The Only Certainty is Being a Thinking Thing -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

The Only Certainty is Being a Thinking Thing

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Rene Descartes’ “Meditation Two” continues the first meditation’s method of determining what is certain within his reality. “Meditation One” concluded that it is possible for everything to be a deception and perhaps non-existent, including his own body. However, he realizes that he must be experiencing thoughts at the moment. Also, because he is experiencing something, he must exist. The only thing he knows, therefore, is that he is a thinking thing.

Now, it is a bold thing to say that everything may be false. One’s entire perception of reality can change once this statement is accepted; hence, it is important to examine this premise, as it is essential for the workings of Descartes’ argument. Descartes describes how there may be “some supremely powerful and . . . malicious deceiver who deliberately tries to fool [Descartes] in any way he can” (26). If this is the case, then the entire world surrounding Descartes may be false. This deception may even include his own body. Yes, he senses and feels that he has a body, but this of course could be deceiving.

If he lacks a body, then he also lacks all bodily functions. He does not nourish himself with food the way he imagines himself doing so. He also does not move around as he has always believed. These things come to his mind because he senses them, but the senses may be deceiving. The mere fact that he senses something does not mean that these sensations are real. After all, he has sensed many things in dreams, and those were only figments of his imagination. Who is to say that the senses in his waking hours are not just as imagined?

Now, all of Descartes’ supposed bodily functions may not be real, including those which feed input into his mind. However, he knows that he is experiencing something, whether it is real or not. Experiencing anything requires thought. “Thought exists; it alone cannot be separated from me” (27). Thoughts must be running through him in order for this thought process to occur.

Moreover, he needs to exist in order to experience this thought process. Therefore, as long as he experiences something – or rather, as long as he has thoughts – he exists. He may not be a human body, he may not even be a tangible object. For all he knows – which, at this point, is very little – he may simply be an invisible vapor with absolutely no physical characteristics. Whatever the case may be, he necessarily exists in some form.

Descartes has now realized that he only knows two things: he must be thinking, and he must exist. Therefore, he is necessarily a thinking thing. He may be “a mind, or intellect, or understanding, or reason” (27). However, he can not know for sure. The only certainty is that he is a thinking thing.

To summarize the argument, then:

Everything may be deceiving.

His thoughts must exist.

He must exist.

.*. The only thing he knows is that he is a thinking thing.

On the other hand, what if he is not even thinking? Yes, he is experiencing thoughts, but they may not be of his own design. If a deceiver of some sort is able to feed all forms of sensory into Descartes, then he may be just as able to feed thoughts as well. Descartes’ entire thought process, then, may merely have been another creation of this deceiver. If this is the case, then Descartes is not even being deceived; he is simply being used. Instead of being fooled, he is a puppet. He can no longer be considered even a thinking thing. The only certainty is that he is a thing.

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