Cory Ruda Arnauld’s Objections to Descartes’ Meditations After finishing the first draft of his Meditations, Rene’ Descartes

, a French Natural Philosopher renowned for his works in many fields of mathematics, and other modern day sciences, sent a copy to numerous peers, scholars of many nationalities and interests. His goal, in doing so, was nothing more than to complete and solidify the work he had been working on for so long by having those whom he sent his work reply with their objections and criticisms, in that, if those who he had sent them to (considered highly learned and intellectual men) couldn’t stump him with an objection, who could? One of those who Descartes asked advice of is a French Theologian and Philosopher by the name of Antoine Arnauld. Arnauld, who had for long respected Descartes and his views, took this opportunity to study his works further, and provided not just a philosophical view, but also a theological one, giving Descartes opinions by not just a great thinker, but also by a man of God, one whom the discourse was based. Arnauld replies to Descartes with two main groups of objections. Truly, there are three written in his letters, but the third does not really argue anything, just give minor comments on how Descartes explains and presents his ideas. Firstly, he sets out by questioning the legitimacy of Descartes’ complete view of how the mind and the body interact, yet that they are separate entities. Descartes centers much of the first few Meditations on this view, and justifies it by pointing out that since he knows indubitably that he exists as a thinking being (as demonstrated by the Second Meditation) and yet that he can also question the existence of his body, it only leads to the idea that the body and the mind are separate entities. Since this is fact, I can assess that there are no bodies whatsoever, thus I am something but not a body. Through this, Arnauld restates a previous objection that Descartes himself raises: How can you surmise that there are no bodies even if

you have doubts about yours or any other? Further more, through another reading of Descartes’ text, Arnauld questions another of Descartes finding related to the aforementioned: How can Descartes surmise that, since he isn’t aware of anything else belonging to his essence, there is nothing else belonging to it? He follows up by citing another of Descartes’ works, this time in the sixth Meditation which states that (1) if Descartes has a vivid and clear thought of something, God could have created it to exactly correspond to what Descartes’ thought is. (2) Since he can have both a clear thought of one thing as well as another, they are indeed two, since they can be separated by God and yet maintain their individual identities. Here is where Arnauld’s arguments truly begin. Arnauld argues that, if premise (1) is true, the knowledge had must be adequate, a tough task. He points out another conclusion from Descartes. This one states that (3) Descartes maintains the thought of his mind, which is a “things that doubts, understands, wills, and so on” thus there is no way it could be indistinct from the body. For this ( premise (2) and conclusion (3)) to be entirely true, Descartes would have to have the one and only true view of the mind, and how it relates to the body. Arnauld is not entirely swayed by Descartes assumption that that information is undeniable, and needn’t be proven. To argue against the idea that the body is but a shell that facilitates the mind’s functions (thus making this shell unmoving or thinking on its own) and that, to understand this as well as that the mind is the only thinking nature is to know the truth, Arnauld brings forward the concepts of species and genus. He uses these as relations to the body and mind, saying that body relates to mind as genus to species. By using this analogy, he claims that if one were to think of the genus, he could forget about the species, since the species is embodied in the genus (IE: In reference to the genus Equus, one need not specify horse, as it is already

assumed.) Arnauld follows with the idea that, since nowhere in Meditations does Descartes fully prove otherwise and state so completely and adequately, he can not be sure that it is wrong to say the body is not a part of the thinking being, or vice versa. He restates this same concept by relating the mind and body to a triangle inscribed within a semi circle. The angle in the semi circle is a right angle. This being so forms, with the diameter of the circle, a rightangled triangle. A person may know this, but not be sure of the fact that the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the right sides, or, as put, (P). By arguing the way Arnauld claims Descartes does, the man is completely confirmed that (P) is not so, even though he can’t be completely sure. Finally, to end this section, Arnauld tells of the analogy Augustine wrote, who Descartes based his ideas off of. It tells of how Augustine had likened his senses (sight, sound, etc.) to a ship. This is because, once those senses had brought Augustine to his destination, they were of no more use to him. He used them all he wanted up until now. However, now that the ships were gone and he was on dry land, he could tell that seeing truths through those senses was just about as useless as sailing on dry land. Basically, Arnauld likens the senses, in his view of Descartes’ view, to training wheels. The next section of Arnauld’s arguments question Descartes’ outlooks and proofs for God’s existence. He starts out questioning the way Descartes goes about proving His existence which are: (A) God exists if there is such an idea of God in me, and (B) Given that I possess an idea of God, the only source of my existence must be God. Arnauld questions this, wondering how Descartes can claim that falsity can be both in judgments and in ideas, but only “materially false” in ideas. Thus, he claims that Descartes wishes to say, “an infinite being (God) must exist since I can tell a story without such a being, yet I cannot tell a story without the concept representing something real to me.” Arnauld likens this to the concept of

