The Life of the Mind

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The Life of the Mind In section 7 of the chapter on appearance in her book The Life of the Mind, Arendt is for the most part critiquing Descartes' "suspicion of man's cognitive and sensory apparatus". Descartes was trying to find the thinking ego or the soul whose reality and existence was beyond the "illusions of sense perception". Arendt claims that Descartes's fictitious creature res cogitans, which is bodiless and senseless, would not be able to distinguish between the real and the unreal or even know that a reality existed outside of itself. Arendt states that we as human beings need to be assured by other human beings that what we perceive is what they perceive as well. This is necessary in order to convince us of our own reality. In addition, no sense object taken out of its context can produce the sensation of reality. Arendt states, in agreement with Husserl, that "when thinking withdraws from the world of appearances, it withdraws from the sensorily given and hence also from the feeling of realness, given by common sense." Arendt also argues for Thomas Aquinas' sensus communis, or the common sense (sixth sense). The object or worldly property for this sense is realness according to Arendt. This mysterious sixth sense can not be localized to a particular bodily organ and without it, our sensations would be incommunicable to the outside world. In other words, this sixth sense organizes and combines the five senses to help us picture reality. It sounds here as though she is making an argument about consciousness. That this sixth sense is consciousness, not really another sense because it does not directly perceive anything from the external world. Arendt holds that without this sixth sense, all of our sensations from the world would remain completely private and we would not know what to make of them. This may be true, but it seems as though she is asking some unanswerable questions here. Maybe someday, in the ultimate glory and peak of modern neuroscience we may find out the answer to this "sensus communis" question, but never in the way Arendt, Descartes, Aquinas, and Kant attempt to. In conclusion to this section, Arendt claims that reality is assured and guaranteed to us and by us by what she calls a "three-fold commonness".
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