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Compare, Contrast and Evaluate Descartes and Hume on the Mind and Mentality

Autor:   •  November 17, 2011  •  Case Study  •  994 Words (4 Pages)  •  4,911 Views

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Compare, contrast and evaluate Descartes and Hume on the mind and mentality

Rene Descartes (1596) and David Hume (1711) are considered as two of the most important philosophers of all time, both having a profound effect on the philosophical world; both philosophers are associated explicitly with two separate schools of philosophy, Rationalism and Empiricism. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy summarises both doctrines succinctly:

“Rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience. Empiricists claim that sense experience is the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.”

Ultimately this division between Rationalism and Empiricism is what allows for Descartes and Hume to presetn to differing accounts on the mind and mentality; Descartes builds his theories around the rationalistic doctrine that the contents of the mind, kowledge and concepts are ultimately gained independent of sense data. Where as Hume shows explicitly that in fact the contents of the mind can only be traced to one source, sense data.

In order to fully compare, contrast and evaluate Descartes and Hume on the issue of mind and mentality we must explore them in detail, starting with Descartes. Descartes meditations provide a detailed account of his theory of the mind and mentality, starting with Meditation 2.

Following on from the first meditation, Descartes establishes his own existence with the famous cogito: “in conclusion, take as assured that the proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true, every time I express it or conceive of it in my mind.” (M2.3)

Now that Descartes has established that he exists, he must explore the nature of this existence, summarising that he is indeed a thinking thing. “I am therefore, precisely speaking, only a thing which thinks, that is to say, a mind.” (M2.7)

The next step along for Descartes is a definition of a thing that thinks, i.e. a definition of the mind:

“What is a thing that thinks? That is to say, a thing that doubts, perceives, affirms, denies, wills, does not will, that imagines also, and which feels.” (M2.9)

This is the foundation from upon which Descartes metaphysical account expands from, establishing what he believes to the contents of the mind, its different faculties, such as perception, imagination, intellect and will.

The three of these faculties which Descartes explores intently are imagination, sensation and intellect, with all three being intertwined closely.

Descartes illustrates his discourse regarding the functions of the mind thoroughly with the example of wax; asking us to consider a piece of wax, listing all its properties


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