Question 1: The New Philosophical Method by Descartes

Descartes’ new philosophical method takes a different turn from the old (Aristotle’s) philosophy, which dominated the later medieval period (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.84). The first feature that distinguishes the new philosophy from the traditional one is Descartes’ exclusion of substantial forms from explanatory principles within physics. The tradition instilled the notion that substantial form needed to exist as an immaterial principle in the area of material organization, resulting from a given thing and kind.

Descartes argued that although such a description could be true, it does not reveal any new/useful ideas about the bird. He, thus, argued that Scholastic philosophy could not discover new/useful knowledge (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.85). This too was the basis for Descartes’ rejection of the application of substantial form and concomitant ultimate causes in physics. He then used Meteorology essay and Discourse on Method to illustrate the attainment of comprehensible and thoughtful explanations through deductions of configuration and motion section, but not substantial forms.

Descartes wanted to emphasize the effectiveness and relevance of mechanistic principles for advancement in physical sciences. Through the use of these metaphysical principles, the old confusion between body and mind would be dispelled. According to Descartes, ascribing mental properties such as knowledge to physical things (like a stone) was a mistake. The goal of the new philosophy was, thus, to offer a clear distinction between ideas of mind and body (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.96). Another ground on which Descartes differs from Scholastics is his disapproval of the thesis on sensation as the main source of knowledge.

Aristotelian tenet, in which Scholastics believed, explained that at birth an individual owns a clean slate and it is the sensation that provides all the material required for intellectual understanding. Descartes argued that senses are bound to deceive, at times, and are thus unreliable knowledge sources. He also argued that the proposition was probabilistic nature hence doubtful. The uncertainty of knowledge is what dissatisfied Descartes. Therefore, he introduced absolute certainty consisting of distinct ideas of the mind to take the place of uncertain premises based on sensation.  

Question 2: The First “Item” Descartes’s Meditations

The first item that Descartes gets to know in his meditation is that he exists to think and question his existence (Miller and Jensen, 2009, p.87). On the other hand, Descartes states that most (if not all) beliefs can be doubted. He says senses have a tendency to deceive in some circumstances. Descartes proceeds to assert that there is no prudence in trusting a person or thing if deception ever emerged from associating with them, even if it happened once.

To expand the presentation on the need to doubt personal beliefs, Descartes divides sensation into ‘true’ and ‘false.’ An example in which true sensation is applicable is where an object appears minute from a distance when it is actually enormous. On the other hand, the false sensation is where activities such as sitting or reading, which seem real to an individual, actually happen in dreams (Miller and Jensen, 2009, p.86). These happen when a person is asleep. The doubtfulness of the sensation here stems from the inability to separate dreams and waking life.

Along with these mundane beliefs (sitting or reading), Descartes doubts the reliability of experimental science. He argues that observations that shape experimental science may originate from dream images. Although the correct answer to a mathematical question is the same whether in a dream or waking life, the reason behind mathematical calculations could simply be a sustained collective mistake (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.86). If such is the case, people who apply the reasoning make mistakes all the time.

The only firmly held belief of Descartes is the existence of a good God. In this regard, he argues that the possible universal deception in mathematical miscalculations contradicts the supreme goodness of God. Given that people make mistakes at times, Descartes’s skepticism leads him into supposing the existence of a cunning demon whose supreme power makes the efforts of Descartes to deceive him.

Although Descartes proof appears technical at first, it works for the person who realizes that the proposed doubts and falsehoods are not his personal beliefs as they are intended to clarify the supposed method. This realization also encourages concentration and enables keeping up with the steps to fully understand the method. Descartes used this argument to justify the mistakes he makes in all areas, the mathematics included. The methodological doubt is Descartes' way of clearing the preconceived opinions from the mind that have the potential to obscure the truth. His goal is to arrive at something free from doubt (indubitable truth), regardless of whether he is dreaming or being deceived by a demon. Such truth or metaphorical “axiom” may serve as a reliable source of specific knowledge.

