In the second
of his Meditations, Descartes examines a piece of wax. “Where
does my knowledge of the wax come from?” he asks.
should forthwith be disposed to conclude that the wax is known
by the act of sight, and not by the intuition of the mind alone,
were it not for the analogous instance of human beings passing
on in the street below, as observed from a window. In this case
I do not fail to say that I see the men themselves, just as I
say that I see the wax; and yet what do I see from the window
beyond hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose
motions might be determined by springs? But I judge that there
are human beings from these appearances, and thus I comprehend,
by the faculty of judgment alone which is in the mind, what I
believed I saw with my eyes.
point is a sceptical one, it raises an interesting point. On what
basis do we claim knowledge of the internal experiences of other
people? On the one hand, our experience of ourselves is the most
certain thing – as Descartes himself would argree. However,
if we cannot formulate a clear argument to go beyond this view,
we are left with what is called solipsism, or the idea that we can
only really have knowledge about our own mental states.
tried to base his knowledge of the outside world on the Cogito –
his certainty of his own existence – and the fact that more
reliable knowledge seems to be clear and distinct. However, as we
saw in our discussion of the Meditations, both the notion of clear
and distinct ideas and the cogito itself were problematic.