Self, Identity, and Consciousness

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On the subject of dualism vs. materialism, Descartes and Hume are compared and contrasted.
Both Descartes and Hume believe that dualism is plausible in the sense that people are made up of two distinct kinds of substances. In his first meditation, Descartes raises the possibility of a person being separate from their body. He claims that the mind is frequently a subject of fantasy and imagination, as opposed to a person’s physical matter, which is the reality. In his first meditation, he uses the example of a dream. He paints a picture where in his dreams, he represents to himself the same things or sometimes even the less probable things, than do those who are insane in their waking moments (7). He gives the example of one night, where he dreamt that he found himself in this particular space, that he was dressed and seated near the fire, whilst in reality he was lying undressed in bed. This shows a mind or sense that is deceitful, and therefore, utterly distinct from the physical matter that is in a state of truth. Descartes strengthens this by stating that the senses sometimes deceive us concerning things which are hardly perceptible, or very far away. In the fourth meditation Descartes also goes on, in an apparent affirmation of dualism, to say how he has detached his mind from his senses. He claims to have accurately observed that there are very few things that one knows with certainty respecting corporeal objects, that there are many more which are known to one respecting the human mind, and yet more still regarding God Himself. These distinction in the things one knows in respect to corporeal objects and those in respect to the human mind is a testament to dualism. Similarly, Hume is willing to accept the concept of dualism. He has a remarkable argument on the subject of immateriality of the soul. According to Hume, thought and extension are qualities wholly incompatible. This is a supportive argument to the concept of dualism that presumes a clear distinction between physical matter and the non-physical mind. Hume continues to state that thought and extension can never incorporate together into one subject.

Unlike Hume who blatantly disregards materialism, Descartes does not have a clear position on this subject. On one hand, Descartes gives examples that may be considered a support of materialism. A good instance is that where he, in his first meditation, paints a scenario where he at that moment when he is awake, is looking at a paper (8). In that moment, it appears to him that his head, which he can move, is not asleep and that it is deliberately and of set purpose that he extends his hand and perceives it. This real-life action is in distinction to what happens in his sleep that does not appear as clear or as distinct in comparison. When Descartes thinks over this in his head, however, he reminds himself that on many occasions he has in sleep been deceived by similar illusions, and in dwelling carefully on that reflection, he sees so manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep. It is from this train of thought that Descartes decides that it could actually be possible that what is happening to him, the moving of paper and extending of hand, could actually be a dream. This is justification of the unifying of man and matter, a definition of materialism. On the other hand, Descartes disregards materialism, likening to the reasoning at the core of materialism to insanity. Under materialism, man and matter are considered one and the same, and that there is no mysterious, unobservable force that guides individuals’ action. If the mind were to convince oneself therefore, that they are rich, even if they are not, then it is a fact that one is rich. This, Descartes likens to the reasoning of mad people who are “devoid of sense, whose cerebella are so troubled and clouded by the violent vapors of black bile, that they constantly assure us that they think they are kings when they are really quite poor, or that they are clothed in purple when they are really without covering, or who imagine that they have an earthenware head or are nothing but pumpkins or are made of glass.” (7). As for Hume, his condemnation for materialists is direct and explicit. He condemns them for conjoining all thought with extension. This was, in fact, the basis of his criticism of the relation between cause and effect. His reasoning that the reason why cause and effect is mistakenly inferred is because of past experiences rather than an actual relationship between the two concepts is basically a disaffirmation of materialism which tends to want to conjoin thought with extension as it would have in a situation where B has been seen to frequently follow A, and thereby want to assume that A cannot be present without there being B.

Comparing Descartes’ Theory to Locke’s Theory of self

Descartes’ theory is similar to Locke’s theory of self in that they both agree that the mind is different from the physical matter in its tendency to compare the being of things that may not necessarily be similar in the physical. The example given by Descartes regarding this tendency to compare is that of a dream. In a dream, things are represented to us that are like painted representations which can only have been formed as the counterparts of something real and true, and that in this way those general things at least, i.e. eyes, a head, hands, and a whole body, are not imaginary things, but things really existent. Locke refers this tendency to compare as basically being an identity. Identity to Locke here, is the need to see anything in any instant or place as similar to another thing seen in a different time, when the ideas this thing is attributed to do not vary at all from what they were that moment wherein we consider their former existence. Descartes and Locke also have similarities in the idea of the definition of God and His abilities. In the first meditation, Descartes basically resigns his desire to pursue his doubtfulness to there being God. He informs that he has long since fixed in his mind the belief an all-powerful God exists by whom he has been created such as he is (4). In the fourth meditation, he admits that his own doubtfulness is an admission of being an incomplete and dependent being, while there is a complete and independent being, who is God. Descartes has a certain conclusion that God exists, and that his existence depends entirely on God. Similarly, Locke points to there being no doubt about the identity of God who is “without beginning, eternal, unalterable, and everywhere” (1). Lastly, Descartes’ and Locke’s ideas on personal identity seem to be similar. Descartes regards himself as a product of wit and free will-that has led to his imperfections and the errors he has made. He considers himself a product of the knowledge he has set out to acquire and the free will he has been given by God that is “sufficient, ample, and perfect” (20). The same way, Locke interprets the personal identity of someone as consistent of his intelligence or way of thinking as the first thing, which is very basically a product of the knowledge acquired. The second component of identity, according to Locke, is consciousness. He implies consciousness as the knowledge someone has when they see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will anything. This consciousness is, evidently, similar to Descartes second component that is free will.

Works Cited

Drefcinski, Shane. A Very Brief Summary of David Hume. UW-Platteville, Accessed 23 Sep. 2017.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Philosophical Works of Descartes. Translated by Elizabeth S. Haldane, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Locke, John. Of Identity and Diversity. Chapter XXVII. Accessed 23 Sep. 2017.

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