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Ideas and Reality 1 TAs office h.
none 2 Bibliographical Resources (reminder): Descartes’ Meditations (with Critics and Replies) + Discourse free at:
http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/f_descarte.html Leibniz’s New Essays free at:
http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/f_leibniz.html 3 By Now you should have read Descartes’ Meditations. For the next 2 meetings you should read the preface and ch. 1 of Leibniz’s New Essays
It would also help if you can read Leibniz’s Monadology (also on Leibniz’s link)
4 Further bibliography on Descartes:
Cottingham J. (1986). Descartes. Blackwell, Oxford Further bibliography on/by Chomsky:
Chomsky N. (2000). New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind. Cambridge UP: Cambridge
McGilvray J. (1999). Chomsky: Language, Mind, and Politics. Polity Press: Cambridge
5 The following can also be useful
Antony L. M. & Hornstein N. (eds.) (2003). Chomsky and His Critics. Blackwell: Oxford
Smith, N. (1999) Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals. Cambridge UP: Cambridge
Wilson C. (2003). Descartes’s Meditations: An Introduction. Cambridge UP: Cambridge
6 Perception Sensory Grasp
Our perception of ordinary objects may be obscure and confuse (e.g. change in phenomenological properties).
But objects possess all the properties which we clearly and distinctly understand, i.e. the essential, eternal and immutable properties. 7 Essential properties of material objects
Are true of matter under each manifestation and all conceivable conditions: they transcend the qualia; they are sensesindependent.
These properties can be cashed out extensionally and, as such can be characterized in mere geometrical terms. (See the mathematical model of knowledge).
8 Res Extensa
It is the nature or essence of corporeal things (substantia corporealis). It is a subject of predication, a bearer of attributes. Roughly it is something we can say something about.
(see the subject/predicate distinction which will be central in Leibniz’s metaphysics).
It is independent and can stand on its own. It is independent of anything except God. 9 Ideas Ideas: (i) Formal Nature
(ii) Material Nature (iii) Reflexivity/SelfReferentiality
Descartes distinguishes between the material reality of an idea (this is the intellectual act/operation of the thinking) and the formal reality of an idea (this is the representational power of the idea). These are two aspects of the very same thing, the idea.
10 ‘Idea’ can be taken materially, as an operation of the intellect, in which case it cannot be said to be more perfect than me. Alternatively it can be taken objectively, as the thing represented by that operation; and this thing, even if it is not regarded as existing outside the intellect, can still, in virtue of its essence, be more perfect than myself. (Preface to Meditations; CSM II: 7) The idea of God, even if it exists only in my intellect is more perfect than myself because of its essence. 11 an idea is reflexive (selfreferential)
The holder of the idea is aware/conscious of this very idea in so long as s/he entertains it. in nostro sentendi modo cogitatio includitur [thought is included in our mode of sensation] (Letter to More, 5 Feb. 1649; CSMK III: 365). This allows to block an infinite regress (cf. homunculus fallacy).
12 The awareness one has of the idea one entertains is not another idea (or metaidea) that one entertains of the former.
The reflexive consciousness of the idea is contained into the idea itself.
Hence, because of this direct awareness, there isn’t a regress of ideas of ideas.
13 The Threefold Aspect of Ideas
(i) Formal Nature (semantic property)
(ii) Material Nature (mental act)
(iii) Reflexivity/SelfReferentiality (direct awareness) The material nature of an idea, i.e. its being a mental act, may help to explain their causal power. Since an idea is an act occurring in one’s mind, this act can trigger one to behave in a given way.
14 The formal nature of an idea should explain their semantics and contribute in determining the truth
value of a thought. This explains the aboutness or intentionality of ideas, i.e. what an idea stands for / represents. 15 The reflexivity of ideas helps explaining their subjective character. In so long as one is entertaining an idea one is aware of this very idea. And one cannot not be aware of it. And (because of the reflexivity) one is aware of an idea without having to perceive it.
Immediate acquaintance of the idea.
The reflexive character of an idea does not prevent one to have an idea about a given idea (a metaidea). In that case one is aware of the metaidea. This is similar to the difference between thinking about red and thinking about “red”. 17 Introspection and Nativism Methodology: Introspection
The true understanding of reality requires the mind to turn on itself and make abstraction of all information gained from the senses. Innate Ideas
The possession of an idea needs a cause. Thus adventitious ideas are causes by the senses, while an innate idea is causes by God. 18 True ideas are innate in us. The first, basic and more important, idea is the idea of God. Having achieved knowledge of God we can then proceed to the knowledge of external reality. The latter is gained by the grasping of (innate) mathematical concepts. The essence of reality (its being extended) can be expressed in geometrical terms.
