The Sixth Meditation: Descartes and the embodied self

Brown, Deborah (2014). The Sixth Meditation: Descartes and the embodied self. In David Cunning (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Descartes' Meditations (pp. 240-257) Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCO9781139088220.013

Author Brown, Deborah
Title of chapter The Sixth Meditation: Descartes and the embodied self
Title of book The Cambridge Companion to Descartes' Meditations
Place of Publication Cambridge, United Kingdom
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Publication Year 2014
Sub-type Research book chapter (original research)
DOI 10.1017/CCO9781139088220.013
Open Access Status
Series Cambridge Companions to Philosophy
ISBN 9781107018600
Editor David Cunning
Chapter number 12
Start page 240
End page 257
Total pages 18
Total chapters 15
Collection year 2015
Language eng
Formatted Abstract/Summary
The following discussion considers two ways in which Descartes approaches the nature of the self. It is proposed that the Meditations answers two distinct questions – What am I? and Who am I? Even though the text answers each question differently, we should not regard the two answers as in conflict with one another. A deeper appreciation of Descartes’ comments about the self throughout his corpus helps to reduce the apparent conflict between the self he defines as a ‘thinking thing’, and the self as constituted by a mind-body union. Contrary to what may seem to follow from the Second Meditation identification of self and thinking thing, a case can be made that our natural state is the lived experience of the embodied self. To remove ourselves from this state takes an extraordinary and unsustainable effort.

The exercise in which we are about to engage has important ramifications for how we think about Descartes’ contribution to metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. We are all familiar with a certain caricature of the self that Descartes is alleged to have propagated, and one that contemporary philosophers of mind are apt to use when setting up their own views in opposition. Paul Churchland writes, for example, that “as Descartes saw it, the real you is not your material body, but rather a nonspatial thinking substance, an individual unit of mind-stuff quite distinct from your material body.” To accept this caricature requires ignoring a vast amount of textual material and assuming that the “you” in Churchland’s statement would have been unambiguous for Descartes. Terms referring to the self are indeed ambiguous for Descartes, and unavoidably so.
Q-Index Code B1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

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Created: Fri, 21 Feb 2014, 10:19:26 EST by Lucy O'Brien on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry