Philosophy Sept 12
Intentionality of the mind
Representation by the mind
Formal & Objective reality
Cause and Effect realities
Actual & Potential Infinity
Descartes is now confident he knows the contents of his mind, but whenever he
tries to get beyond his mind, he still runs into doubt. This includes when he thinks of
objects like: human bodies, and non-physical objects. He is convinced nothing
outside his mind exists.
He looks at his ideas to see if they can show him if there is a certain kind of thing
that exists independently of him. He makes claims of the nature of ideas.
He emphasizes the intentionality of the mind. This is the notion he gets from
medieval philosophers, the word “intend” in Medieval Latin, means to point at
something. Descartes is saying that our mental states seem to point to things beyond
themselves. “I don’t have an idea, I have an idea of something. My thoughts are
about things, and represent things to me”. Our mental states are representations of
things beyond themselves.
This notion is seen as odd. If you see spatial relations (being on the left or right) you
cant have objects standing in those relations unless they’re real. It can’t be true that
Guelph is west of Toronto unless they both exist. Someone can be fond of Santa (this
is a thought, a liking, a mental state that represents things other then itself. Even
though those thoughts can be legitimate, what you might be relating them to might
not exist. The thing represented by the mind doesn’t need to be real.
Physical things can represent things beyond themselves. A chalkboard can have
“dog” written on it, the chalk that you used on the board was used to write the word
dog. The word dog represents what you know as a physical dog; the mind interprets
what you see. We would represent things differently if our language had developed
differently, a squiggle might mean something to us. Photographs and pictures don’t
depict certain people, unless we see them as depicting and presenting those certain
Descartes examined his ideas, and from all the above, he made the distinction
between formal reality and objective reality. Objective reality pertains to the
properties of the thing that is represented. Formal reality is everything, stuff that
isn’t mental. The table’s formal reality is wood. The arms formal reality is skin. Looking at a portrait of the Queen, the formal reality would be the portrait, the
wood, the paint, etc. The objective reality would be the Queen, her face.
A must have as much reality as B. The cause must have as least as much reality as its
effect. To Descartes, reality means stuff. The cause has to have as much stuff in it, as
the effect it produces. This is the ultimate source of conservation laws in physics.
You find a pile of ashes on the floor; you know it had to come from something.
Maybe it was paper, maybe some of the paper was released in the air, but it fell in a
different form when it was burnt. Whatever stuff was in the effect, had to be around
beforehand, even it was in a different form. Now, we use the word “cause” as a little
trigger, but for Descartes, the cause is all the things that were present beforehand to
cause the effect. An avalanche could have been caused by a small noise, but all the
snow had to be present beforehand for the avalanche to occur.
He’s looking at his ideas and saying, “Could I have caused these ideas? When I’m
having perceptual experiences, I’m not controlling or choosing them, they’re just
popping up in my mind. But I could still be the cause of the ideas. When I dream, I
cause them somehow