Rene Descartes and John Locke are two of the most prominent figures in philosophy when it
comes to dealing with the self. Descartes establishes the self through his
Cogito Ergo Sum
, “I think,
therefore I exist.” For Descartes, the mind is considered to be the only thing that is absolutely true in
the world and everything else is subject to doubt when perceived through our senses. Locke, on the
other hand, is coined for his
, “The Blank Slate.” Where Descartes finds doubt in anything
that the senses interact with, Locke says that our senses is the only way we gain knowledge and truths.
Descartes, the rationalist is on one side of the spectrum and Locke, the empiricist, is on the other side.
Being an extreme will cause to have problems in their theories. For Descartes, it is his lack of trust in
what his senses tell him and for Locke it is his method of dismissing innate principles.
Descartes emphasizes how important the mind is when it comes to finding truth amongst doubt.
If one uses senses alone, then they are, in a sense, getting information at that current state of time.
Descartes uses wax as an example. At first the piece of wax that he examines is a solid; the senses
perceive the shape, texture, and color of the wax. When burned, “it becomes a liquid, it heats, scarcely
can one handle it, and when one strikes it, no sound is emitted.”
The senses alone cannot relate that the
solid piece of wax that just became a liquid is the same piece of wax. In order to connect these two
different states, either imagination or the mind is at work. It cannot be imagination due to the infinite
amount of forms that the wax can take, so it is the mind that links the two states of wax together.
Another example that Descartes gives is distant objects. Through our senses, it would then seem that