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descartes_guide6 - SIXTH MEDITATION The existence of...

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SIXTH MEDITATION The existence of material things, and the real distinction between mind and body It is only in this final Meditation that Descartes at last puts to rest the sceptical doubt about the material world that he had raised in the First Meditation. By the end of Meditation V, Descartes has partly rebuilt the edifice of knowledge, if the arguments succeed. There is knowledge of the self, its existence and essence; knowledge of God, his essence and existence; and knowledge of matter, in so far as its essence is described by the intellectual science of geometry. What remains to be established is knowledge of the existence of matter. The thinker begins by reflecting on the knowledge he has acquired of the essence of matter. The fact that I have a clear and distinct conception of matter as the subject matter of pure mathematics tells me that matter is at least capable of existing: there is no contradiction in the idea of matter. He then considers the fact that he is able to imagine things of all kinds, including material things. My faculty of imagination seems to be not purely a faculty of myself as thinking thing, but ‘an application of the cognitive faculty to a body which is intimately present to it, and which therefore also exists’. Imagining something is different to conceiving it in the intellect. Try to imagine a figure with six sides, a hexagon. Can you do it? Most people are able to form a mental image of a six-sided figure. A different question: How many angles does a hexagon have? Some people may answer this simple question by simply reporting directly from their concept of a hexagon. Others may consult their mental image, and count the angles on the imagined shape. Now try to imagine a chiliagon, a figure with a thousand sides. Can you do it? Perhaps you think you can: a shape with lots of tiny sides. Well, now imagine a shape just like a chiliagon with one less side. Is it any different? Probably not. The imagination doesn’t have a fine enough resolution to provide a determinate image of a chiliagon. — 52 —
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Nevertheless, there is still the concept of a chiliagon, provided by the intellect: and from the concept we could deduce all kinds of geometrical truths, if we wanted to. This example is given by Descartes to illustrate his point that the imagination is something different to the intellect. Descartes thinks that the fact that our ability to imagine things is somehow explained by the association of the mind with a body that is intimately connected to it. However, the argument is not very clear, and Descartes himself takes it to be inconclusive. The next step is to remind the reader of the passage from the naivety of common sense to the deepest scepticism, and the reader is reminded of the arguments of the First Meditation, and indeed of the conclusions of subsequent Meditations. This long section of the final Meditation is very useful in helping to grasp Descartes’ own understanding of his project of methodological doubt and his progress so far.
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