Question 3: Descartes’ Ontological Proof for God’s Existence

Descartes’ ontological argument is very attractive due to his application of simple yet strong premises in proving God’s existence. To avoid a reoccurrence of traditional objections to the ontological argument, Descartes based his version on the definition of ‘God.’ The proof is informed by the theory of innate as well as the tenet of clear and distinct insight (Miller and Jensen 2009, p.92). This is because Descartes seems to draw his explanation from innate ideas with ‘given’ content, as opposed to an arbitrary way of describing God. In his explanation, God’s greatness is beyond human understanding.

The supremacy and perfection of God is the Descartes’ source of the idea of God’s existence (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.91). Contrarily, the simplicity of the proof and its formulation in varying forms is a cause of misunderstanding. The simplicity makes Descartes postulation appear more fallacious and basic compared to that of his predecessor Anselm. Confusion also arises when Descartes refers to the ontological reasoning as an informal self-evident proposition originating from the intuitiveness of a philosophically free mind. This statement raises questions about the reliability of the proof of God’s existence and creates an opportunity for objection.

Caterus is one of the philosophers that found difficulties in Descartes’ argument. Caterus and other critics spotted a logical error explanation of the mental to extra-mental illustration (Nolan, 2020). The illegitimacy of the inferences resulted from the inability to multiply ontological statements for excellently perfect islands and living lions, among other things whether existent or not. On the other hand, Leibniz observed that the ontological version by Descartes was not complete (Nolan, 2020). Descartes merely argued that the possibility of God’s existence or lack of contradictory claim would prove that God exists.

The proposition, thus, lacks antecedent of its conditioning. Kant also disagreed with the ontological proposition on grounds that existence is neither property nor predicate. Kant did not approve of Descartes’ idea of combining existence with the supremacy of perfect being and divine attributes. According to Kant, existence is simply a presumption of something hence is incapable of assigning new predicates.

Question 7: Berkeley’s Arguments for Idealism

In Berkeley’s metaphysics, objects of human knowledge can either be printed on the senses or perceptions attained through concentrating on passions and mind operations (Miller & Jensen 2009, p.108). The knowledge may also be the outcome of division, compounding, and representations of the already perceived ideas by the memory or personal imagination. Berkeley acknowledged the senses (such as touch, hearing, sight, taste, and smell) as the sources of ideas and perceptions that result in human knowledge (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.110).

In particular, sight is vital for the formation of ideas colors, and light while touch enables the recognition of texture, temperature, and quantity, among others. Ideas on odors are developed through smelling and taste allows for the discovery of flavor. The other sense is hearing and this is a responsible gathering of different sound tones and composition, and their transmission into the mind. Many of these senses may work together so that they are recognized through a common name and get the reputation of being one thing (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.111). For instance, human knowledge of objects (apple, stone, book, etc.) and feelings (pleasure, joy, hatred, etc.) stems from the recognition of taste, color, smell, or figures that work together and are perceived as a distinct item.

In general, Berkeley does not refute the actuality of objects but holds that skepticism about nature and presence can be dispelled through an immaterialist interpretation of the items. The collection of ideas is what proceeds from the objects, in Berkeley’s opinion. What needs to be elaborated here is how the combining of sensations to form the bundles of ideas takes place. For the formation of the collections, Berkeley expresses the need for co-occurrence or understanding of the tendency of ideas to accompany one another (based on experience).

Something else that is necessary is a guide to the process of identifying the collection of distinct items before naming them. Berkeley believed in a mind-dependent world consisting of ideas that derive their existence from perception (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.123). To him, the material world did not exist. Berkeley defined ideas as perceived things and placed minds (or spirits) as the perceivers. In this regard, he describes God as an infinite spirit whose existence is responsible for the formation of humans’ sensory ideas (p.124).  

Question 9: Philosophy of Mechanism and New vs. Old Materialism

In philosophy, a mechanism is the main form of materialism that emphasizes the use of matter and motion (along with relevant laws) to describe natural phenomena (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.136). The philosophy emerged due to the desire to eliminate what could not be observed through science or mathematical approach (substantial manifestations and occult attributes). This philosophy refuted the understanding of organisms by minimizing the focus on biological function and instead promoting the chemical and physical occurrences.

It did away with the spirit-body dualism. The mechanism is grouped into universal and anthropic. The universal mechanism is a global belief of nature while the anthropic mechanism concentrates human beings and the operations of their minds. Universal mechanists believed that the universe could be decomposed fully into motion and matter (or mechanical principles). On the other hand, the anthropic mechanism spread the understanding that all human aspects could be elaborated in mechanical terms.  

