Descartes and Rousseau - Megan Lawless Com L 114"From...

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Megan Lawless Com L 114 September 28, 2007 “From Self-Reflection to Reflection of Society: Two Very Different Views of the Self” Descartes and Rousseau, both considered among the greatest thinkers in modern philosophy, define the self from very different angles. Rousseau takes on a more traditional approach by observing the self along with its surroundings, while Descartes brings about the concept of individualism with his definition. Even with their very different methods of thinking and their varying views of the self, they did have some beliefs in common. Descartes attempted to define the self through a series of meditations. He sat alone in his room for six days straight, trying to find some truth in an uncertain world. His first conclusion was that he is a thinking thing. This could be seen as his original definition of the self. The rest of his meditations tried to expand on this. Through his second meditation, he found that nothing is better known than the mind. Early on he attempted to incorporate the body into his definition of the self, but struggled with the uncertainty of the senses. He claimed that the senses only perceive a disconnected jumble of information. The intellect is what helps the self understand what the senses perceive. After making clear the distinction between the intellect and the senses, Descartes reflected on the source of error and sin in humans. He concluded that error is the inevitable result of one’s free will being more extensive than one’s intellect. When people make judgments about things with which they are unfamiliar, it is easy to fall into error. Finally, Descartes completed the connection between mind and body. He determined that although they are distinct entities, they are inextricably linked to one another. Rousseau, progressing through the history of mankind, came to his own unique definition of the self. The goal in his writing was to show the foundation of inequality among men, and in
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showing this he discovered much about humanity and the self. The way Rousseau thought about the self was in relation to society. He did not consider the self to be an isolated being as Descartes did. Everything he asserted about the self was shown in the context of society. He went so far as to say that the self is defined by the judgment of others. Rousseau claimed that because of man’s interaction in society, he has become superficial. According to his findings, man has become too afraid to self-reflect and thinks it more important to find out what others think of him. This is in complete contradiction to Descartes, who said that the ability to self- reflect is a trademark of the self.
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  • Spring '08
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