Philosophy, Mind and World

Hello, world, Alex here (evidently, I have been watching too much Vsauce lately…).

Time for this week’s revision post. The exams are nearing with their vicious, invisible claws… Today, I bring you something different from the psychology I normally spout, for, since my first exam is a philosophy one, I’ve been revising philosophy. This piece of thoughts is from my Mind and World module, asking whether we can truly interact with the world around us and to what degree.

NB: I’m knocking on 3,000 words in the post overall, so I thought I’d split it up for you: Descartes and Locke in this extract, and Marx, Adorno and Heidegger in the next.

Since Descartes and Locke mainly dealt with the issue of insulation of mind from world, and Marx and Adorno mainly dealt with the alienation of the self from the world, there is a little bit of a colour imbalance. Also unfortunately, there may be times in which my thoughts and descriptions overlap from section to section – problem with studying the same philosopher over two lectures.


Different POVs

Default-Philosophy/Classic lay-thought: openness to a world of free knowledge, truth without prior argument, shared.

Descartes: architect-philosopher. Five points: Epistemology is foundational; merely helps clear the way for science. A web-like structure? Rationalist – deals with reason.

knowledge is high-threshold; medium: we can rely on what seems ‘probable’

knowledge is individual,

knowledge has a building-like, bottom-up structure;

insulation. Science in a selfish manner. Knowledge, like science, is communal; we share our informations. But is communication thus forced into a passage of lexical disconnect? (According to a handwritten scribble on my lecture notes: Lockean Insulation is too great to form a connective Epistemology for understanding others.)

Locke: philosopher-under-labourer; servant to knowledge, not discoverer. Empiricist – deals with objective norms.



Differential Diagnosis is testing, by elimination, that Insulation is the true problem.

Descartes says we cannot know anything beyond our individual senses of the world. Thus, the pursuit of knowledge and individual certainty. His arguments came from Sceptical Doubt, Not-Thinking and Clear and Distinct ideas. Cogito, ergo sum suggests that there is an ‘I’ that exists beyond doubt – because it must be the one causing the doubt by thinking rather than not-thinking – even when doubt is shed on the material self. These two ideas of mind and body are distinct. (See ‘Mind in World’, below.)

Locke, whilst being an empiricist, gave a somewhat dualistic conception of ideas (these two notions bear a contradictory sting): that ‘ideas’ (the contents of my own mind) resemble what they stand for, be that in appearing in the mind via ‘inner’ sense (Locke called these “Ideas of Reflection”) or via ‘outer’ sense (Ideas of Sensation). These Ideas appear via Experience. Locke is rather forced into a corner here to accept Insulation.

This reminds me of Piagetian assimilation. Are these ‘inner’ Reflections simply what we have previously taken from the ‘outer’ Sensations and made into our Reflections? Nothing comes from nothing (basic rule of Physics). Eg. seeing ‘yellowness’ and knowing it is yellowness. If we’d never seen the yellowness to begin with, we would perhaps know of the colour concept in our mind, but we could never put a name to it, since thought relies on an external subject first. (Although bearing little relevance to the Mind and World aspect of this post, what I allude to here is, to put it simply, the Correspondence Theory of Truth – that everything we know comes from knowing of an external corresponding object, rather than something we can cohere to in a purely abstract way.) 

To think about: does Locke’s concept of Idea differ from that of what the psychologist might call a ‘mental image’? In my quick analysis here, I have disagreed with the inferred positive position in this question, but it’s true that one might be more able to rid Locke of Piagetian-esque critique by suggesting that mental images must correspond with the world, but Ideas are able to come into a coherence existence. Once again, we return to the unicorn problem (that the conception of a mental idea does not mean it can exist in the real world. But then one might argue that unicorns are only legends because people confused a now-extinct beast with a horse. Gah, indecision! “We shall end by considering the question whether possibly possible objects are possible objects.”).


Mind in World

Our beliefs are insulated from the world. Our senses are fallible and deceptive – we can only know of a God. On the other hand, Descartes postulates that God is an omnibenevolent being, and, therefore, he would not trick us with a false world. Therefore, although difficult to prove, the world is real.

Descartes was a dualist, who believed that there are two “classes” of things, mental and material. The sum res cogitans is ‘the thinking thing’ – perhaps the concept of a thought-powered being.


Unified Phenomenon

“Existence and identity” are independent of any worldly thing. Here, although insulated, Descartes proposes a single united self, thinking in present tense. Locke said that empiricism (or, experience alone) is the ultimate source of knowledge. Science provides principles on which knowledge is based. All we can know of is the contents of our mind only.

But we cannot test this if our perceptions mislead already > all we know is the knowledge of the insides of our heads, eg. if a scientific scanner to test what the world is made of (like Star Trek) showed the air contained oxygen, how can we know that the scanner and the contents of the reading itself are not all products of a false world we’ve created from our minds. In a way, that Descartes uses an external source (ie. God) to dictate a remedy is good, since it provides more of an objective being on which to rely.



Descartes’ remedy for the Sceptical situation fails because it ultimately links back to insulation. He uses the Cogito, ergo sum argument – ideas of epistemology derived from pure reasoning – to postulate that we are all ‘the thinking thing’ and rely on thought alone. If Descartes tries to remove the “inexplicable darkness” of the Sceptical Situation by suggesting that there is no darkness, he fails by needing to clarify that we are in the world in the first place.

Locke attempts to keep a similar analysis to Descartes, but to change the remedy and avoid the Trojan Horse cyclical problem that occurs. He fails on the account that his analysis-failure also returns us to the Sceptical Situation. Besides, surely we learn as we grow, a la the Tabula Rasa approach – an idea which Locke himself came up with. This means we cannot know everything in the sense of Ideas alone.


To follow the revision trail, click here for the other three main philosophers and their opinions on these topics. 🙂


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