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Sanger 1 Kellen Sanger Professor Natalie Cisneros Philosophy 100w October 1, 2011 Descartes determines that living human

beings exist due to the thinking, doubting minds they possess. He further concludes that the external world is based on understanding in the mind rather than perceptions derived from the senses. By combining these two ideas, it is through understanding in our minds that we can determine that other people exist. Descartes offers numerous examples throughout Meditations on First Philosophy to explain this process of defining the other human beings with whom we live. Descartes denounces physical senses by emphasizing the changing nature of the external world. The extended, flexible, and mutable states of corporeal things stress the importance of understanding and intellect in defining the physical world. The faculty of imagination, limited greatly by its reliance on the senses, cannot be accepted as an adequate answer to others existence as Descartes devalues imagination due to its biased origins and the unreliability of its corporeal basis. In defining the incorporeal minds of others, Descartes introduces a complex, circular example of attempting to understand the understanding minds of others. By what means can we determine that these other human beings possess the thinking minds that are necessary for existence? While we can use sensual perception to identify the physical presence of other human beings, it is understanding that allows us to trust that the minds of others are actually thinking minds. The difficult task of being able to understand and trust that other human beings possess thinking minds begins as Descartes addressed glances out his window to observe men crossing

Sanger 2 the square (22). Descartes uses his senses to judge and assume that the men upon whom he looks are indeed men. Descartes immediately discards this determination as he offers the possibility that these men are automata (22). How can he know for certain that what he sees is not just a physical illusion of objects appearing to look like men? The sensual judgment made based on what can be seen is unreliable. Instead, Descartes uses this faculty of judgment present in his mind to understand the men to be men on a more exact level (22). Descartes understanding in this situation derives from his judgment of the mens appearance. It is not however, the appearance of the men that make them men. The displayed judgment of the men, the faculty of judgment in their minds, as they chose to cross the street or chose to wear hats and clothes proves that they too possess thinking minds that are capable of understanding and judging just as Descartes does (22). From this, Descartes understanding is derived from the understanding of others. It is understood that the minds of the other men are working, thinking, deciding and doubting, and therefore it is also understood that these minds exist. Descartes provides an example of this understanding through analyzing a piece of wax. Descartes states that the wax applies to everything else that is external to me suggesting that the wax is directly equitable to men (23). Descartes begins his assessment of the external world by observing the physical properties most evident to his senses. By utilizing sight, smell and touch, Descartes judges the wax to be wax. The initial judgment of the wax is equal to the initial judgment of people. Upon recognizing a human being to be a human being, senses such as sight, smell, and touch classify a person to be a person. This however, must be approached with caution. Humans should not be viewed as corporeal things. It is crucial to remember that a thinking mind is the only factor that Descartes trusts to determine a person to be a person (19). This singular truth that Descartes is precisely nothing but a thinking thing explains that

Sanger 3 immaterial, incorporeal thoughts make a person a person (19). Therefore, the thinking minds of others must be taken into account as they are separate from the people in bodily form. Because it is impossible to physically observe the thinking minds of others, understanding is necessary to determine the minds to be thinking. The understanding of thinking minds is equivalent to the understanding of wax as it changes states. Wax, as well as the body, is extended, flexible, and mutable (21). The physical bodies of other humans change frequently (growth, age, grooming, injuries, etc.) throughout life, but the minds of others do not. As the wax melts, it loses its physical properties but maintains its identity as wax. Both minds and objects such as wax retain intangible properties that define what they are. People retain their identity as people as long as they possess thinking, understanding minds. As long as we can understand others to be thinking, others remain in existence. As long as we can understand the wax to be wax (regardless of its change of appearance), the wax remains wax. Descartes affirms this conclusion by stating that the perception of the wax is neither seeing, nor touching, but instead it is the very act of reasoning and understanding by the mind that provides its existence (22). The ability to understand the wax to be wax and minds to be minds derives from our intellect. As judgment based on the senses fails, understanding on the part of the mind determines the identity of external things. The information that can be obtained by use of the senses must be disregarded. Through intellect and understanding in our minds, objects and other minds are proven to be existent. When applying the logic that the senses are not useful in determining the existence of others thinking minds, a common argument is made with regards to imagination. What happens when we combine the power of the thinking mind with sensual judgments and ideas? How do we know imagination, as opposed to intellect and reasoning, in our minds does not create the

Sanger 4 understanding we have of others? The existence of others does not exist solely in ones imagination. Imagination, unlike understanding, is a limited faculty. Descartes explains that his imagination is incapable of running through [the] innumerable changes that wax can undergo (22). It is possible however, to understand the process of the wax changing and therefore to understand that the wax is capable of such changes. Physical senses restrict imagination, while nothing restricts understanding. Instead, intellect and reason in the mind only aids understanding. Using the same logic, we cannot imagine the billions of thoughts in anothers mind but can understand the process of thinking in these minds. This understanding further proves the existence of the minds of others. Descartes continues to define imagination as the [contemplation] of the shape or image of a corporeal thing (20). Even on this most basic level, imagination cannot be applied to the minds of others, because the minds of others are not corporeal things. Minds consist of intangible, immaterial thoughts. Due to its reliance on senses, imagination can be dismissed as the origin of understanding the thinking minds of others. The process of extending our understanding through increasing knowledge is another way in which Descartes proves that understanding establishes the existence of others minds. Descartes explains, if my perception of the wax seemed more distinct after it became known to me not only on account of sight or touch, but on account many reasons, one has to admit how much more distinctly I can now know myself (23). This statement reasserts that sensual perception can be used to identify, but maintains that understanding is necessary to know. If Descartes can further his knowledge of himself by increasing his knowledge of the wax, other people can further their knowledge of themselves by furthering their knowledge of the wax. The more shared understandings of corporeal things in the external world that humans share, the easier it becomes to identify with others and understand each others thinking minds. If we can

Sanger 5 all understand why or by what reasoning the men crossing the square want to cross the square, we can increase our understanding of other thinking minds (22). This process is increased even more greatly as humans strive to better understand the understanding minds of others. By attempting and focusing attention on comprehending the minds of others, the more real the minds of others become. Just as Descartes further understands himself by increased thought, we can further understand others as others further understand themselves (23). This process therefore offers a simplistic solution of how to more comprehensively grasp the external world around us. The complicated, almost impossible task of attempting to understand that the minds of others are in turn also attempting to understand proves itself to be true on some levels. The circular process of striving to understand what another is striving to understand creates a transitive relationship in which both parties either exist, or neither party exists. As Descartes thoroughly defines the thinking mind of an individual, he defines the thinking minds of a population. Through the ability of one person to understand and reason through intellect, a world of other intellects is created. While the precise, physical properties of the world are in question due to biased judgments of the corporal world made by people, definite relationships between people do exist. These relationships cannot be simply said to exist in personal imagination, because imagination too falls into the unreliable world of the senses. Descartes example of the changing physical properties of wax establishes the conclusion of an inexact external world. However, he offers a solution to problem. The same ability of the human mind to determine the wax to be wax in different forms is used to determine people to be people as their physical properties remain indeterminable. This ability is the human minds ability to understand. We can

Sanger 6 understand that the minds of others are understanding just as we are, and therefore we can understand that the minds of others exist.