Descartes' Wax Passage

1085 Words3 Pages

Descartes' Wax Passage

How do we know what we know? Ideas reside in the minds of intelligent beings, but a clear perception of where these ideas come from is often the point of debate. It is with this in mind that René Descartes set forth on the daunting task to determine where clear and distinct ideas come from. A particular passage written in Meditations on First Philosophy known as the wax passage shall be examined. Descartes' thought process shall be followed, and the central point of his argument discussed.

In Meditations on First Philosophy, it is the self-imposed task of Descartes to cast doubt upon all which he knows in order to build a solid foundation of knowledge out of irrefutable truths. Borrowing an idea from Archimedes, that with one firm and immovable point the earth could be moved, Descartes sought one immovable truth. Descartes' immovable truth, a truth on which he would lay down his foundation of knowledge and define all that which he knows, was the simple line "Cogito ergo sum": I think, therefore I am. This allowed for his existence.

Once Descartes recognizes the indubitable truth that he exists, he then attempts to further his knowledge by discovering the type of thing that he is. Trying to understand what he is, Descartes recalls Aristotle's definition of a human as a rational animal. This is unsatisfactory since this requires investigation into the notions of "rational" and "animal". Continuing his quest for identity, he recalls a more general view he previously had of his identity, which is that he is composed of both body and soul. According to classical philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, the key attributes of the soul involve eating, movement, and sensation. He can't claim to h...

... middle of paper ...

...wax for example, he gathers a better idea of what it means to be a thinking thing. Since even his perceptions are accompanied by thinking, every time he perceives, he also thinks. Thus, he concludes that he knows his mind better than he knows his body; since he both employs his mind all of the time, and since his mind is a better source of knowledge than his perceptions.

The teaching of Descartes has influenced many minds since his writings. Descartes' belief that clear and distinct perceptions come from the intellect and not the senses was critical to his ultimate goal in Meditations on First Philosophy, for now he has successfully created a foundation of true and certain facts on which to base a sold, scientific belief structure. He has proven himself to exist in some form, to think and therefore feel, and explains how he knows objects or concepts to be real.

Open Document