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Descartes’ Argument for the Existence of Material Objects
In meditation six, Descartes sets out to determine whether material things exist. He uses Mathematics to show that material things do exist. He applies imagination and the senses to demonstrate that material things exist. He first sets out to distinguish imagination from pure understanding. First, using a triangle, he determines that both understanding and imagination can help him perceive the properties of the triangle. That is because he is able to picture the triangle in his mind. However, when he increases the sides on his figure to a thousand sides, it becomes difficult for him to picture such a figure in his mind. It also becomes difficult to differentiate a figure with a thousand sides from one that has nine hundred and ninety nine sides in his mind. However, through pure understanding, he is able to apply Mathematics to determine the properties of such a figure. Therefore, his conclusion is that imagination does not form an essential part of the mind. That is because a person could still exist even without imagination. The existence of imagination therefore relies on something other than the mind. His conclusion is that imagination links with the body and helps the mind develop images of corporeal things. For understanding, the mind would need to turn inward towards itself. Imagining would require that the mind turn outwards towards the body.
We can do it today.
Descartes then turns to his senses to determine perceptions through the senses. Descartes’ perception is that a person has a body existing in a world. The body is able to have different experiences such as pain, hunger, pleasure and emotion. It is also able to perceive other bodies that have different properties that appeal to the different senses. To him, it is reasonable to conclude that the source of the perceptions is external to the body. The perceptions are involuntary and are more vivid that the ideas one develops in their mind. Given that the perceptions are more vivid compared to the ideas someone generates in their mind, it becomes impractical that the same person would be the origin of such perceptions. Therefore, since the perceptions come from outside, it means that they at least resemble the ideas. As such, one can conclude that knowledge comes from without through the senses.
One of Hobbes’ objections is that it is not wrong to deceive. Deception only becomes wrong when it causes harm. A person can say something that is false as long as the intention is not to cause harm. Hobbes uses the example of doctors to demonstrate that deception can be of good use where a doctor uses deception for the benefit of the patient’s health. Similarly, a parent can use deception if that deception leads to their children’s benefit. Hobbes’ goes further to quote scripture to demonstrate how deception can be used for good. He asks how one should know that the ideas they have are not a deception as is the perception of fire tormenting angels and men. To him, God can delude men by continually sending deceptive ideas to their souls. Therefore, the argument that “God can never deceive us”, as put forward by Descartes may not hold universal truth. If the argument is not universally true, then the conclusion that “bodies exist” does not hold.
In response to Hobbes’ objection, Descartes argues that it was not his intention to suggest that people do not fall to deception. He however cautions against people concluding that God intentionally used deception when they make mistakes. That would result in a contradiction of the nature of God. Descartes argues that theologians agree about God’s nature. He also asserts that it would make no sense for the Christian faith if people were to believe that God uses deception. That is because it would be difficult to believe in God if people knew that God sometimes uses deception. Therefore, when theologians say that the fires of hell torment the damned, the intention is not to mean that God would implant the idea of a tormenting fire in the minds of the damned to deceive them. Descartes uses scripture to demonstrate that there is no way someone can gain full understanding of the world without knowing God. He uses Ecclesiastes to show that God is above all as He is not under the sun as the passage talks of everything under the sun.