Perhapsone of the most puzzling philosophical questions is that of personal identity.Rene Descartes took time to explain his understanding on personal identitythroughout his Meditations.
According toDescartes, humans are only identifiable by their minds. We exist primarily asthinking beings separate from our bodiesSD1 .Our souls, which lack any religious connection in this instance, are meant tobe represented purely by our intellect. Are we truly nothing more than ourintellect, our understanding, and our minds? Although Descartes has seeminglyanswered this question, quite a few flaws stand out in regards to his thinking.
A closer lookinto the Meditations as well asobjections by others disagree with his argumentation, may provide clearerinsight to the answer of the question; are we bodies or minds?SD2 Beforewe talk about how exactly humans equal their minds, we must discover the otherproofs laid out by Descartes. The first being that we do in fact exist.Descartes states that he is a “thinking thing” and that doubt is way to proveexistence.
He states that although he perceives that his perception of his body could be false, SD3 hecannot perceive that he is without his mind. Descartes uses doubt as a vehiclefor existence by saying he can doubt he has a body but he cannot doubt that he existsSD4 .Withinthe sixth mediation, Descartes shares another argument to prove his theory.Descartes believes the human mind is clearly distinct and or separate from thehuman body. Whenspeaking about the human body to which he calls structures of limbs and organs,he states “even if I go on supposing them(bodies) to be nothing, I am still something” (Pg.
5). SD5 Descartesargument againstSD6 bodies and minds being distinct is simple but perhaps not strong enough. Itgoes as follows: Iam certain that I am a thinking thingIam not certain that I am a physical thingTherefore,I am not a physical thingAlthough thisargument seems valid, it does not provide enough evidence to prove that bodiesand minds are completely separateSD7 . If anything, this argument raises more questions onthe matter. Princess Elisabeth of Boheima sparked conversationwith Descartes on this very issue in 1643. She asked the question “given that thesoul of man since it is but a thinking substance can determine the spirits of thebody to produce voluntary actions” (Pg.
SD8 1). Descartes returns her question with the responsethat there are “primitive notions” of bodies, minds, and the body-mind union. Hestates “I observe next that all secure, disciplined human knowledge consistsonly in keeping these notions well apart from one another, and applying each ofthem only to the things that it is right for” (Pg. 2). What does Descartes mean by this exactly?Descartes is basically showing us an example of a category mistake. A categorymistake is the error of assigning to something a quality or action that canproperly be assigned to things only of another category. SD9 Descartes seemingly believed that the action of a soulmoving a body was improperly assigned to the soul and such assignment should beleft from one body to another. SD10 He then goes on tosay that it is hard to understand the body-mind union but that we can feel it.
Perhaps her biggest reason for doubting the mind being separate from the bodyis question of how. Princess Elisabeth states “I find that the senses show methat soul moves the body, but as for how it does so, the senses tell me nothingabout that any more than intellect and imagination do” (Pg. 7). While Descartes has seemingly givenproof for his conclusion of the body-mind union, I consider his argument to beinadequate.
Firstly, his reason for being able to doubt his body is because ofsense deception. Descartes states throughout the Meditations how our senses continuously deceive us by givingexamples such as a mirage. However, when Descartes states he has a clear anddistinct perception that his mind is separate from his body, he creates acontradiction. In orderof him to have a clear and distinct perception, he must rely on his sense forperception is defined as ‘the ability to see, hear, or become aware ofsomething through the senses’. This contradiction alone begs to question anyand all reasoning given by Descartes. SD11 Secondly, he alsofails to adequately answer the Princess Elisabeth’s questions on how exactlythe soul moves the body. For him to simply state we don’t understand or thatour knowledge of the notions is primitive, it almost negates his entireargument.
And lastly, Descartes argument for mind-body distinction, there areholes within this as well. To show the problems within his distinctnessargument, I will construct my own similar to his. Icannot doubt that Superman is a superhero.Ican doubt that Clark Kent is a superhero.Therefore,Clark Kent is distinct from Superman. Yes,this is a silly example but it does show how difficult it can be to swallow Descartesargument for distinctiveness. Especially if one knows that Clark Kent is infact the same person as Superman.
The Meditationsby Rene Descartes are both incredibly fascinating and highly confusing. Descartesdoes his best to provide major insight to the issue of personal identity,however, he does fall short by failing to answer specific questions. Afterreading the Meditations for a few weeks and spending a great deal of timetrying to comprehend them, I have come to the conclusion that we are both mindand body. One cannot survive without the other. Although Descartes states ourminds are immaterial, this is simply not true for the brain is needed in orderto produce some kind of thought.
Without a material brain inside our materialbodies, we are nothing. SD1Weare separable, not separate SD2Makecrystal clear what your thesis is. I take it in this case that it is: We arenot immaterial minds SD3Whycould this be false? SD4Andwhere does he say these things? We need some citations here SD5Ok,good use of text here SD6Doyou mean ‘for’? SD7Ok,good. Why not? SD8Thisisn’t a question. Also you need to explain this more—what is she objecting to? SD9Andwhere is this idea coming from? SD10Iam a bit confused as to what you are saying here.
Descartes does in factbelieve that the soul moves the body SD11Ok,but Descartes is talking about perceiving something in his mind’s eye. Also,where is this quote coming from?