Modern Western Philosophy Descartes-Epistemology for Tripura PSC Exam

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Complete Video at - Modern Western Philosophy: Descartes - Epistemology (Philosophy)

Cogito ergo sum

  • According to Descartes, cogito ergo sum or I think, therefore I am is not an inference but a simple fact of primitive knowledge.
  • In other words, it is a self-evident axiom.
  • It is not an inference because then it would be dependent on premises for its certainty and then again those premises would be dependent on other premises for their certainty.
  • As a result, it would lead to Infinite regress and indubitable truth cannot be reached.
  • According to Descartes, cogito ergo sum means that my consciousness is the means of revealing myself as something existing.
  • So, it is indubitable truth of inseparability of I as existing and I as thinking.
  • So, the therefore in I think, therefore I am is not a step in inference, rather, it means a necessary connection.
  • Descartes՚ doubt is hence, a logical doubt and not a psychological one because it is deliberate or it is dependent on our will.
  • It is also important to note that Descartes՚ doubt is not scepticism.
  • He does not assert that whatever can be doubted is false, rather, he is only supposing it to be false.

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Criteria of Truth

  • According to Descartes, an idea must be present to the mind, it must be open to the mind, and the mind must also attend to it.
  • So, clearness and distinctness are the two criterions of truth.
  • Descartes uses these two because he believed that an idea must be clearly given meaning the mind must include in it that content which is integral and complete in relation to mind՚s interpretation of it and it must never be confused with something else.
  • So, clearness and distinctness are the two criterions of truth.
  • Descartes gives an example of such idea, according to him, the idea of God is clear and distinct.
  • It is clear because it includes all that goes in constituting the idea of God, and it is distinct because it includes nothing else that it can be confused with.
  • Hence, Descartes concludes that ideas of existent things must be clear and distinct to be existent.

Cartesian Dualism

  • According to Descartes, consciousness and extension are independent of each other.
  • He says, in-order to know consciousness, one need not refer to extension.
  • Similarly, in-order to know extension, one need not refer to consciousness.
  • So, consciousness or mind and extension or body are independent of one another.
  • They are two independent substances. This dualism of mind and body is important according to Descartes because human beings have both, mind and body.
  • The human body, like all other organic bodies is a mere machine.
  • The moving principle of this machine is the heat in the heart.
  • In other words, the relation of the soul to the body is of the nature of the pilot to his machine.
  • In Descartes՚ words, there can be no real relation between body and soul for they are diametrically opposed to one another.


  • Descartes believed that every human being possessed a mind and body but in the case of idiots or infants the presence of mind was doubtful but they were for sure bodies.
  • For Descartes the body is an automata, a mechanical being which functions according to the mechanical laws of the space because it belongs to the physical world.
  • As a result, body and its activities can be inspected by the observers of the physical world.
  • On the other hand, mind is a thinking being which is not subjected to the mechanical laws of the space because it does not exist in space, it belongs to the mental world.
  • Hence, the workings of the mind are inscrutable to other observers.
  • Therefore, one maybe not always know of what is happening around in one՚s surroundings in the physical world but will have a direct and incontrovertible knowledge of what is going on in one՚s mind and never in others.
  • Thus, Descartes links the opposition between mind and body to the hierarchal formation of knowledge regarding the superiority of the mind over and above the body.

According to Descartes, There is Some Relation between Mind and Body

  • He says, the interactionism between mind and body exists because a great many bodily activities can be explained in terms of reflexes.
  • Similarly, sensing, imagining, remembering are mental acts but the objects referred to are not mental.
  • Hence, he explains the interactionism between mind and body.
  • He first explain how body acts on mind;
    • Body affects the sense-organs of the percipient՚s own body.
    • This bodily affection moves towards subtle animal spirits in the nerves.
    • The movement of the animal spirit terminates in the pineal gland which is the seat of the soul.
    • The soul is an indivisible substance and occupies the pineal gland which is undivided portion of the brain.
    • A physical impression is left on the pineal gland which serves as the occasion of the origin of consciousness.
  • Similarly, mind acts on body;
    • Mind moves the animal spirit in the pineal gland.
    • Pineal gland courses through the muscles and leads to bodily movement.
  • Therefore, this is how Descartes explain interactionism between mind and body.


Q1. According to Descartes, cogito ergo sum is


A. I think, therefore, I am

B. Self evident axiom

C. Indubitable truth

D. All of these

Answer: D

Q2. Descartes՚ doubt is


A. Logical in nature

B. Scepticism

C. Both A and B

D. None of these

Answer: A

3. The two criteria of truth, according to Descartes are;


A. Clearness and distinctiveness

B. Clearness and distinction

C. Clearness and distinctness

D. All of these

Answer: C

4. The relation between mind and body is that of


A. Parallelism

B. Interactionism

C. Distinctiveness

D. Pre-established harmony

Answer: B

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āœ Manishika