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Descartes- Meditations 6.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

DESCARTES: MEDITATION 6 [1] The Sixth Meditation is devoted to the external world—what can be known of material things. The Meditator reviews the ideas he has of external things and, as noted, he finds that their mathematical properties can be clearly and distinctly perceived. But the same is not true of other sensible properties: colour, heat, taste, and the like. But the real question is whether there are any material objects at all. The Meditator begins by enunciating a principle that follows from the Clarity-and-Distinctness Rule: (P) “Everything which I clearly and distinctly understand is capable of being created by God so as to correspond exactly with my understanding of it.” Now (P) has to hold, since otherwise God would be a deceiver: it has to be at least possible for things to be as they (clearly and distinctly) appear. The question is whether they in fact are as they appear. From (P), the Meditator derives a criterion for “real distinction”: (RD) If x can be clearly and distinctly understood apart from y, then x and y are distinct things. I can think of a pizza without thinking of pepperoni, so pizza and pepperoni are distinct things. More to the point, though, the Meditator notes that he is able to clearly and distinctly under- stand his own nature as a thinking thing without thinking of the body at all—indeed, without even knowing whether he is associated with a body. So his mind is really distinct from his body (if he has one). Later on in the Sixth Meditation we get another reason to hold that mind and body are distinct, namely the divisibility of bodies and the indivisibility of the mind; we also find out that the mind-body interface is in the brain, and specifically in the pineal gland. Now you know. [2] Well, does the Meditator have a body? Are there bodies at all? The Meditator considers the ideas he has, and he discovers that at least several of them seem to be ideas of material things existing outside himself. He does have the capacity to recieve ideas of sensible objects, but he does not create these ideas, since (a) none of them are such as to require an act of thinking; (b) they occur independently of his will. The Meditator can therefore make use of an old friend, the Second Causal Principle from the Third Meditation: (CP2) There is at least as much formal or eminent reality in the cause of an idea as there is objective reality in the idea that is caused. Hence the idea of a sensible object is caused either by that of which it is an idea, or by something better. But it isn’t caused by the Meditator himself (see above). It isn’t caused by God either, “since God is not a deceiver” and thus “it is quite clear that he does not transmit the ideas to me either directly from Himself or indirectly...” In fact, God has given the Meditator “a great propensity to believe that they are produced by corporeal things.” So, the Meditator concludes, ideas of sensible things must be caused by sensible things. [3] This conclusion is immediately qualified, though. Remember, only what is clearly and dis- tinctly perceived certainly must be so, and while we can conclude that something is the cause of a given sensible idea, we can’t conclude that the cause “exactly resembles” the
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