I in the Mind

PL 120: Philosophy of Human Nature


I in the Mind

I. Introduction

“I think, therefore I am” (Abel, 194). At first glance this statement could be passed over; yet it is the idea that it poses that has led it to be the most debated of Philosophy’s many questions. After much deliberation, Rene Descartes came to the conclusion that “I am, I exist” (Abel, 195). But what is this “I” that Descartes speaks of in his second meditation? Descartes believed this “I” to be something non-extended, that is to say it is nonphysical. I believe that parts of the “I” are nonphysical, but since we are physical by nature not everything of the “I” can be explained in a nonphysical way.

II. Exposition

In Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy he argues, as a dualist, that there is both a mind and a body, but before he came to this conclusion he first had to determine his own existence. This was achieved in this second meditation by realizing that is possible he was deceived as to having a mind and body. After he discovers his ability to doubt and to understand, he is able to prove his required existence as a consequence. What we doubt or understand may not ultimately correspond, but we can never be uncertain that we are in the process of thought and therefore we prove our existence as a “thinking thing” (Abel, 196).

In his fifth and sixth meditations, Descartes relies on the existence of a non-deceiving God to show that the world exists. He uses a dream argument, in which none of our ideas are caused by external objects and are instead simply put there by God. And

since they are put there as such, it is possible the objects do not exist. Or it is possible that a demon may be trying to deceive us and is simply trying to get us to perceive things that are not really there. But because God is all-perfect he would not deceive us in this way. “Since God is not a deceiver, it is quite clear that he does not transmit the ideas to me either directly from himself, or indirectly via some creature which contains the objective reality of the ideas not formally but only eminently,” therefore, that which we perceive in the physical world actually exists (Abel, 201).

Descartes believed that if he could clearly understand one thing, then it must be distinct from something else, there by making two things distinct. He used this principle to show that the mind is distinct from the body and that it can exist without it. Since he can conceive both the mind and the body as distinct, means that they can exist independently of each other; yet they are closely intermingled with each other, as seen with such feelings as hunger or thirst. For if it was just the body perceiving the hunger or thirst, “[it] should have an explicit understanding of the fact, instead of having confused sensations of hunger and thirst. For these sensations of hunger, thirst, pain, and so on are nothing but confused modes of thinking which arise from the union and, as it were, intermingling of the mind with the body” (Abel, 201).

III. Challenge

The two greatest challenges to Descartes’ theory of the mind is how the nonphysical “I”, can be related to the physical body. This challenge is know as the mind-body problem and has plagued philosophers for centuries. And the second challenge is

the materialist view that the “I” is simply part of the brain and that there is no nonphysical mind.

Both challenges pose equally difficult problems to Descartes’ theory. Descartes’ response to the mind-body problem was that the mind and body were “closely joined” and interacted at the pituitary gland in the brain (Abel, 200).This explanation does not make much sense, since it there is no way for the nonphysical (mind) to interact with the physical (body/brain), at least not as how Descartes explained it. Descartes’ response for the materialist view was that the mind must be nonphysical because the only thing you can be sure of is that you are able to use your mind to think and you don’t need a body for that because they are