Nietzsche vs Descartes


Descartes explains the apparent distinction and significance of the human mind over the body in his Meditations on First Philosophy, claiming that the mind (the conscious) is the lone essential part of the human essence.


Nietzsche expresses his beliefs that the body (the unconscious) is key to the human essence. One may find it difficult to decide between these two ideas, for both philosophers pose good arguments on the contradicting sides of this famous dilemma.


However, by analyzing them further, I realize that the qualities of their arguments are only as good as the foundations that they are based upon; one cannot have an understanding of the mind or the body without first having knowledge of the essence of human existence. With this in mind, I will prove that the body is superior to the mind by showing that the center for Nietzsche\'s ideas, the human essence, is more valid than that of Descartes.


Descartes\' idea of the human essence is based solely on his formed concept of "radical doubt." He believes the essence of human existence to be simply "a thinking thing". We must now analyze how he arrived at this conclusion. Descartes is famous for radical doubt, a concept that questions everything, and assumes nothing to be true unless it can be proved so with his idea of "clear and distinct perception." From this he states that the only thing he can clearly and distinctively perceive is that "I exist". He concludes that since he ceases to exist when he ceases to think, he can then clearly and distinctively call himself a "thinking thing". Descartes explains this train of thought when he says:


[quote][b]From the fact that I know that I exist, and that at the same time I judge that obviously nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except that I am a thinking thing, I rightly conclude that my essence consists entirely in my being a thinking thing. And although perhaps I have a body that is very closely joined to me, nevertheless, because on the one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, insofar as I am merely a thinking thing and not an extended thing, and because on the other hand I have a distinct idea of a body, insofar as it is merely an extended thing and not a thinking thing, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body, and can exist without it[/b][/quote]


It is obvious that Descartes\' arrival of the human essence as a "thinking thing" in this way is fully based on his beliefs of radical doubt and clear and distinct perception. He bases all of his inferences on other inferences.


Descartes also devaluates the human body and places the mind at the essence of the human existence based on his concept. Due to his radical doubt, Descartes quickly omits the body and the entire physical world as having any significance because of the simple fact that they can be doubted. He establishes a strong sense of doubt in his senses, because, according to Descartes, one cannot know clearly and distinctly that they are not being deceived into their physical sensations. Descartes thus condemns the significance of the body when he proclaims that it is "not a substance endowed with understanding". He places the body into the physical, unintelligible realm of his concept of dualism, opposite from the thinking, knowledgeable realm. Descartes now acknowledges the body as being useful only within the limits of "moving from one place to another, of taking on various shapes, and so on".


It is from this condemnation of the body into the physical, unintelligible realm that Descartes further places the mind on a pedestal, and at the essence of human existence. To him the mind is superior because it thinks, which is in itself our essence. He explains this in the indented quote I have already cited, saying that the mind can exist without the body. Analyzing things with radical doubt clearly finalizes all of Descartes\' ideas.


Therefore, Descartes\' argument is not valid because of the fact that it is solely derived from assumptions. His idea of the superiority of the mind is based on the assumption that humans are thinking things, which itself is based on the assumption of clear