19 I apply the term ‘innate’ to the ideas or notions that are the form of those thoughts in order to distinguish them from others, which I call ‘adventious’ or ‘made up’. This is the same sense as that in which we say that generosity is ‘innate’ in certain families, or that certain diseases such as gout or stones are innate in others: it is not so much that the babies of such families suffer from these diseases in their mother’s womb, but simply that they are born with a ‘faculty’ or tendency to contract them. (Comments on a Certain Broadsheet; CSM I: 3034) 20 Nothing reaches our mind from the external objects through the sense organs except certain corporeal motions … The idea of pain, colours, sounds and the like must be all the more innate if, on the occasion of certain corporeal motions, our mind is to be capable of representing them to itself, for there is no similarity between these ideas and the corporeal motions. Is it possible to imagine anything more absurd than that all the common notions within our mind arise from such motions and cannot exist without them? I would like our author to tell me what the corporeal motion is that is capable of forming some common notion to the effect that ‘things which are equal to a third thing are equal to each other’, or any other he cares to take. (Comments on a Certain Broadsheet; CSM I: 304) In claiming that “there is no similarity” Descartes seems to suggest that ideas are like images …
21 Knowledge of ideas Awareness of Ideas
A child (untrained mind) faces difficulties to grasp the innate true ideas because her mind is flooded with bodily stimulus preventing the inward look which ultimately allows the grasping of the true ideas. In early childhood the mind is too closely tied to the body. The body is seen as an obstruction to the mind.
22 Ideas are in the Mind
What does it mean to say that ideas are in the mind? An idea is in the form of a thought and one is aware of it by immediate perception. (see reflexivity, self
referentiality of ideas)
But at any given time one is only aware of a tiny fraction of the idea that is in one’s mind.
23 Possession of Ideas
Should be understood in a dispositional, rather than actual, way.
To have an idea of X is to be disposed, by appropriate reflection, to recognize certain truths about X. 24 “idea” In using the word “idea” Descartes means both the concept and the propositions one has about the concept. Thus one having an innate idea of a triangle is one having the concept of a triangle and the proposition that the sum of its angles is 180 degrees. 25 Having an idea entails having propositional knowledge (e.g.: I have the idea of God, so I know that he is all powerful …)
Cf: knowing that vs. knowing how, see also epistemic vs. nonepistemic seeing. (savoir vs. connaitre)
E.g. “Knowing how to swim” vs. “Knowing that Ottawa is north of Toronto” “Seeing a chameleon” vs. “Seeing that the chameleon is on the branch”
26 Tree Kind of Ideas 1. Innate 2. Adventitious
They come from an external source. 3. Fictional
They are made up or invented. 27 Since senseperception is not a matter of a simple reception of the mind, all ideas must, in a sense, be innate. The ideas of pain, colour, sounds, etc. must all be innate (sensations such as pain, colour, etc. are not in the objects). Sensory ideas should not be conceived as coming from the external world: they depends and should be explained in terms of the innate structure of the mind.
28 Ideas as Representations Descartes gives up the (scholastic) view that the mind grasps images which are transmitted from the objects. When Descartes compared ideas to images may be to stress that ideas, like images, are representatives, i.e. to underlie the intentionality of our thoughts. 29 Ideas may be conceived along symbols, for there are many way of representing an object. Representation need not be by images or resemblances. “Cheese” stands for cheese. In French we have “fromage” … Yet “cheese” and “fromage” don’t resemble cheese ….
Symbols are arbitrary.
30 Ideas as symbols
Words, as you well know, bear no resemblance to the things they signify, and yet they make us think of these things, frequently even without our paying attention to the sounds of the words or to their syllables. Thus it may happen that we hear an utterance whose meaning we understand perfectly well, but afterward we cannot say in what language it was spoken. Now, if words, which signify nothing except by human convention, suffice to make us think of things to which they bear no resemblance, then why could nature not also have established some sign which would make us have the sensation of light, even if the sign contained nothing in itself which is similar to that sensation? (The World or Treatise on Light; CSM I: 81) 31 For Descartes clear and distinct ideas are conform and similar to their object. Yet the similarity must not be compared or understood in terms of the similarity that may be involved in a representative picture. If that were the case ideas would merely be a mental thing. (Ideas would have only their formal reality, i.e. their representational power).
