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René Descartes And Thomas Hobbes : A Dialogue

1467 words - 6 pages

René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes: A Dialogue

As one embarks on the incredible journey through Descartes’ meditations,
a plethora of doubts, criticisms and seemingly fundamental problems arise and block
one’s progress. No doubt, many of these can be attributed to the fact that we of the
twenty-first century come more than three and a half centuries after the brilliant mind of
Descartes (or shall we say, ‘that was Descartes’) spawned the immense framework of
philosophy that is contained within The Meditations. Consequently, we are biased by
more recent modes of thought that cannot address Cartesian issues at quite the same
level, as would an approach more contemporary to Descartes. It is for this reason that
criticisms or objections by Descartes’ contemporaries provides us with a much needed
alternative perspective, while at the same time preserving the historical context that is of
prime necessity in discussing matters such as this. In particular, the objections of the
well-known English philosopher, Empiricist and materialist, Thomas Hobbes, serve to
challenge, and with considerable depth at that, the Rationalism of Descartes.
Furthermore, Descartes’ Third Meditation seems by far the most problematic with respect
to unspoken assumptions, logical structure and even ambiguities of definition.
Consequently, this paper will attempt to discuss some of Hobbes’ objections to certain
logical propositions contained within Descartes’ Proof of the existence of God.
In Meditation III, Descartes introduces the concepts of formal reality (i.e.
the reality attesting to the nature or existence of an object or entity) and objective reality
(i.e. the formal reality possessed by the object or entity that is represented by an idea) and
immediately proceeds to make distinctions between the comparative realities of certain
entities. It is worthwhile to note that, at this point in the meditation, Descartes has already
stated the exact equality of all ideas insofar as their formal reality is concerned. In other
words, all ideas exist on a basis of equality. The distinctions referred to; arise only when
we consider the reality of the object or entity represented by those ideas, which, by
definition, is nothing but the objective reality of the idea. He writes thus:
“Unquestionably, those ideas that display substances to me are something
more and, if I may say so, contain within themselves more objective
reality than those which represent only modes or accidents.”1 (p.68)
Here, Descartes attempts to create a system of classification based on the degree (or
quantity) of objective reality possessed by various ideas. He maintains that substances
(which, he defines as merely those objects or entities that we can perceive) possess more
(objective) reality than do the modes of existence or accidents pertaining to those
substances. Further, Descartes writes:
“Again, the idea that enables me to understand a supreme deity,

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