Philosophy Questions About A Reading On Descartes

  2. Why is Descartes certain that he exists?  Has he proven that anyone else exists?
  3. Just before concluding that he himself exists, Descartes says this: “I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies.”  Then he goes on to say that he exists.  Has he contradicted himself?  In claiming that he exists has he taken something back from his first claim?  Or is there a way to reconcile these two claims?
  4. In ¶6, Descartes claims that he cannot be certain that he has sense perception since sense perception “surely does not occur without a body”.  But at ¶8 when Descartes summarizes what he knows and is certain about himself, he says that he is a thing that, inter alia, has sensory perceptions.  Has he contradicted himself?  Has he changed his mind?  Or is there a way to render these two claims compatible?
  5. Explain the difference in meaning between

I’m certain that I’m only a thinking thing.
I’m certain only that I’m a thinking thing.

Given what Descartes is doing in ¶6, which of these is he entitled to claim?  Which of them does he claim in ¶6?  Do you see a problem?  Can it be resolved?

  1. What does Descartes mean by ‘thinking’?  Is this how you understand the term?  Can you think of a case that Descartes would consider a case of thinking but you would not?  Does dreaming count as a case of thinking?  Does being in pain count as a case of thinking?  Does listening to music turned all the way up count as a case of thinking?  Compare your answer to these questions to Descartes’.
  2. What is the point of Descartes’ discussion of the piece of wax? That is, why does he talk about it?  What apparent problem or difficulty or surprising fact is the discussion meant to solve or allay?
  3. At the end of ¶12 Descartes says something absolutely shocking.  He says that the perception he has of the wax “is not a case of vision or touch or imagination–nor has it ever been, despite previous appearances–but of purely mental scrutiny.”  Descartes is saying that he perceives the wax only with his mind, and not with any of his senses nor with his imagination.  This should surely shock and surprise you, for this is true not only of wax but of every physical object.  How does Descartes arrive at this shocking conclusion?  What is his argument?
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