32 We would thus reject the materiality of ideas (the fact that they are an intellectual act/an operation of our thinking activity) and the view that they are self
referential. A picture is neither an act, nor reflexive/self
(cf. the (i) Formal Nature,(ii) Material Nature, and (iii) Reflexivity/SelfReferentiality aspect of ideas).
33 Port Royal Logic and Grammar The view that ideas are not images is also defended by Arnauld & Nicole in their Port Royal Logic:
Whenever we speak of ideas, then, we are not referring to images painted in the fantasy, but to anything in the mind when we can trustfully say that we are conceiving something, however we conceive it. (Arnauld & Nicole 1662: 26) 34 Similarity Relation Similarity Relation: The Ontological Thesis of the Double Existence
The (intentional) notion of similarity involved must be understood against the Scholastic tradition. Descartes explains the similarity relation of ideas in terms of their objective reality and this is tantamount of the medieval notion of esse objectivum. 35 Scholastic Tradition Within the medieval/scholastic tradition “similarity” is not understood along a pictorial resemblance, but as a kind of identity.
Within the scholastic tradition we find the thesis of the double existence. A specific form can exist in two distinct ways (cf. St Thomas): either materially (de re) as a form of a material thing or immaterially, as a form informing the intellect. 36 The specis in mentis is similar to the external form. Every time one entertains a clear and distinct idea there is an identity relation between the form informing the intellect and the form informing the external reality.
I.e. the very same form informs both the mind and reality. 37 The idea of a double existence (the esse objectivum) goes hand in hand with the Causal Adequacy Principle. I.e. the selfevident principle that there must be as much reality in the efficient and total cause that there is in the effect of that cause (ex nihilo nihil fit). 38 Reification of ideas The Reification of Ideas: Ideas qua Mental Objects
Ideas are objects of our knowledge and they are known before the knowledge of external objects Cf. We had ideas during the doubt, thus before knowing that the external world exists. 39 The knowledge of ideas must precede the knowledge of the external objects.
For it is only via that knowledge that we can prove the existence of the external world and, thus, defeat scepticism. 40 Tension between the view of ideas as (mental) objects and the view of ideas as mental acts
I.e. a tension between their material nature and their formal nature.
Ideas conceived as acts do not enter as intermediary between the mental activity and the objects they stand for, while ideas conceived as objects are intermediary between the mind and the world: one “grasp” and object by “grasping” the idea that stands for that object. In that case an idea is an epistemic tertium quid between the mind and the external reality.
41 Innate vs. Adventitious Ideas Even if all ideas are somewhat innate the distinction between innate and adventitious ideas subsists insofar as we must distinguish between those (innate) abstract ideas which the mind grasp independently of the stimuli and the ideas arising because triggered by external stimuli (e.g. perception).
Cf. the idea of God vs. the idea one has of the pen one is perceiving.
42 Mind/World relation In giving up the naïve (scholastic) view that the mind (via the ideas) relates to the external world because our ideas copy the objects they stand for—i.e. that the intentional relationship is one of similarity—
Descartes creates a gap between the mind and the world. How does one’s idea of X stand for X if the former is not an image of the latter?
God, the creator, guarantees that our mind reflects accurately the structure of reality. The aboutness/intentionality is guaranteed by Good.
43 [A]n idea is the thing which is thought of in so far as it has objective being in the intellect … which is never outside the intellect, and in this sense ‘objective being’ simply means being in the intellect in the way in which objects are normally there … But if the question is what the idea of the sun is, and we answer that it is the thing which is thought of, insofar as it has objective being in the intellect, no one will take this to be the sun itself … ‘objective being in the intellect’ will not here mean ‘the determination of an act of the intellect by means of an object’, but will signify the object’s being in the intellect in the way in which its objects are normally there. By this I mean that the idea of the sun is the sun itself existing in the intellect—not of course formally existing, as it does in the heavens, but objectively existing, i.e. in the way in which objects normally are in the intellect. Now this mode of being is of course much less perfect than that possessed by things which exist outside the intellect; but, as I did explain, it has not therefore simply nothing. (First Set of Replies; CSM II: 745)
Ideas are about object because they are “similar” to them. But “similarity” is not understood along a pictorial resemblance. It is a kind of identity.
This comes from the scholastic thesis of the double existence. The aboutness/intentionality of our ideas is granted by God via the objective reality, i.e. double existence.
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- Fall '07