cold, which represents to Descartes an idea that cannot be represented as a positive thing, or the idea will be materially false, since the idea represents a lack of heat, thus an absence. He finishes by questioning what the content of the idea stems from, which he claims Descartes would say, “ It stems from me, in so far that I come from nothing.” Thus, to Arnauld, the idea would come from nothing, which is impossible. The next objection to Descartes questioning of God’s existence is on Descartes question on if he could derive his existence from any but an infinite being, or even from himself. Arnauld questions how Descartes, who wants to take the phrase, “ Deriving one’s existence from oneself,” even in reference to God, could be taken positively. (IE: not as, “ Not derived from anything else.”) Arnauld questions that it would be impossible for, as Descartes says, for God to create himself. He agrees that mortal man’s existence must be derived positively, but God’s must be negatively, since not even He could create himself. He explains in detail that nothing could do so, since the natural light of reason alone testifies that this is impossible. Even without time being a complete, unbreakable thing, it is impossible for any to create itself, since it would never exist at all to do so, and thus, nothing can give what it does not have to give, namely, here, existence. He argues that it is ridiculous to even surmise that God should have a cause, and that, his being an infinite and perfect being, should maintain in its very essence that he exists, and that nothing else should be imagined. God exists because he exists. The first argument set out by Arnauld is the interaction of body and mind and their separation. His claim is that he proved this in the same area that he proved god’s existence. He states to Arnauld that everything within the mind’s essence must always be present in the mind. It is possible to exist with the mind alone, Descartes argues, and thus the mind is the mind as he knows it, sans all other things. He argues that, to have a complete understanding,

as Arnauld pointed out, was not meant as knowing every single piece of information about it (thus an adequate knowledge) but, to have a complete knowing of an item is to understand the item as a whole, and as cannot be separated from the rest without having to change what the item is. If an item, thusly, is incomplete, then it cannot exist on its own. Therefore, having a complete understanding of the thinking being that is the self does not entail the body, and having a complete view of the body is not having the thinking being in it, but only having the physical item, “Body.” Therefore, the body is not in the essence of the thinking being. He goes on to address Arnauld’s argument of the genus and the species, and bluntly says that Arnauld here is wrong. He points out that the genus, the grander category, may be thought of without the species (so Equus without horse) but the species may not be thought of without the genus (to define a horse properly is to have a creature in the Equus genus.) This analogy fails, since the thinking being can be thought of without the body, and vice versa. Descartes moves on quickly to reply to the semi circle with the triangle argument. Firstly, he states that neither the triangle nor the semi circle are complete substances, so the analogy to the body and mind does not work. Secondly, it is very possible to clearly imagine a triangle in the semi circle being right angled, and yet, not know that it had the property referred to as (P,) yet the body and mind can, again, be pictured separately. Finally, while it must be seen that the triangle has some sort of ratio to the semi circle, it can be imagined that the property (P) wouldn’t be, thus further disproving the analogy. It is not necessary that there is any relation, as the triangle in the semi circle, between the body and mind. His next reply is to the questioning of how he can know something exists by simply vividly and clearly understanding the differences and the apartness of two objects. He does this by defining a substance as something that exists completely by itself. He claims that

no one has perceived two substances that are of two different concepts by seeing them together and indistinct. To do so would be senseless. Thus, since the mind could be imagined apart from the body, and the body the mind, they are two distinct substances. His response to the objections concerning God begin with an explanation, a type of apology really, stating that Descartes is only going to dodge his opponents questions instead of really refuting them. He does so by explaining that Arnauld simply misunderstood his wording in the different sections. He starts off with Arnauld’s definition of “materially false.” Instead of understanding Descartes when he says this, Descartes claims that he argues only for the formally false aspects of it, and thus, not what Descartes wanted it to be understood as. The objection Arnauld had about “Cold” is explained that, what Arnauld was doing was talking about the idea of cold not as it should be, not as the intellectual event or representing this or that, as Descartes terms it. Materially false, as he says, only refers to the ability to draw falsity from the idea itself. Descartes continues by discussing his point that God derives his existence from himself positively and causally. He states that Arnauld misunderstood this statement. As Descartes meant it, it should prove that God needs no outside cause. He explains it as the idea that God’s power and infinite existence alone is the explanation of God’s existence, basically agreeing with Arnauld. However, in the idea that Arnauld believes Descartes has stated that God is both God’s cause and effect, Descartes disagrees. In no way did he mean to say this, and in fact, he claims that he stated the opposite by saying that God “in a certain way” stands in the same relation to himself as an efficient cause does to its effect. He simply believed it was too outrageous a claim to explain or worry about exhaustively. The arguments given by Arnauld could most definitely be considered worthy challenges of some of Descartes’ ideas, and the responses the gives to them are adequate

enough (even going above and beyond what could be expected in some sections.) Even as the reply, “You misunderstood me,” was given, Descartes chose to take up the argument anyway and explain exactly what was originally meant, and how Arnauld could have misread it. The largest problem, or objection, I may have to Descartes and his explanations are that I’m still not convinced with his reply to the first part of the objections concerning the human mind in which he discusses if it is possible that there may be introductions to the human mind that God has placed there that are not of the essence of the mind. He seems to think that the mind (in this case understandable as, “ The thinking being”) could not hold any thoughts or uses within it that are not known to the person, which seems, at its least bit, unlikely. These dormancies, or simply subconscious efforts exerted by the mind need not be known to us to exist, yet can still be there as well as be very important parts of the mind, thus being a part of its essence. Overall, the objections Arnauld put against Descartes were both important and useful to think about Descartes’ topics in new way. If nothing else, I’m sure Descartes at least reworded some parts of the Meditations, if not rewrote and pondered greatly on parts.

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