take in information of which the mind must then translate. Basically, Descartes is saying that when we look at a tree, we do not actually see the tree; we take in through our visual organs a shape and the reflections of light, and our minds put this information together and connect it with the established name for that same combination of shapes and colors. Thus, it is only through our intellect that we understand anything, including ourselves. So it follows that to stop thinking is to cease to exist.

I agree with Descartes

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