According to Descartes, the essence of material substance is simply extension, the property of filling up space. (Med. V) So solid geometry, which describes the possibility of dividing an otherwise uniform space into distinct parts, is a complete guide to the essence of body. It follows that there can be in reality only one extended substance, comprising all matter in a single spatial whole. From this, Descartes concluded that individual bodies are merely modes of the one extended being, that there can be no space void of extension, and that all motion must proceed by circular vortex. Thus, again, the true nature of bodies is understood by pure thought, without any information from the senses.
1. The Dream Problem
Second, Descartes raised a more systematic method for doubting the legitimacy of all sensory perception. Since my most vivid dreams are internally indistinguishible from waking experience, he argued, it is possible that everything I now "perceive" to be part of the physical world outside me is in fact nothing more than a fanciful fabrication of my own imagination. On this supposition, it is possible to doubt that any physical thing really exists, that there is an external world at all. (Med. I)
Severe as it is, this level of doubt is not utterly comprehensive, since the truths of mathematics and the content of simple natures remain unaffected. Even if there is no material world (and thus, even in my dreams) two plus three makes five and red looks red to me. In order to doubt the veracity of such fundamental beliefs, I must extend the method of doubting even more hyperbolically.
In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes finally tried to eliminate the dream problem by proving th...
... middle of paper ...
...inct. (Med. VI)
This radical separation of mind and body makes it difficult to account for the apparent interaction of the two in my own case. In ordinary experience, it surely seems that the volitions of my mind can cause physical movements in my body and that the physical states of my body can produce effects on my mental operations. But on Descartes's view, there can be no substantial connection between the two, nor did he believe it appropriate to think of the mind as residing in the body as a pilot resides within a ship. Although he offered several tenatative suggestions in his correspondence with Princess Elizabeth, Descartes largely left for future generations the task of developing some reasonable account of volition and sensation, either by securing the possibility of mind-body interaction or by proposing some alternative explanation of the appearances.
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