ESSAY III: On paradoxes and the Cartesian mind
Write an essay of about 6 pages (double-spaced: about 1400 to 1500 words).
Your essay is due on Monday, June 11, 2018, 12:00 noon.
Your TA will instruct you on how to turn in your essay (in electronic or hard copy).
Reminder: Your Essay III is worth approximately 40% of your final course grade, and this essay is in lieu of a Final Exam (there is no separate Final Exam).
[Suggested word counts are approximate guides only.]
Your task is to write a coherent essay that displays understanding of key concepts from our course and how they apply to our reading of Descartes with an eye to the nature of mind and time.
A. Descartesâ€™ â€œdemonâ€ and the â€œcogitoâ€. [600 words]
In the First of his Meditations Descartes uses the hypothesis of a â€œmalicious demonâ€ to argue that our ordinary beliefs about the world around us are not certain. Thus, he writes, â€œI will suppose therefore that â€¦ some malicious demon â€¦ has employed all his energies in order to deceive me.â€ (p. 15)
What is the aim of Descartesâ€™ meditations? What is his method of doubt? How does the â€œdemonâ€ hypothesis work in his method of doubt? Why does he write in the first person?
In the Second of his Meditations Descartes spells out his famous principle called the â€œcogitoâ€: â€œI think, therefore I amâ€ (in Latin: cogito ergo sum). According to Descartes, whenever I am thinking â€œI amâ€, I am certain that I exist.
Explain how the cogito is supposed to work. What is its particular aim in the Meditations? Why is the cogito formulated in the first person (â€œI think â€¦â€)?
B. The â€œcogitoâ€ as pragmatic paradox. [250 words]
Sorensen defines a pragmatic paradox and how it differs from a traditional paradox (such as the Liar Paradox: â€œI am now lyingâ€). He then defines a pragmatic tautology. Briefly define a pragmatic paradox and a pragmatic tautology: see Sorensen, Chapter 12, pp. 162, 169.
On Sorensen â€˜s analysis (pp. 168-171), comparing Descartesâ€™ formulation with Augustineâ€™s much-earlier formulation: the cogito presents a pragmatic tautology. Explain. Do you find this analysis correct, that is, that Descartesâ€™ cogito forms a pragmatic tautology? If so, does Descartesâ€™ cogito defeat the â€œdemonâ€? How does Descartesâ€™ cogito principle gain certainty?
Why is the cogito formulated in the first person (â€œI think â€¦â€)? If the pronoun â€œIâ€ were replaced by the name â€œDescartesâ€, would the third-person principle â€œDescartes thinks, therefore he existsâ€ still be a pragmatic tautology?
C. The â€œcogitoâ€ and time. [500 words]
Sorensen observes that Augustine, given his early formulation of the cogito, concludes that time is subjective (pp. 173-176). Consider how Descartes might respond to this Augustinian view of time.
What role if any does time play in Descartesâ€™ cogito and so in his course of argument in the Meditations? If time is unreal, i.e., does not exist, would Descartesâ€™ cogito defeat the demon? If time is merely subjective, i.e., a feature of oneâ€™s mind or consciousness, would Descartesâ€™ cogito still defeat the demon?
This is an occasion for you to reflect on how philosophical evaluation of paradoxes may lead us to a perspective on our knowledge of the world in which we live.
Consider for a moment how common in todayâ€™s media are everyday views that (i) oneâ€™s mind is whatâ€™s happening in oneâ€™s brain and so (ii) a computer that mimics brain activity is thinking.
Note on sources:
The texts on which you are to draw are (as assigned for the course):
â€¢ RenÃ© Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (edition: translated and edited by John Cottingham, Revised Edition, Cambridge University Press, 1996).
â€¢ Roy Sorensen, A Brief History of the Paradox (Oxford University Press, 2003).
â€” Do not use any other outside sources! Your essay is an exercise in your own thinking about ideas developed in the assigned texts.