New vs. Old Materialism

The new materialism differs from the old in that it consistently moves the feminism focus to an increasingly ‘naturalistic’ topic. The subjects of concern include biology, expounding of the formerly restrictive sense of constructivism, and matter. One significant difference is noticed in their elaboration of matter (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.140). An opposition also becomes apparent in the explanation of the matter. According to old materialism, the matter could not be endowed with a soul, become a living thing, or undergo constant transformation. In other words, the definition of matter remained restricted to basic features such as shape, size, and motion. Contrarily, new materialism rejects the description of matter as passive or immutable.

Instead, it promotes focus on the matter as a sophisticated (open system) subject as far as emergent properties are concerned. As a result, the perception of matter as a probable causal body replaces the view of matter as a motionless substance. New materialism emphasis on self-construction, experience, and materiality appear more vivid compared to prior claims of the body staying on earth in the form of a statue or machine, and the likes (Wolfe 2017, p.217). The old descriptions boosted curiosity but neglected the world in which thinking and speaking are required.

Question 10: Identity Thesis

The identity thesis asserts that the processes and conditions of the mind are similar to those of the brain (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.141). This, however, does not mean that the two (mind and brain) are identical. In this theory, visualization, sight, or feelings are actual brain processes. Identity thesis may also appear to deny the existence of non-physical attributes that are irreducible. An instance is where some philosophers despite being brain processes, ‘experiences’ have psychical and non-physical features (at times known as qualia). Some theorists work with a behavioristic assessment of mental states like desires/beliefs, and others that directly link mental and brain states.

Charles Taylor’s critic of this theory happens under the distinction of type and token identity. According to token theory, any concrete particular in mental kind possesses certain physical incidents that represent both mental and physical states, simultaneously. This postulation is regarded to be weaker compared to type identity which argues that mental kinds are physical. The particular issue lies within mind-body identities (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.144). Taylor found a lack of correlations in a mind-body relationship, saying there was a need to find particular identities that would associate with a brain process.

The point is that to relate mental and physical items or find differences between them, the investigator has to clarify if the focus is on concrete particulars (like pain incident on a subject at a given time) or the ‘kind’ (event/state) within the concrete particulars. Paul Churchland adopts the viewpoint of physical systems to emphasize the possibility of falsehood from mental perspectives (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.145). In his view, folk psychology (mental state) only qualifies to become a theory if it shows a direct link and positive correlation with postulations on adjacent subjects. Churchland stressed the appropriateness of physical state in describing human behavior. The strength of the physical state lies in its logical explanation of many aspects of the universe.   

Question 11: Skinner’s Philosophy of Human Nature

Skinner was among the earliest psychologists. His most recognized psychological and behaviorist contribution are the discoveries on behavior, reinforcement’s impact, and the place of operant conditioning in learning. Skinner argued that the environments in which humans live influenced them (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.146).

Contrarily, humans built such environments by themselves. It can thus be concluded that Skinner’s motivation for assessing behavior was the need to determine the correlation between environment and behavior and how the two factors interact.  Skinner’s theory explained that human behavior had external causes. For this reason, the occasion of a response, the response, and accompanying consequences must all be evaluated when analyzing human behavior. Skinner also added that theory would be necessary to understand behavior from a scientific perspective. Such a theory has to strongly present the connection between observable occurrences.

However, Skinner’s philosophy has some problems that may hinder determinists from proving their positions intellectually. One of the issues is Skinner’s dismissal of the role of private thought in human actions, as scientific observation does not apply to it (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.150). The thought is vital for conscious reflection and making decisions on a course of action. As such, thought is crucial in explaining personal behavior. It is, thus, apparent that thought cannot be separated from human actions.

Another issue is the Faustian bargain by skinner. Skinner’s behaviorism presents positive and negative reinforcement programs for the attainment of short-term achievement addressing human problems. Even then, the potential achievements have to be evaluated against that which is given up. This may be unattainable because Skinner rejects the traditional morality structure which promoted dignity, freedom, rights, goodness, virtue, and responsibilities (Miller & Jensen, 2009, p.151). Also, the private consciousness of humans, as well as purpose and judgment, have been made insignificant.