Philosophy 1050: Introduction to PhilosophyWeek 9: Descartes and the Subject
Augustine and Self-Consciousness: SummaryAccording to Augustine, both our senses and our understanding and reason play a role in what we know. Because we have an inner sense that puts everything together, we may be conscious of ourselves or self-conscious.The idea of self-consciousness is the idea of subjectivity. We can distinguish the subjectivity of our sensations, opinions, feelings, and perceptions from the objectivity of what exists for all of us and can be known through reasons or reasoning.
Augustine and subjectivityTo help define the nature of the self, Augustine distinguishes between things that are subjective (or dependent on the self-conscious subject) and those that are objective (or independent of the self-conscious subject).Our problem (and Descartes problem): What is the relationship between the subjective and the objective?
Subjectivity and ObjectivityBy our own and personal, I mean that which each one of us consumes for himself and what each alone perceives in himself as belonging properly to his own nature. By common and, as it were, public, I mean what is perceived by everyone who perceives, without its being changed or destroyed. (p. 53).
Subjective and ObjectiveSubjective:Sensations and ImpressionsOpinionsPains and feelingsExperiencesMemoriesValue judgmentsObjective:TreesHousesBodiesThings located in space outside meNumbersShapesColors
Rene Descartes1596-1650Born in France, travels as a young man to Holland and Germany to serve in the armyIn 1618, has a series of dreams that he interprets as telling him he will found a new science
Descartes and the Copernican RevolutionIn 1543, Copernicus proposed that the motion of the planets could be explained by placing the sun at the center of the solar systemHis ideas were developed by Galileo Galilei, who lived at almost the same time as Descartes
Descartes and SubjectivityBuilding on ideas already suggested by St. Augustine, Descartes will make the subject and the experiences it has the center of the new science and a whole new way of thinking of knowledge, reason, and the world. He does so by testing what he knows to find out what is truly reliable and what is not.
Descartes and Subjectivity: Knowledge and FoundationsSeveral years have now passed since I first realized how numerous were the false opinions that in my youth I had taken to be true, and thus how doubtful were all those that I had subsequently built upon them. And thus I realized that once in my life I had to raze everything to the ground and begin again from the original foundations. (17)
Descartes and MeditationDescartes undertakes to test all of his opinions to see if they are really knowledge. To do so, he will ask himself if they are based on a secure foundation: that is, whether they are certain and immune to doubt.He considers various possibilities of doubt or skeptical scenarios to see whether he really knows what he thinks he knows
Descartes: Radical DoubtDescartes considers three skeptical scenarios or possibilities of radical doubt:1) Senses can be deceptive, for instance when I mistake something far away2) I could be dreaming3) God, or an evil genius, could be deceiving me by feeding in my thoughts and experiences
The Brain in a Vat(a modern version of skepticism)If we are brains in vats, we may think we are having experiences such as being outside, walking in the sun, feeling the warmth on our faces, etc.But we are really just brains wired up to electrical stimulators, perhaps controlled by a computer
Philosophy: The MatrixNEO: This isnt real?MORPHEUS: What is real? How do you define real? If you're talking about your senses, what you feel, taste, smell, or see, then all you're talking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain.
How do we know that we are not dreaming?How do we know that we are not being deceived by an evil genius more powerful than ourselves?How do we know that we are not brains in vats?IF any of these SKEPTICAL SCENARIOS are TRUE, then what (if anything) might we STILL know and hold on to?
Descartes and subjectivity: Re-building knowledgeIf any of the skeptical scenarios holds true, then we apparently do not know of the existence of anything outside us. We do not know whether the things that we seem to see actually exist or even that we exist as the beings we seem to be.Is there, nevertheless, anything that we can still be certain of?
Descartes and Subjectivity: Re-building KnowledgeI have persuaded myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world: no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Is it then the case that I too do not exist? But doubtless I did exist, if I persuaded myself of something Thus, after everything has been most closely weighed, it must finally be admitted that this pronouncement I am, I exist is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind (25)
Descartes and Subjectivity: Re-building knowledgeHaving undertaken to doubt everything he can, Descartes finds that he cannot doubt that he exists as a thinking thing:Here I make my discovery: thought exists; it alone cannot be separated from me. I am; I exist this is certainAt this time I admit nothing that is not necessarily true I am therefore precisely nothing but a thinking thing: that is, a mind, or intellect, or understanding, or reason (27)
Descartes and Subjectivity: Re-building knowledgeBy the end of the Second Meditation, Descartes has discovered that he exists as a thinking thing or a subject:But what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses. (28)
Descartes and Subjectivity: Re-building knowledgeBy the end of the second Meditation, Descartes still does not know of the existence of any object outside himself. Yet he does know: That he exists as a thinking thing; andThat his actual processes of thinking, imagining, seeming to see and seeming to perceive actually exist as well.
Seemings: The Way of IdeasFor although perhaps, as I supposed before, absolutely nothing that I imagined is true, still the very power of imagining really does exist, and constitutes a part of my thought. Finally, it is this same I who senses or is cognizant of bodily things as if through the senses. For example, I now see a light, I hear a noise, I feel heat. These things are false, since I am asleep. Yet I certainly do seem to see, hear, and feel warmth. This cannot be false. Properly speaking, this is what in me is called sensing. But this, precisely so taken, is nothing other than thinking. (p. 29)
Descartes and Subjectivity: The Way Of IdeasAt this stage, Descartes does not know whether anything outside him exists, but he knows that he himself and his own processes of thinking do existThese processes of thinking the way things seem can be called ideas. For instance, Descartes does not know that the sun really exists, but he does know at least that his idea or impression of the sun does.
Descartes and Subjectivity: SummaryTrying to test all his beliefs for reliability, Descartes considers three skeptical scenarios according to which much or all of what he believes could be false. If anything survives these scenarios, it will be true and certain no matter what. He discovers that even if the skeptical scenarios hold, still he exists as a thinking thing or subject that can think, doubt, reason, and have experiences.Even if nothing in the external world is known for sure, this thinking thing or subject can be known to exist, with absolute certainty, together with all its processes of thinking, imagining, reasoning, and so forth. Even if we do not know whether any things in the external world actually exist, still we can know for certain that our own representations or ideas of them do.