Sixth meditation

The essence of material things, and the real distinction between mind and body

13th October 2020

At the end of the second meditation there still is a critical unsolved question: do bodies exist?


  1. The distinction between understanding (intellect) imagination and senses
  2. The argument for the real separation
  3. The demonstration of the existence of bodies
  4. The interaction between mind and body
  5. The function of sensations
  6. The cause of some errors of the senses

(in the 5th meditation, the true essence of the bodies. The existence of the external world is the last thing Descartes proves)

Imagination means to use matter to represent a purely intellectual concept:

So the difference between this mode of thinking [imagining] and pure understanding may simply be this: when the mind understands, it in some way turns towards itself and inspects one of the ideas which are within it; but when it imagines, it turns towards the body and looks at something in the body which conforms to an idea understood by the mind or perceived by the senses.

The existence of bodies can be proved because I can’t choose not to feel or not to perceive something, if I could, then again the mind would be in control of everything. Since I can’t, I must acknowledge that there ore other bodies.

I can know and understand myself without the senses and perception, but I can’t explain them without me. Since my faculty of perception is passive, it must necessarily be that such perceptions come from an external source.

I can infer (p. 61) that if two entities appear to me as separate, they are indeed different and not one. Thus, having proved that my mind is independent from my body, I can say that my body and my mind are separate and independent and I can live without my body. These two substances are detachable at least by God.

Two possible sources of perceptions:

  • God
  • external bodies

Why can’t it be God?
There is no way for us to understand/prove it’s him who give us those ideas. He wouldn’t be supremely good if he hided from us the true source of our perceptions.
God doesn’t directly give the sensory feelings to us. Doing this would make him a deceiver, since he gave us no faculty to understand the source of our impressions, which otherwise seem to come from external bodies.

How can we therefore explain ill-considered judgments?

Our body leads us towards a tendency as a machine which is completely unaware of the context. Most of the time, for our own good, this natural tendency is good for our well being, but our mind has to intervene and mitigate impulses when such tendencies are not healthy. The same goes with a clock displaying a wrong time: it continues to work according to the same principles even if the time is wrong.

The body, as every earthly body, is divisible, while the mind is not. The receptor of sensory stimuli is the same, and sometimes it may not interpret in the right way perceptions from different sources.



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