Descartes: Mind and Body (Outline)

I. Background (1596 - 1650).

  • A. Education at La Fleche.
  • B. Mathematics.
  • C. Trial of Galileo.
  • D. Discourse on Method.

II. Introduction #1 - #3

  • A. Importance of self-consciousness. Cf. Aristotle. God's consciousness vs. human consciousness.
    1. Hegel's praise of Descartes. (intro. quote)
  • B. The importance of method to offset deficiencies of reason; the importance of instruments to offset deficiencies of senses.
    1. Details of Descartes' method.
  • C. The meaning of the word "discourse" for Descartes.
    l. Private reflection vs. Socratic conversation.
    2. Discourse part of "outer" dimension; recall Stocism.
    3. Inwardly revolutionary and outwardly conforming; pursuit of the truth vs. pleasing the Church; wearing a mask.
    4. Ideas clear and distinct; externals obscure and confused.

III. Descartes' Motivations (#4 - #6)

  • A. Avoid controversy with the Church.
    1. Traditional medieval metaphysical agenda: existence of God, proof of the immortality of the soul etc.
    2. Appeal to theologians; distraction.
  • B. Install new mechanistic view of nature on the basis of mathematics.
    1. Nature a machine; matter in motion.
    2. No animal or plant souls or natural tendencies.
    3. All motion caused by external causes or forces.
    4. Animals and human bodies are complicated machines (like clocks).
    5. Human beings have "souls."
  • C. Physics a product of the mind (reason).
    1. Solitary and detached self-consciousness arrives at clear and
    distinct ideas. Ideas of math are innate.
    2. Idea of geometric 3-dimensional body arrived at by the mind.
    3. Physics based on mathematics. (cf. ballistics)
    4. Sciences based on Physics.
    5. Technologies (applied sciences).
  • D. Scientific knowledge/technological knowledge.
    1. Private reflection and devising of mathematical systems aims at technologies to prolong bodily life and provide conveniences.
    2. Medicine.
    3. Algebraic Geometry.
    4. Technologies benefit all mankind (bodily).
    5. Private work (free of attachment to others individually and free of aesthetic attachment to nature) leads to impersonal physical benefit of mankind.

IV. Descartes' "Stoicism" or "Dualism" (#7 - #9)

  • A. Compartmentalization of mind and body for scientific not social
    purposes.
  • B. Realm of the mind (soul).
    1. Absolute freedom to accept or reject any opinion.
    a. the power to doubt all presuppositions.
    2. Certainty and complete order possible (can rebuild the city of the mind from scratch.
    3. One is king in ones own mind; absolute authority.
  • C. Realm of the body (and external bodies).
    1. Determined by external forces; not self-moving or self-caused.
    2. No certainty or reliability in external affairs or politics.
    3. One is subject to the authority of others (Church and State).
    4. Medicine important because it reduces vulnerability of the body.
    5. Other technologies increase control over nature.

V. Descartes' Metaphysics (#10 - #15)

  • A. Methodic doubt (for the sake of arriving at certainty)
    1. Doubt of all external sources or authorities: senses, teachers, etc.
    2. Doubt = detachment.
    3. Only mind using the right method can be counted on; reason is its own authority.
  • B. Cogito: the basis or certain foundation.
    1. Self-consciousness, self-evident and most obvious.
    2. The self a thinking thing; body uncertain.
    3. Evidence as presence to a mind, criterion of all evidence.
  • C. The existence of God -- proved on the basis of self-consciousness.
    1. The idea of the perfect.
  • D. Meditation requires detachment.
    1. The more we detach ourselves from sensation, the more we see ourselves as detached minds.
    2. This detachment leads to ideas (mathematical and scientific) that aid technology.
    3. Detachment from the senses and other persons leads to both scientific progress and "homelessness."

VI. Idea of Extension (Body) (#16 - #17)

  • A. Geometry + motion = physics.
  • B. Ballistics (alegebraic geometry).
  • C. Geometry anticipates all three-dimensional objects; physics describes all matter in motion.
  • D. Sciences a product of the mind; experimentation verifies what mathematical physics has already worked out.
  • E. Mathematical physics a product of reason and therefore clear and distinct ideas (certain).

VII. Ethics and Politics (#18 - #20)

  • A. No precision possible.
  • B. Technological progress vs. moral and social progress.
  • C. The advantages of anonymity and detachment.
  • D. The price of technological progress.

Direct inquiries and comments to:

Copyright © 1997 - 2013 Gordon L. Ziniewicz

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.