Category Archives: Class notes

Philosophical Foundations 1/20/10

Descartes – French – Jesuit education
He’s not really a skeptic. He wants to prove the existence of God, and that the mind is distinct from the body.

He keeps re-centering himself on doubting everything that comes from the senses.

Movie: “The Name of the Rose”
At this time, the Sorbonne was a very well-respected center of learning.

Natural credulity principle

Descartes – would have had to do Ignatian spiritual exercises

Meditation 1
The senses have deceived us. Dreams. Mirage. Typical sense deception. Small things.
Atypical sense deception – people are robots; props looking like trees and barns. Matrix. Logical possibilities, if not probable.

Dreams – he could be dreaming – problem because it is not real. When you are dreaming, unless it’s a lucid dream, you think it’s real.
But dreams are based on things which actually exist. We have an idea of corporeal nature in general. Had to have gotten this from experience.

First principles come from disciplines such as arithmetic and geometry.

If God lets me be deceived sometimes, could He let me be deceived all the time?

We have feelings of certitude about things which are false.

Can you really withdraw your assent to all beliefs? Not really.

“-doxy” = “belief”

If you do this, you are making yourself crazy. It is our natural tendency to be credulous.

He doesn’t start with beliefs, but with the method of doubt.
Descartes believes we can control our assent.

He concentrates on knowledge and not action because to live in the world, we need to believe in certain things, e.g. the floor, etc.

He hypothesizes an evil genius.
Everything he’s known before could be false. About discernment. What is the truth?

Satan as both a person/presence and a privation of good.

If you think you are continually getting misinformation, it makes a certain amount of sense to try and get rid of all prior knowledge and re-discover truth.

Doxastic habits

Meditation 2

External senses (5)
Internal senses: memory, imagination, common
Descartes rejects all sense information.

If I was persuaded, then I must have existed. If I was deceived, then I must have existed.

If I think “I am, I exist.” – This is necessarily true.

Nicomacian ethics – Aristotle

We perceive that we perceive
We think that we think

This means that we exist

Something beyond the thinking that thinks.

Can a thought exist without a thinker?
If you stop thinking, do you stop existing?

[Lack of critical thinking – lack of true living, true citizenship?]

Maybe thinks of some sort of power of thought. He identifies his “I.” He identifies his self with thought. I am this mind, this reason. He hasn’t said anything about a soul yet. But, doesn’t there need to be some substance underlying these powers? We are not always thinking – it is sometimes on and sometimes off.

He’s looking for something we do that doesn’t involve the body. We need our body to sense things. (Dreaming uses internal senses.) They used to think internal senses were located in the brain and external senses were located in the sense organs.

Mind connected to the brain – evidence;

Brain injury
You can consume things that affect your thinking

Is there any part of the mind which doesn’t depend on the body?

Hemispherectomy – re-learn or re-wire functions onto remaining tissue

Mind as a power of the soul

Mind is connected to the brain, but can transcend the brain.


Sight : Color Mind : Brain
Mind : Image Sight : Eyeball

The mind needs something to think with

Images come from imagination, which come from the brain. A reverberation of sense perception. We learn from particulars, from examples.

Mind and soul are technically distinct.

(Descartes – certain he exists. He’s a thinking thing. Doesn’t know about the body.)

Soul – according to Aquinas – in an act and a potentiality. Mind is one potential of the soul. Soul and the body are actualized (come into existence) together/at the same time.

Example of the wax:

Pretty much everything about it changes as it gets close to the fire.

Do we actually see wax? No. We sense the accidental properties. Wax is just a concept of my mind underlying these accidentals. Preference for mind, which can think more universally than your imagination or your senses.
It is extended, flexible, mutable.
Mind alone perceives the essence of the wax.

Things we see that we don’t really see:

Man walking across the street, but could be a robot
We never see concepts – wind is a concept
We speak in universals. We don’t see essences.

Descartes wants to get very precise.

Philosophical Foundations 1/13/10

Descartes – I think therefore I am

Jesuit schools
Thought he could prove the existence of God

But his philosophy ends up lending itself to atheist and agnostic belief structures

He was looking for absolute certainty

Kant – starts with subject and moves to the world, unlike other philosophers

What does Descartes think the human person is?

Dualism = mind/body separation

Thinking substance and extended substance
Body is not who you are as a person

Catholic outlook – without either body or soul, you are not a person

(Aquinas says only separated souls are currently in heaven, and are not persons)

[If reasoning is bad to some Protestants, how can they believe in solo scriptura?]

Soul – exists like a substance after death, but isn’t a substance

We all have a collection of beliefs.
In the bottom, in the foundation, are the beliefs upon which the other beliefs rely and which are self-evident, such as 1+1=2. There are incorrigible beliefs – which other people can’t call into question, such as what’s going on in your head.

Many people believe that to be rational means that you need to have arguments supporting your belief structure

Do I have to prove everything I know?

We have many more beliefs than concrete knowledge.

Start from particular beliefs, don’t start with a method.

Epistemology – the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge; it asks: What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? What do people know? How do we know what we know?

Intuition – what you know without argument; understanding without apparent effort; the act by which the mind perceives the agreement or disagreement of two ideas

Dark night of the soul – contemplation in the presence of God – mystical knowledge of God – intuition through inspiration. 460 – through charity this knowledge is communicated to the intellect – intellect is unable to operate – the darker the night, the closer you are to God. When we get charity, we become like God –> connaturality – to know something by becoming like it.