Outline Of Descartes' Wax Argument

688 words - 3 pages

Outline of the “Wax Argument”
In Descartes’ meditation, he proposes an argument for his inability to trust his senses using the concept of wax. We shall analyze this argument in respect to its relationship between the mind and the body. This argument is illustrative of his uncertainty of the body and supremacy of the mind. He uses the wax as a representative of the body. Both the wax and the body are extended stuff, which exist in the material world. The goal of Descartes’ meditation is to gain an understanding of the physical substances, making this argument a critical analogy towards his point. I will structure my paper as follows. I will first lay the premise of his argument derived from the previous meditation. In the next section, I will discuss his argument and its implications regarding the senses. Finally, I will draw upon Descartes conclusions and direction he must take from there to obtain his overall goal of the ...view middle of the document...

These properties that he discusses are all ones that are brought about through uses of his senses; the taste of the honey, the smell of the comb, the appearance of it, even the sound that is made upon taping on it. This substance and all of these properties that it embodies are perceived by Descartes to be wax. He then brings this wax to a fire and watches as these properties begin to deform before his eyes. “ But, while I am speaking, let it be placed near the fire--what remained of the taste exhales, the smell evaporates, the color changes, its figure is destroyed, its size increases, it becomes liquid, it grows hot, it can hardly be handled, and, although struck upon, it emits no sound.” (Descartes, Meditation II, 11) Despite these changes in all of the properties which he previously observed, the substance which he is holding is still wax. The point demonstrated here is key to his argument about the mind trumping his senses. All of his senses perceived a substance to be wax, yet after it was changed in every aspect of his senses the substance still remained to be wax. This follows that his senses are not what allows him to truly perceive the wax. It is the mind which allows us to understand what this extended stuff is, independent of the senses.
In conclusion, Descartes has denied the ability of his senses to fully perceive wax, and is not capable of grasping what the wax is through means of his imagination. This leads Descartes to concede that it is in fact it is his mind alone that allows him to understand the wax through intellect. Going back to the analogy, we can see recall how wax is being used as the surrogate body in this example. Both the wax and the body are extended substances, and for this purpose we will see them as bodies. If it follows that only the mind is capable of perceiving the wax void of his senses, then it also follows that the nature of the body is something that can only be understood by intellect. With the inability to fully grasp the external world, Descartes ends his second meditation left with the idea that he is a “thinking thing” (Descartes, Meditation II). From here he needs to be able to trust his senses so that he can ponder the existence of material things.

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